What me worry? Growers worry over critical media coverage of food

This is just dumb. Stop whining to your pals and start providing food safety information to tell your story.

what.me.worryYuma County’s nearly $3 billion agriculture industry is responsible for a large percentage of its total prosperity, and local cities and businesses are working to further expand its influence with agritourism-based attractions and events.

But many industry figures said they’re worried about critical media coverage cutting into consumer demand for Yuma-grown crops at last week’s Southwest Arizona Futures Forum session about preserving the area’s water supplies.

A paragraph near the top of the “plan of action for Yuma” compiled at the end of the all-day meeting attended by more than 100 began with, “the community must directly address negative ads and comments regarding the agriculture industry with positive facts about regarding efficient food production and the importance of food safety.”

Attendees of the conference cited articles such as an August column in The Washington Post, “Why Salad is So Overrated,” by contributor Tamar Haspel, who said the dish which employs so many of the vegetable crops grown in the Yuma area “has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.”

‘Elementary school kids, younger kids probably aren’t the best when it comes to hygiene’

We’ve successfully made it through a couple of months of school in our house without any illnesses. I’m not sure if my kids’ recent obsession with handwashing is a factor (I suspect it is) or whether we’ve just been lucky.

Kids and norovirus are a common pair. Last month an estimated 700 students missed school in Person County, NC with the virus (or stayed home to avoid it; only two cases were confirmed). Today, AP reports that 400 kids in northern Nevada at 11 schools likely have noro.norovirus-2

The Washoe County Health District said it believes the norovirus outbreak first started on Sept. 16 at a Reno elementary school, where 150 students and 11 staff members have reported symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

As of Friday, the Washoe County School District reported that the outbreak had spread to 9 other elementary schools, a high school and some associated daycare centers. It has been centered in Reno, with one Sparks elementary school.

Most of the nearly 400 people affected have been elementary school children. The high school teachers who were sickened also traced their illnesses to the affected elementary school kids, whom they were related to.

“Elementary school kids, younger kids probably aren’t the best when it comes to hygiene,” said Phil Ulibarri, a county health department spokesman.

The school district has also been advised to thoroughly clean schools, which Ulibarri said means sanitizing a 25-foot radius where there is vomiting or diarrhea, including going as high as six feet up along walls.

Awesome, the Nevada folks are using the best available science.

Fortune looks at the business of food safety and Blue Bell

Powell has often used the term, making people sick is bad for business; or as Fortune Magazine alliterates, the food industry has a $55.5 billion problem. Peter Elkend and Beth Kowitt of Fortune published sister pieces on the intersection of food safety and business focusing on Blue Bell’s recent listeria outbreak and re-entry to the marketplace.

Kowitt writes,

Food-borne illness is a giant, expensive challenge for companies big and small—and the surprise is, their exposure to the risk (and the liability when linked to an outbreak) is arguably bigger than ever. “Thirty years ago if you had a little problem, you were not going to get discovered,” says David Acheson, former associate commissioner for foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who today runs a consulting firm. “Now the chances of getting caught are significant, and it can be the end of your company.”acf7763f-9190-4bd1-8e69-ae99293596d0

For instance, since 2006 investigators have fingered a bacterial strain called E. coli O157:H7 (at one time widely thought to be found only in meats) in bags of baby spinach, in hazelnuts, and in cookie dough. They’ve identified botulism in pasteurized carrot juice and found salmonella in peanut butter, ground pepper, jalapeño peppers, Turkish pine nuts, and pistachios. They’ve discovered hepatitis A virus in pomegranate seeds; cyclospora in bagged salad mix; and Listeria monocytogenes in ice cream.

“I’m skeptical that these are new connections,” says Ben Chapman, associate professor of food safety at North Carolina State University, who runs a website called the Barfblog (I meant new pathogen/food contamination -ben). “It’s stuff that’s always been there, and now we’re looking for it.” That would help explain why FDA-regulated food recalls have more than doubled over the past decade, to 565 last year, according to insurance company Swiss Re—with nearly half related to microbiological contamination. In interviews with more than 30 experts, nearly all said the rise in recalls was less an indicator of deteriorating food safety than it was of our improving capacity to connect the dots between foods and microbes.

Molecular techniques (PFGE to whole genome sequencing) also get a shout out from friend of barfblog, Linda Harris.

Up until the 1990s, most outbreaks we found were in the same geographic location—the church picnic where everyone eats the same bad potato salad and calls in sick the next day. Then new technology enabled scientists to determine the various DNA fingerprints of food-borne bacteria, which were uploaded into a common database. Investigators were suddenly able to link disparate cases of illness by finding bacterial matches. “It revolutionized outbreak investigation,” says Linda Harris, a microbiologist in the department of food science and technology at the University of California at Davis.

Whole genome sequencing is the biggest advance I’ve seen in my 15 years in food safety.

In the Blue Bell piece, Peter Eklund writes,

The episode reveals not only how difficult it is to trace the source of food-borne illness but also what happens when a company is slow to tackle the causes—and doesn’t come clean with its customers. Experts say Blue Bell’s responses this year were an example of “recall creep.” That occurs when executives hope that taking limited action—as the company did five times when informed of findings of listeria—will solve the problem and minimize commercial damage, only to find themselves forced to expand the recall repeatedly. It’s the opposite of Johnson & Johnson’s actions in the 1982 Tylenol-tampering episode, when the brand famously saved its reputation by swiftly recalling every bottle of the medication.

blue-bell-ice-cream-600Eklund and I spoke a lot about Blue Bell’s sharing of information specifics, which I’ve criticized as lacking. When a company is linked to illnesses and deaths and they say stuff like ‘food safety is important to us’ or ‘we’re going to step up what we are doing around microbiolgical sampling, cleaning and sanitation’ or ‘we’re hiring the best’ it often lacks substance. Sure, tell folks what you are doing but more important is pulling back the curtain on how many samples, what they are looking for, how they determined where and what to look for and what they are going to do if they find an issue. That’s what we mean by marketing food safety.

But Eklund quotes Gene Grabowski, a PR consultant involved in Blue Bell’s response as playing the we’re sorry and trust us game,

“In my playbook, you apologize sincerely once and then you move on.” (He has been supplanted by a team from PR giant Burson-Marsteller led by Karen Hughes, who served as a top White House communications adviser to George W. Bush.) “Had the company known then what it knows now,” Grabowski says, “it would have done a full recall of all products earlier than it did.”

Two decades into the world of online discussions, immediate news exchange, and Twitter flame wars and some are still sadly following the apologize and move on approach.

Food Safety Talk 80: Literally the hummus I’m eating

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1442690399236

The show opens with a discussion of Don’s mic stand and quickly segues into “Linda’s Famous Cigar Story”, and Ben’s annual pollen throat. After a discussion of their various ailments, Don wishes Ben an almost 37th birthday.

Ben is currently expecting a new macbook, which was discussed on Episode 116 of the Talk Show. Don shares his recent experiences looking at Apple Watch in the Apple Store, and his preference for the Milanese Loop and his new burr grinder and aeropress.

When the talk turns to food safety, Ben talks about his work with Family & Consumer Sciences in North Carolina, (called Family and Community Health Sciences at Rutgers University) and how Ben has recently changed his training practices from classroom lecture to supermarket and restaurant inspection field trips based on inspiration from Dara Bloom.

This inspires Don to talk about the work he’s doing to help documentary film makers doing a story on shelf life dating of foods especially milk. Ben shares some of the myths circulating about expired milk including this bogus article from Livestrong, and the work he’s doing on expired food and food pantries.

From there the discussion moves to other shelf life myths including the egg float or shake tests, and why they are bogus, as well as places to go for good egg information, because someone on the Internet will always be wrong.

The discussion turns to recalled hummus recall messaging and Ben’s post hockey snacking tips.

As the guys wrap up the show they briefly talk about Blue Bell ice cream and the doses of Listeria that might have made people sick and the future of food safety given the advances in molecular biology, clinical microbiology and whole genome sequencing. Ben shares some final thoughts on Salmonella in spices and how whole genome sequencing might impact that industry too.

In the brief after dark, Ben and Don talk about yoga, and getting healthy, the Turing Test, and the new Star Wars movie trailer.

Person County NC has a lot of norovirus

Or so it seems.

CBS is reporting that almost 700 students, about 14% of the district, missed school today due to gastro illnesses that appear to be from norovirus, according to CBS News.

Superintendent Danny Holloman said there were 668 absences in the district Thursday, or 14 percent of the student population. Most of the absences came from Person High School, where more than 300 students stayed home.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x3001-300x300

Holloman said it’s not known how many students are actually sick and how many stayed home as a precaution.

CBS Raleigh affiliate WRAL reports Holloman realized something was going around just before lunch time yesterday, when large numbers of students were going home sick.

According to the Person County Health Department, a local doctor’s office experienced a similar situation with several patients and staff members coming down with virus-like symptoms last week. The North Carolina Division of Public Health asked that samples be collected from students to use for testing. The samples will be tested for both norovirus and other enteric pathogens, officials said.

Norovirus maybe? 100 students sent home from NC schools

Sick kids can spread gastrointestinal viruses around pretty quickly. I write from experience, my kids have brought home what was likely norovirus a couple of times from school/preschool and spread it to Dani and I.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x3001-300x300

Once the perfect human pathogen is in a restaurant, grocery store, or cruise ship – or school – it’s tough to get it out without some illnesses.

Part of the problem with noro (beyond the low mean infectious dose; environmental stability; and, 10^9 virus particles per gram of vomit/poop) is a vomit event can lead to particles floating through the air. And maybe moving 30 feet from the barf splatter.

According to ABC 11, over 100 students in Person County, NC are suffering from something that looks like norovirus.

Person County Schools says more than 100 students were sent home from school Wednesday due to illness.

The problem appeared to be come kind of virus that caused stomach problems.

Sources said 84 students and 6 teachers from Person County High School and 17 students from Helena Elementary School in the Timberlake area went home.

Managing a norovirus outbreak is a bit tricky, here are a couple of infosheets we’ve used/developed over the years that might be of use.

Norovirus is a problem for campuses and cafeterias

Vomiting and fecal episodes

Is there an increase in multistate foodborne disease outbreaks—United States, 1973–2010?

Food Safety Talk podcast nerds Chapman and Schaffner are forever going on about Betteridge’s Law.

For the uninitiated, Betteridge’s Law states that “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

interstate-mdBetteridge himself stated, “The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.”

I use question marks in headlines to avoid lawsuits.

A new paper posits that changes in food production and distribution have increased opportunities for foods contaminated early in the supply chain to be distributed widely, increasing the possibility of multistate outbreaks.

In recent decades, surveillance systems for foodborne disease have been improved, allowing officials to more effectively identify related cases and to trace and identify an outbreak’s source.

Materials and Methods: We reviewed multistate foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System during 1973–2010. We calculated the percentage of multistate foodborne disease outbreaks relative to all foodborne disease outbreaks and described characteristics of multistate outbreaks, including the etiologic agents and implicated foods.

Results: Multistate outbreaks accounted for 234 (0.8%) of 27,755 foodborne disease outbreaks, 24,003 (3%) of 700,600 outbreak-associated illnesses, 2839 (10%) of 29,756 outbreak-associated hospitalizations, and 99 (16%) of 628 outbreak-associated deaths. The median annual number of multistate outbreaks increased from 2.5 during 1973–1980 to 13.5 during 2001–2010; the number of multistate outbreak-associated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths also increased. Most multistate outbreaks were caused by Salmonella (47%) and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (26%). Foods most commonly implicated were beef (22%), fruits (13%), and leafy vegetables (13%).

Conclusions: The number of identified and reported multistate foodborne disease outbreaks has increased. Improvements in detection, investigation, and reporting of foodborne disease outbreaks help explain the increasing number of reported multistate outbreaks and the increasing percentage of outbreaks that were multistate. Knowing the etiologic agents and foods responsible for multistate outbreaks can help to identify sources of food contamination so that the safety of the food supply can be improved.

 Increase in multistate foodborne disease outbreaks—United States, 1973–2010

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, August 18, 2015, doi:10.1089/fpd.2014.1908

Nguyen Von D., Bennett Sarah D., Mungai Elisabeth, Gieraltowski Laura, Hise Kelley, and Gould L. Hannah


‘Vomiting, aching limbs hot flushes’ Gastro outbreak at Cardiff hotel

A hotel in Cardiff remains closed following an outbreak of gastroenteritis leaving 26 people feeling ill.

angel.hotel.cardiffThe Angel Hotel, in Castle Street, was closed this week following the outbreak.

Speaking to the BBCWales, teacher Kevin Waite from Gwaelod-y-Garth, Cardiff, fell ill at the hotel after attending a training event on Friday

He said: “I felt nauseous, I was having hot and cold flushes and my limbs were aching.

“I started vomiting on Sunday and this lasted through until Monday.

“The hotel looked plush, pleasant and clean. There was nothing to point to any problems.”

“I’m shocked and disappointed. But these bugs can happen for many reasons.”

California restaurant closes for noro clean up

Norovirus persistence is a problem for the food industry. The virus is hardy and can stick around on surfaces for six weeks or more. Once it’s there, the virus is tough to get out of a kitchen, dining room, restroom or storage area.

Oh, and with a low mean infectious dose, some difficult choices have to be made when there’s an outbreak. In 2014, Mohonk Mountain House in New York State closed for a week while a cleaning and sanitizing crew tried to get rid of the virus after hundreds of guests got sick over a 10-day period.10849902_719581291471357_3442145704847569295_n1-300x300-300x300

According to the Press Telegram, the Sky Room in Long Beach, California shut for three days for a noro clean up last week.

The Sky Room, a Long Beach restaurant known as one of the Southland’s more romantic spots, shut down this week following a report that 18 patrons and three employees fell ill earlier this month.

After a three-day closure in which the restaurant was sanitized top to bottom several times over, inspectors report, the Long Beach Bureau of Environmental Health gave the Sky Room the green light Tuesday to re-open. 

 The first reports of a problem came when six people who dined May 1 at two different tables reported falling ill, according to “epidemiological documentation” in a city inspection report.

On May 13, more patrons reported distress after eating at the Sky Room days before, the report says. The restaurant closed Friday, May 22 and re-opened Tuesday.

“Our reputation is everything,” said owner Bernard Rosenson, adding that not only did he hire a consultant to train the staff, but the consultant will return monthly to make sure best sanitation practices are continued.

UK Naval base hit with norovirus

There are a bunch of things in this story that grabbed my attention. As Stefon says, this one has everything: the Navy, vomit, diarrhea, isolation, quarantine, a ship and Raleigh.

According to BBC, approximately 70 Royal Navy personnel have been hit with norovirus (or winter vomiting sickness as the British call it) leading to intense cleaning and sanitation.

The Navy said people had started falling ill at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint about 10 days ago.

Those affected were placed in quarantine in an attempt to stem the spread of the contagious virus.

A Royal Navy spokesman said control measures included “intense cleaning and isolating those with symptoms”.

He added: “The virus started about 10 days ago. It peaked towards the end of last week at about 70 and numbers fell rapidly after that.”

HMS Raleigh provides training for the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Royal Navy Reserve.