Why I don’t eat raw oysters: Norovirus genotypes implicated in two oyster-related illness outbreaks in Ireland

We investigated norovirus (NoV) concentrations and genotypes in oyster and faecal samples associated with two separate oyster-related outbreaks of gastroenteritis in Ireland. Quantitative analysis was performed using real-time quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and phylogenetic analysis was conducted to establish the NoV genotypes present.

Raw oystersFor both outbreaks, the NoV concentration in oysters was >1000 genome copies/g digestive tissue and multiple genotypes were identified. In faecal samples, GII.13 was the only genotype detected for outbreak 1, whereas multiple genotypes were detected in outbreak 2 following the application of cloning procedures. While various genotypes were identified in oyster samples, not all were successful in causing infection in consumers. In outbreak 2 NoV GII.1 was identified in all four faecal samples analysed and NoV GII concentrations in faecal samples were >108 copies/g. This study demonstrates that a range of NoV genotypes can be present in highly contaminated oysters responsible for gastroenteritis outbreaks.

Epidemiology and Infection / Volume 142 / Issue 10 / October 2014, pp 2096-2104



Fancy food ain’t safe food, Irish edition: Dead rat, cows’ feet and mold found in Ireland food businesses

A dead rat, mouldy food and cows’ feet are among the health threats which have seen dozens of restaurants and other food businesses falling foul of health inspections this year.

townbarandgrillFormer celebrity haunt Town Bar & Grill was served with a closure order in February, after an environmental health officer found a dead rat and rodent droppings at the Kildare Street premises. Management at the glamorous restaurant – which once played host to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Gerry Ryan and Martin Sheen – were ordered to put a proper pest-control system in place.

The order was lifted a day later, after the problem had been sorted out, but the restaurant was sold and relaunched weeks later under a different name and with new management.

But Town Bar & Grill was far from alone in being found to have serious hygiene issues. The Irish Independent has learned the disconcerting details behind many of the 47 closures of restaurants, shops and manufacturers countrywide in 2014.

Closure orders are the strongest weapon health inspectors have to tackle food safety threats. These are issued to all or part of a premises when a “grave and immediate danger to public health” is deemed likely.

The number of businesses being slapped with these enforcement orders has spiralled in the last five years, with 119 premises receiving closure orders in 2013, compared to 34 in 2009.

As the high level of closure orders continues this summer, with seven in July alone, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has repeated its warning to businesses that the legal onus is on them to make sure the food they serve and sell is safe to eat. FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said each closure order undermined consumer confidence in the industry.

Irish child care remains closed to assist E. coli cleaning

A childcare facility in Cavan remains closed for cleaning following an outbreak of E. coli over four weeks ago. In a statement to Northern Sound News, the HSE say there have been factors relating to the cleaning and the fabric of the crèche that have been outside of the control of the Health Executive and under the control of the crèche management.

daycare_children_pictures_242_op_800x533The HSE was notified of the latest case of E. coli at the childcare facility in Cavan over one month ago. It followed a confirmed case of a similar infection in another child in the same facility in April. The Health Service Executive says no source was identified for the infection in the previous case.

Irish childcare facility closed due to E. coli outbreak

A childcare facility in county Cavan will remain closed until the area is cleaned following an outbreak of verotoxigenic E. coli.

HSE-300x162The Health Service Executive says that they were notified of a case of E. coli in a child at the facility in county Cavan. It followed a confirmed case of a similar infection in another attendee at the same facility back in April. The HSE was notified of the latest case of E. coli in a child at this facility over three weeks ago. It followed a confirmed case of a similar infection in another attendee at the same childcare facility back in April. The Health Service Executive says no source was identified for the infection in the previous case.

Food fraud — a history lesson

Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland writes that the oft quoted phrase; “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” might easily be applied to the food chain, particularly given the renewed attention being paid to food fraud. There are parallels between the recent incidences of food fraud and the malpractices in the food trade in the mid 19th century. Each was food.fraud.adulterationfollowed by new legislation and new arrangements for food control. In 1860, an “Act for Preventing the Adulteration of Articles of Food and Drink” came into force and this was followed in 1875, by the Sale of Food & Drugs Act.  This made it an offence to mix, colour, stain or powder any article of food with any ingredient or material, so as to render the article injurious to health, with intent to sell the article in that State, or to sell to the prejudice of the purchaser any article of food which is not of the nature, substance and quality of the article demanded. These provisions are as relevant today as they were 150 years ago, especially given the increasing evidence of counterfeit foods, adulteration or substitution.

The substitution of frozen horsemeat trimmings for frozen beef trimmings uncovered first in Ireland last year is a stark reminder of times past and the menace to consumers and the industry alike, posed by people who set out to deliberately deceive. In the wake of the EU-wide horsemeat incident, the European Commission (EC) and Member States are in the process of strengthening the fight against food crime. Food authorities, police forces and finance authorities are mindful now of the need to work together. The risks to the food supply are no longer those posed by chemical, biological, or physical hazards. Criminal intent or opportunity and intentional violation of the law must be taken into account when assessing risk. Food inspectors have to learn the ways of the criminal and the criminal investigator.

The EC is responding and legal changes are in the pipeline.  It has established a special working group of Member States, in which Europol participates, to deal with issues associated with food fraud and to drive the implementation of an action plan on fraudulent food practices. An Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AACS) is also being established by the EC which will be an IT network to provide a structured communication mechanism to support the exchange of food fraud information among Member States. The AACS will operate in a similar fashion to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), a mechanism for Member States to exchange information when unsafe foods pose a risk to consumer health.

food-fraudAcross the EU, a second programme of sampling and testing the authenticity of processed meat products is underway. This will be followed by further testing programmes for counterfeit honey and the authenticity of fishery products on the market. To this end, a harmonised laboratory testing regime is currently under discussion and monitoring work is expected to get underway in early 2015.
Some EU Member States, such as Italy and the Netherlands, already have dedicated specialist investigative “food police” units dealing with food crimes. They bring a different perspective to the world of food safety, using police techniques such as intelligence gathering, forensic accounting, financial investigation and communications, digital and internet proficiency. The experience of these countries is now being examined for relevance elsewhere in the EU. Of course Ireland is not without some experience in this field. For many years the Special Investigation Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been active. This Unit has been to the forefront of investigating food crime and enforcing legislation on such matters as animal remedies and animal identification, in respect of the small subset of those involved in the sector who attempt to profit from illegal activities.

More recently in Ireland, the FSAI established a Food Fraud Task Force (FFTF) consisting of representatives from national agencies across different enforcement arms of the State. The FFTF is an advisory group which acts as a coordination and networking group where intelligence and research can be shared at national and international level. The work of the FFTF includes raising awareness, improving mechanisms for monitoring and surveillance and training of enforcement officers. The Special Investigation Unit and the Gardaí are part of the FFTF. The aim is to better coordinate the activities of all stakeholders to provide more enhanced levels of protection.

These new developments should strengthen the work of the considerable inspection and laboratory services already engaged in the enforcement of food law, whose work is coordinated and overseen by the FSAI through the service contract process. The combined work of the staff in the various official agencies ensures the safety and authenticity of food, from primary production to the sale and marketing of food to the consumer. The official agencies and the FSAI also cooperate with the Custom and Excise Service of the Revenue Commissioners and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation of An Garda Síochána, leading to the recent detection of the marketing of counterfeit vodka and the fraudulent re-labelling of foods with new “use by” dates.
While official food control services are regrouping in response to the new threats to the food supply, the food industry has to do likewise and assess potential food fraud threats.

Changes are already taking place. Over the past year, retailers and the meat processing sector introduced meat speciation testing for all processed meat products as part of their routine food safety management programmes. This is a welcome development. The industry also needs to ensure the validity of information provided on labels and for guaranteeing the authenticity of ingredients used in the manufacture of foods.

Uncovering the horsemeat scandal was a clear reminder of times past, of the origins and reasons for our food laws, the need for continuing vigilance and the importance of learning the lessons of history.

Going public: anger over ‘lack of warning’ on E. coli at Irish beach

E. coli was detected in the water off of Bettystown beach, Co Meath, where families and young children have been swimming during the warm weather.

dp.beach.jun.13But locals are furious that the presence of the bug was not widely publicized before Wednesday, the hottest day of the year.

Meath County Council was criticized yesterday for failing to put up large notices and not having staff at Bettystown beach notifying people that the water had elevated levels of E. coli and enterococci bacteria.

However, Meath County Council said that within an hour of getting the results of tests on the water that it erected a notice at the entrance to the beach and put it on its website.

But this was criticized by parents and politicians who said signage wasn’t obvious.

One mother, whose children had been in the sea on Wednesday afternoon, said she spent “all night worrying” about them.

STEC contaminates a third of private wells in Ireland

It’s estimated that 30 per cent of private wells in Ireland are contaminated with E. coli arising from animal and human waste.

Meanwhile, a report by the Health Service Executive (HSE) has found that there is a growing number of VTEC – a particularly nasty form of E. coli.

Analysis shows that Ireland has the highest incidence of  verotoxigenic E. coli, VTEC, or shiga-toxin producing E. coli, in Europe. Since 2011, the HSE has reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases in Ireland from 284 in 2011, 554 in 2012 and 704 in 2013.

People treated for VTEC are four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from a private well. 

VTEC infection is most common in children and in up to 8 per cent of cases patients go on to develop serious kidney complications.

“These can, on rare occasions, prove fatal.  This is all preventable,” said Dr Una Fallon, Public Health Specialist in the HSE and Chair of the HSE National Drinking Water Group.

The EPA says rural families in Ireland are commonly affected and much of this is because of contaminated private wells. Consumers of water from private wells at much greater risk of VTEC than those who drink water from mains supplies, they said.

“It can take a long time for the bug to clear even after the child has become well,” said the EPA.

The EPA estimate that 50,000 private wells in Ireland are contaminated with human or animal waste which can cause significant threat to people’s health.

David Flynn, Programme Manager for the EPA said that ”people assume that because their water comes from a well or a spring that it’s completely pure and safe to drink, but that is not necessarily the case”.

“Sometimes, we find that people can develop immunity themselves, but visitors to the house, particularly children and the elderly are at risk of getting very sick,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have said that people have to do more to protect their well from contamination and have developed a new assessment tool ‘Protect your Well’.


Bag of cows’ hooves found in Dublin take away

A plastic bag filled with cows’ hooves and five plastic bags of cow skin found in a Dublin take away were just some of the unusual items which were the subject of prohibition orders for May, the Food safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) reported today.

Cow HoofFollowing the discovery of the bags at Johnson Best Food (take away), 86A Summerhill, Dublin 1, a prohibition orders was served under the EC (Official Control of Foodstuffs) Regulations.

Commenting on these latest Enforcement Orders, Prof. Alan Reilly, Chief Executive, FSAI, stated: “Food businesses must recognise that the legal onus is on them to make sure that the food they serve is safe to eat. This requires ongoing compliance with food safety and hygiene standards to ensure the food they are producing is safe to consume. There is absolutely no excuse for negligent practices.”

The FSAI today also reported that three Closure Orders and one further Prohibition Order were served on food businesses during the month of May for breaches of food safety legislation. The Orders were issued by environmental health officers in the Health Service Executive.

Abattoir owner in Ireland jailed for food safety offences

In Ireland, if you screw up food safety, you go to jail.

A former poultry slaughterhouse owner has been jailed for four months for food safety offences.

Tim Blake Nelson, George Clooney, John TurturroNigel Wilson was convicted three years ago of nine breaches of food regulations at Upper Erne Lakes Poultry in Newtownbutler.

A warrant for his arrest was issued after he failed to appear in court, but he was convicted in his absence.

He appeared at Enniskillen Magistrates Court on Monday, having recently returned to NI from abroad.

The Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSA), which brought the case, said it welcomed the sentencing for the serious breaches of regulations and hoped it “sends a strong message to those who try to operate food businesses outside the law”.

“The investigation found decaying animal by-products infested with maggots, old and drying blood stains on the floor and no cleaning process in operation,” said Michael Jackson, the FSA’s head of food safety and operations.

And it was all avoidable: seven businesses in Ireland closed over food hygiene

Seven food businesses were closed across the country last month for breaches of food safety legislation, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has confirmed.

Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, stated that there is absolutely no excuse for food businesses to put consumers’ health at risk fsaithrough negligent practices.

“While most food businesses follow high standards and are compliant with food safety legislation, we continue to encounter cases where consumers’ health is jeopardised through a failure to comply with food safety and hygiene requirements. These breaches are avoidable,” he said.

One restaurant and a take-away were served with closure orders under Irish legislation in March while three restaurants, a take-away and a butcher were served with closure orders under European regulations. In addition, one fish processor was served with a prohibition order by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.

Closure orders are issued if it is deemed that there is or there is likely to be a grave and immediate danger to public health or where an improvement order has not been complied with.