Food fraud: Ireland wants to separate its cheese from Brits

Provenance of processed foods is a significant quality attribute for many consumers and one for which they are willing to pay a price premium. As a consequence, the fraudulent mislabeling or adulteration of high-value foods now occurs on a global scale.

Artisan_cheese_cover_200Regulatory authorities and food businesses are focusing greater efforts in combating food fraud which can have serious ramifications for both revenue and reputation.

A number of provenance verification schemes have been established in other countries with the express purpose of protecting the denomination of quality associated with particular food products. This includes the Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano protected designation of origin status for artisan cheeses in Italy. There is currently no such scheme for artisan or “farmhouse” cheeses produced on the island of Ireland and yet it is desirable to facilitate a system of provenance confirmation which can provide confidence to consumers in the true geographical origin of artisan cheeses branded as produced on the island of Ireland. It is therefore prudent at this point in time to investigate analytical methods that could be applied to provide consumers with the necessary assurance of the claimed island of Ireland origin of such products.

The concentration and relative ratios of key analytes in a food products such as cheese are mainly influenced by animal diet and geographic location. Several reports from other countries or regions have shown that the use of multivariate analysis of analytical data comprising elemental and isotopic ratio values can provide confirmation of claimed geographic provenance. Given that food animals on the island of Ireland are largely fed a grass-based diet and reside within a discrete insular geographical area, there is potential for developing robust fingerprint models that can characterise indigenous farmhouse cheeses.

Ultimately, the development of robust models will require the demonstration of two properties: (a) models should correctly classify the provenance of all island of Ireland-produced artisan cheeses as originating on the island of Ireland, and (b) models should correctly identify that farmhouse cheeses produced outside the island of Ireland are not of island of Ireland provenance. These two objectives are inseparable in the context of the provenance testing desired and must be demonstrated before any such model can be confidently used in practice. Before this juncture is reached the application of analytical methodologies for the purposes of robust fingerprinting must be investigated.

Artisan_cheese_640_90This project was a technology viability study that set out to do just that. The strategy pursued generated a considerable quantity of baseline analytical data on the elemental and isotopic composition of island of Ireland artisanal cheese as well as a selection of artisanal cheeses from Great Britain and mainland Europe. While it was not possible to confirm the geographic provenance of island of Ireland artisanal cheeses with 100% accuracy, nonetheless trends in some of the data, especially the isotope data, suggest the possibility of effective segregation of island of Ireland from mainland European, if not Great Britain, cheeses.

Therefore the analytical methodologies investigated have been scoped out for this purpose and can now be taken forward and applied in more focused investigations involving artisan cheeses and other foods produced on the island of Ireland.

Irish meat wholesaler ‘committed fraud against the industry’

The Irish Times reports a meat wholesaler which was prosecuted for labelling foreign beef as Irish has been told it had committed a fraud against the wider meat industry.

food-fraudKeelaghan Wholesale Meats, of Ashbourne Industrial Estate in Co Meath, was convicted on six charges of breaches to food safety legislation.

They included falsely declaring Irish origin for beef imported from Poland, Lithuania and Germany.

The company was also found guilty of applying false Irish slaughter and cutting plant codes to packaging labels and of having an inadequate traceability plan for the products. It was fined a total of €16,000.

The District Court judge told the firm that this was a very serious matter and constituted a fraud not only on the consumer, but on the entire industry.

In a statement following the court ruling on Friday, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which had investigated the company in conjunction with Meath County Council, welcomed the decision.

The FSAI said the ruling was important for consumer confidence in the system.

“Today’s ruling by the courts reinforces that breaches of food law which are in place to protect consumers’ health and interests will not be tolerated,” said chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne.

“Food businesses are obliged by law to ensure that the information they provide to their customers is accurate.”

She said the industry must ensure robust traceability systems are in place and carry out audits of suppliers to ensure they have appropriate food safety mechanisms.

8 sick with E. coli O26: Children’s nursery in Ireland closed

The Irish News reports a children’s nursery in Co Down has been closed following an E. coli outbreak.

daycare_children_pictures_242_op_800x533Eight cases of the E. coli O26 infection have been identified in children who attend the nursery.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is investigating and confirmed that preliminary test results suggest there may be additional cases.

Dr Neil Irvine, consultant in health protection at the PHA, said: “We are working with colleagues in environmental health and staff in the nursery to identify the source of infection and to help prevent transmission to other children.

“As a precautionary measure, the nursery has been closed for a deep clean and samples taken from all children. The children will be excluded from nursery until negative samples are provided.”

Dr Irvine said people should follow some simple rules to help prevent the spread of E. coli, such as washing hands after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food. He said people with vomiting or diarrhoea should remain at home for 48 hours after last symptoms appear.

If it was so bloody simple, then why do so many get sick?

Childcare centers and water primary source of dangerous E. coli in Ireland

Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) are significant for their low infectious dose, their potential clinical severity and the frequency with which they generate outbreaks. describe the relative importance of different outbreak transmission routes for VTEC infection in Ireland, we reviewed outbreak notification data for the period 2004–2012, describing the burden and characteristics of foodborne, waterborne, animal contact and person-to-person outbreaks.

Outbreaks where person-to-person spread was reported as the sole transmission route accounted for more than half of all outbreaks and outbreaks cases, most notably in childcare facilities. The next most significant transmission route was waterborne spread from untreated or poorly treated private water supplies.

The focus for reducing incidence of VTEC should be on reducing waterborne and person-to-person transmission, by publicizing Health Service Executive materials developed for consumers on private well management, and for childcare facility managers and public health professionals on prevention of person-to-person spread.

Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli transmission in Ireland: a review of notified outbreaks, 2004–2012

Epidemiology and Infection, Volume 144, Issue 5, April 2016, pages 917-926, DOI:

Garvey, A. Carroll, E. McNamara, and P. J. McKeown

Six closure orders served on Ireland food businesses in February

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) reports that six Closure Orders were served on food businesses during the month of February for breaches of food safety legislation, pursuant to the FSAI Act, 1998 and the EC (Official Control of Foodstuffs) Regulations, 2010. The Closure Orders were issued by environmental health officers in the Health Service Executive (HSE).

stockwell-artisan-foodsDr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI stated that consumers must be confident at all times that the food they are eating is safe to eat, adding, “There can be no excuse for putting consumers’ health at risk through negligent practices. Food businesses must recognise that they have a legal responsibility to make sure that the food they sell or serve is safe to consume. We are re-emphasising to all food businesses the need for ongoing and consistent compliance with food safety and hygiene legislation. This requires putting appropriate food safety management procedures in place and making sure they are strictly adhered to at all times.”

Cryptosporidium in Ireland’s water supply

There seems to be a lot of Cryptosporidium in Ireland.

Irish Water has identified cryptosporidium contamination in Carraroe’s public supply in Connemara.

cryptoThe discovery came as ten thousand homes and businesses in Cork were issued with boil water notices over fears of contaminated drinking water.

The State utility has advised some 4,700 people dependent on the public supply in Carraroe to boil their water until further notice.

This follows a similar notice issued for Leitir Móir/Tír an Fhia in south and west Connemara in January.

Sinn Féín senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has criticised Irish Water for failing to upgrade the Carraroe scheme when it was directed to by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“This supply has been substandard for years and the EPA have indicated for the last number of years that there has been insufficient protection for cryptosporidium, ”Senator Ó Clochartaigh said.

Chipotle, are you listening? ‘Food businesses in Ireland must recognize that the legal onus is on them to make sure that the food they sell or serve is safe to eat’

The Food Safety Authority served two enforcement orders on food businesses last month.

barf.o.meter.dec.12The first was a closure order served on Earl’s Delicatessen restaurant at the School of Architecture at University College Dublin in Clonskeagh. The order was lifted two days later.

A prohibition order was also served on Sheahans Butchers in Church Street, Kerry.

During the month of January, two successful prosecutions were carried out by the HSE on Kelleghan Catering Food Stall in Tallow, Waterford and Millbridge Meats butcher in Kimmacrennan, Donegal.

Commenting on enforcement orders served in January, Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI said food businesses need to be vigilant at all times in relation to food safety to ensure full compliance with food legislation.

“Food businesses must recognise that the legal onus is on them to make sure that the food they sell or serve is safe to eat,” she said. “This requires ongoing compliance with food safety and hygiene standards.”


Really: Vomiting Larry is easing the burden of Norovirus in Ireland

I never saw my uncle Larry barf, but when I was young, he seemed larger than life. Great hockey player. As he died, not so much. Winter of The Irish Times writes in the gazetteer of human illness, and forever associated with the most common cause of acute infectious gastroenteritis in western Europe and North America, is Norwalk in the US state of Ohio.

In October 1968, 116 pupils and teachers at the town’s Bronson elementary school contracted diarrhoea and vomiting.

By 1972, electron microscopy of feces samples taken from the outbreak identified a novel agent, subsequently named Norwalk virus.

Known today as norovirus, its alias, the “winter vomiting bug”, is a misnomer, with year-round outbreaks occurring, albeit with a winter peak.

For example, data from the HSE’s health protection surveillance centre show that in April, May and June of 2015 there were 25 outbreaks involving 385 people, and by mid-November 2015 a total of 87 outbreaks had affected 1,508 people. Norovirus gastroenteritis has been a notifiable disease in Ireland since January 2004.

Infection control expert Prof Dinah Gould of Cardiff University highlights the mistaken belief that norovirus gastroenteritis is “always without serious consequences and the infection is frequently described as mild and self-limiting”.

This, she writes, ignores the fact that the illness is distressing and can last for several days. Further, while healthy individuals do not suffer long-term ill effects, there may be severe outcomes for children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

According to Gould: “They can become severely dehydrated, and in severe cases may develop renal impairment.”

Viral gastrointestinal infections are acquired via the fecal-oral route: viruses shed in feces end up in someone else’s mouth, typically through food or water, although virus transfer can occur from touching contaminated surfaces.

Noroviruses are as tough as old boots and expert inducers of projectile vomiting, so can cause havoc on cruise ships and in institutional and other settings. On December 5th last year, for example, the staff canteen at Russell Investments Center’s skyscraper offices in Seattle, Washington State, was reportedly the suspected source of a norovirus outbreak affecting hundreds of employees.

In 2009 celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was running the Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire, and over a six-week period, 529 diners were also running within 48 hours of sampling a tainted tasting menu costing £130.

Heston’s declared speciality of “molecular gastronomy” was apposite given laboratory findings that samples of the Fat Duck’s nosh featured a striking molecular profile consistent with norovirus enrichment.

Contaminated oysters were suspected, and a 47-page UK Health Protection Agency report on the outbreak reprints the tasting menu, including an oyster and passion fruit jelly with lavender, and something called “Sound of the Sea”.

And 2014 saw inspectors telling staff at Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge to wash their hands more often following a norovirus outbreak affecting 10 dinner diners.

The importance of handwashing for the interruption of norovirus transmission is crucial considering that during an acute infection more than one billion virus particles per gram of faeces can be shed, and that healthy adults usually excrete norovirus for about 10 days, although one report found that a child shed norovirus for about 100 days.

Someone delving into the cloacal chaos wrought by norovirus is Dr Catherine Makison Booth, senior scientist at the UK government’s Health and Safety Laboratory.

Makison Booth’s invention – Vomiting Larry – gives startling insights into the infectious nature of this agent. But who is Larry?

norovirus-2The title of Makison Booth’s paper in the Journal of Infection Prevention (2014, 15: 176-180) sums it up: “Vomiting Larry: a simulated vomiting system for assessing environmental contamination from projectile vomiting related to norovirus infection.”

A system of compressed air, pistons, a water supply and a “pneumatic ram”, Larry is topped off by an authentic manikin head, complete with teeth, tongue and vocal cords.

“The first question anyone asks about Vomiting Larry is why is he called Larry and not Vomiting Victor, Puking Pete or Barfing Barry,” Makison Booth told The Irish Times.

“His name comes from his realistic manikin head, which is a commercially available device in its own right known as Airway Larry, used by medical students for practising techniques such as laryngoscopy.

“There can be as many as a thousand million viruses in the vomit and diarrhea produced by infected individuals, yet it takes only 10 to 100 viruses to cause infection in the next unaffected person.

“Currently there is no vaccine; no antiviral treatment; and most people often have limited immunity even after being infected.”

Norovirus is resistant to many cleaning products and alcohol hand gels we use today, meaning “norovirus spreads like wild- fire during outbreaks, causing the closure of hospitals, schools, cruise ships and even offshore rigs to try to curb its spread”.


I don’t eat potlucks, I don’t know where their bugs have been, and I carry a thermometer with me

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a few tips to keep your holidays healthy.

barfblog.Stick It InAt home:

  • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • To avoid overcooking beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts use a meat thermometer. These roasts should be removed from the oven when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.
  • Turkey, duck and goose should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured by a food thermometer. Temperatures should be taken in three areas of the bird: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh.
  • Kitchen towels should be washed frequently to avoid cross-contamination, so a home cook can never have enough kitchen towels.

The rest of the advice is nonsense.

But Ireland, I have so much respect for your Safefood, yet you still insist on telling people, “no pink meat and be sure that the juices run clear before eating.”

Use a thermometer and stick it in.

Chapman sent me 10 for me to give out over the holidays. I’d be happy to mail you, Safefood Ireland, a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, since apparently no one in Europe is aware of their existence.