54 sick: Salmonella in lettuce spreads in Australia

This is how bad public reporting of foodborne illness is in Australia.

lettuce.skull.noroRetailers, even with crappy Internet, we have cameras, and you’ll be found out.

An increasing number of Queenslanders claim they’ve been made ill from supermarket-bought salads in the wake of salmonella outbreak, but Woolworths and Coles insist there’s no problem with Queensland supply.

“The supplier in question does not supply into Queensland so there is no need to worry,” a Woolworths spokesman told The Courier-Mail.

While a Cole statement confirmed: “None of the recalled products are sold in Queensland, there is no cause for concern.”

It is believed Coles and Woolworths have stopped taking supplies from Tripod indefinitely.

Chelsea Bienke is just one of Queensland consumers who believe a bout of extreme vomiting and diarrhea was sparked after eating Woolworths lettuce.

The Brisbane woman and her sister were extremely ill for days after eating a meal with mixed salad.

“We had diarrhea for days and I was vomiting” Ms Bienke said.

“I felt like complete crap. I couldn’t go to work this week.”

She said she doubted claims that the product wouldn’t affect any customers.

“Well it’s strange how we bought the product last week and by Tuesday we were vomiting and had diarrhea,” Ms Bienke said.

“My niece who doesn’t eat the product is perfectly fine.”

Another Queenslander wrote on Coles’ Facebook page: “Are you sure Qld products are not affected. I bought spinach and rocket mix. My child has been unwell for three days.”

Another Brisbane mum posted on the same page: “You say Qld isn’t affected but my kids have been sick with headache and nausea. We eat your salads all the time and five of my six kids have been sick.

Chipotle’s processing changes: soundbite edition

I missed out on chatting with Jim-don’t-call-me-Louis-CK-Cramer but CNBC’s Closing Bell continues to cover the Chipotle outbreak anthology.

CNBC also has a decent breakdown of how outbreaks are investigated (good background for food company executives so they don’t say that CDC is picking on them).

Doctors and lab technicians are required to alert health authorities if a patient is diagnosed with any of a number of diseases, including many food borne illnesses. The reports made to state health departments help to collect data and determine disease trends.

The state health departments use techniques such as serotyping, which identifies more particular types of a given bacteria, like Salmonella. They also do DNA “fingerprinting,” which isolates variable elements in a string to be matched to other DNA found in a cluster.

They input their findings into a system called PulseNet.

One problem for the CDC in identifying fresh produce as the source of an outbreak is that by the time investigators find the food, the infected produce could be spoiled and no longer available for testing. Between physicians, state health authorities and CDC lab testing, the whole process can take weeks.

That means it’s likely that once you read about people taken ill in the news, they were infected a while ago. The illnesses that were reported the week of Dec. 21 started between Nov. 18 and 26, for example.

An exercise in risk management: some of Chipotle’s plans come out 

With six outbreaks now associated with Chipotle since July, the burrito chain is under scrutiny from the public and food safety folks for being heavy on promises to be 20 years ahead of everyone else and light on details. A couple of weeks ago they talked about switching their tomato handling from largely an in-store process to a centralized commissary with controls.

According to AP, here are some of the other specifics:2014-10-28-Chipotle_burrito2.jpg

Onions will be dipped in boiling water to kill germs before they’re chopped. Raw chicken will be marinated in re-sealable plastic bags, rather than in bowls. Cilantro will be added to freshly cooked rice so the heat gets rid of microbes in the garnish.

“When you’re given a project like this, you look at the universe of hazards,” said Mansour Samadpour, CEO of IEH Laboratories, which was hired by Chipotle to tighten its procedures.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said many of changes will be implemented in coming weeks, but that the company doesn’t expect the taste of its food to suffer. Among the tweaks the company is making:

—Cheese will now arrive in restaurants shredded.

—Ingredients like onions will be macerated with lemon or lime juice to kill germs.

—60 samples of every 2,000 pounds of steak will be tested before it’s sent to stores. A similar testing program will be implemented for chicken in coming weeks. Pork and barbacoa beef are already delivered cooked in sealed bags.

—Tomatoes, cilantro and other ingredients will be chopped in centralized locations, rather than in stores, so they can be tested. Chipotle has said in the past that tomatoes taste better when freshly diced in restaurants. After the outbreak, Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells changed tunes: “If I’m eating a burrito that had tomatoes that were chopped in a central kitchen in the salsa or one that was chopped in house, I probably couldn’t tell the difference,” he said in an interview on CNBC last week.

Not all chopping will be moved to centralized locations. Onions, for instance, would oxidize and smell bad if they were chopped days in advance, Samadpour said. So they will remain chopped in restaurants, along with lemons, limes and jalapenos. All will now be blanched to kill germs.

These are some good steps, I’d love to see the validation data that shows onions macerated with high-acid juice will take care of pathogens. Salmonella has been shown to be pretty hardy in the ceviche-type setting (resulting in a 1-2 log reduction according to some work done by barfblog friend and podcast buddy Don Schaffner).

I’d love to see the data associated with adding-cilantro-to-hot-rice – sounds like a good idea, but what is the heat transfer like and what does it do to the pathogens?

Sealed bags vs open bowls for marination is good – but those bags still need to be opened and the juices controlled.

Outbreaks matter: food safety still a problem at Joy Tsin Lau

Outbreaks happen all the time. The majority are avoidable and can be linked to a few factors or bad decisions. While I’m a self-described outbreak junkie, it’s not the gore of vomit and barf associated with tragic incidents that I’m interested in. While the stories are important, I’m not into embellishment to scare folks into behavior change.

The philosophy I subscribe to is to present folks who make decisions, from the teenage produce stock boy to the CEO of a food company, with the risks and consequences of their actions. And let them make a decision. Hopefully they choose to avoid making people sick.tsin-lau-12001

I’m an outbreak junkie because the sick and the dead are real people with families; individuals whose lives changed because they ate something. Something, for the most part, that wasn’t supposed to make them ill.

And if nothing is learned from those illnesses, and changes made, food doesn’t get any safer.

Sam Wood of Philly.com reports today that less than a year after being linked to an outbreak that sickened over 100 lawyers and law students, Joy Tsin Lau is still having trouble managing food safety.

Five pounds of raw duck feet and another five pounds of seaweed were tossed into the garbage last week after a city health inspector returned to Joy Tsin Lau.

The inspector took the temperature of the feet and found they weren’t cold enough. At 44 degrees Fahrenheit, they were in what the USDA considers the “danger zone,” where dangerous bacteria can double every 20 minutes.

Inspector Thomas Kolb cited the restaurant for three foodborne risk factors and four lesser violations. The restaurant’s owner did not return calls for comment Monday.

Learn from stuff.

Chipotle seen and heard: apologies, stock prices, recovery and another outlet shut

The saga of Chipotle’s food safety woes continued today. This morning, according to Business Insider, Chipotle CEO Steve Ells hit the Today Show to talk about one of their current outbreaks (the E. coli O26 one, not the norovirus one).

“This was a very unfortunate incident and I’m deeply sorry that this happened,” Ells said on NBC’s Today Show. “But the procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat.” Ells said it’s a “really tough time” for Chipotle.Chipotle_Brandon.jpeg

“We have closed our restaurants out of an abundance of caution and tested all the ingredients, surfaces — thousands and thousands of tests — and they call came back negative for E. coli,” Ells said.

A team of epidemiologists and food-safety experts has investigated the delivery, handling, cooking, and serving of all 64 of Chipotle’s ingredients, and developed better food-safety standards for the chain going forward.

“It has caused us to put in practices … that will put us 10 to 15 years ahead of industry norms and I believe this will be the safest restaurants to eat at,” Ells said.

I’m still not sure what this means. Or what it is that Chipotle plans to do that is so revolutionary, but since food safety isn’t a competitive issue; I’m sure they’ll share the details.

In related news, Chipotle’s stock rebounded with a five per cent bump following Ells pledge for better food safety.

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker compares Chipotle to Jack-in-the-Box which still carries stigma over 20 years after a devastating and tragic outbreak.

Chipotle can take solace in the knowledge that Jack in the Box did eventually recover, and indeed prospered. And Chipotle has advantages that Jack in the Box did not. Its reputation for quality before the crisis was stronger, which means that the reservoir of good will among customers is higher. It is also the market leader in the fast-casual category—a sector it essentially created—rather than an also-ran, as Jack in the Box was. Still, those advantages only go so far. There are now myriad good fast-casual alternatives in much of the country. Customer loyalty is no longer what it was—consumers are far more likely to abandon brands when they disappoint. And while Chipotle has said that it is introducing more stringent testing and reassessing its food-handling practices, its reliance on local suppliers means that the task of insuring the integrity of its supply chain will be harder than what Jack in the Box faced.

Oh, and according to Bloomberg, one of Chipotle’s Seattle outlets that was closed last month during the O26 investigation, and then reopened, was closed again today after an inspector found deficient handling practices including temperature control issues.

The public-health department for Seattle and King County closed the restaurant, which was located in the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood, according to a statement from the agency on Thursday.

In Seattle, an inspector found that food wasn’t being kept hot enough on a line that prepares takeout orders, said Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. “We are looking into the cause of that and will certainly address it,” he said in an e-mail.

Chipotle seen and heard (there’s a lot going on)

As norovirus was confirmed at a Boston-area Chipotle (marking the 5th confirmed outbreak in the past 6 months), Chipotle officials took the airwaves to talk about how they plan on responding.

Phil Wahba of Fortune writes that cases linked to a Cleveland Circle Chipotle have climbed to 120.Chipotle_Brandon.jpeg

Boston College said Wednesday the number of students suffering from symptoms consistent with the Norovirus is now 120, up from an estimate of 30 earlier this week. The school said, “Nearly all cases are related to students who ate at the Chipotle restaurant in Cleveland Circle” last weekend. Chipotle has temporarily closed that location.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, Chipotle plans on doing some radical things (although they have yet to reveal the details of what their new standards are).

In a presentation to Wall Street analysts at the annual Bernstein Consumer Summit in New York, officials with the Denver-based chain laid out a plan for improving food safety that they contend will put Chipotle 10 to 20 years ahead of industry norms.

“We have this desire to be the safest place to eat,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle chairman, founder and co-CEO.

Meanwhile, Chipotle is investing heavily in food safety with new protocols that will include more testing of fresh produce.

Just as suppliers are asked to meet certain standards under the chain’s Food With Integrity mission, produce suppliers will be held to higher standards in terms of food safety, Ells said.

“There will be robust testing procedures that will need to be in place for all of our suppliers, whether large or small,” he said. “Some of the smaller suppliers might have a hard time implementing these robust testing procedures initially. We’ll help them. Not all will be on board, for sure, but we think most will.”

But, because “it’s impossible to test every tomato,” the chain is taking additional operational steps, Ells said.

For example, Chipotle has begun dicing tomatoes in a commissary, putting them through a “sanitary kill step” to eliminate pathogens, and hermetically sealing them for delivery to restaurants.

I’m interested in what this sanitary kill step is, and what data they have that validates it. Is it a 5- or 7-log reduction kill step? Or a 1- to 2-log reduction one?

The PR world is analyzing Chipotle’s communications reresponse and according to CNBC, they aren’t doing great.

“They’re not going far enough,” Gene Grabowski, who runs the crisis group at kglobal, told CNBC. “They’re not painting pictures with their words,” he said. “They’re still doing too much explaining.”

They aren’t really explaining enough what they actually plan – paint the picture of a company that has a good food safety culture, and implement it.

In related news, Chipotle stocks continue to fall, but have no fear, significant traffic driving initiatives (whatever those are) will bring the people back.

In a report published Wednesday, Sara Senatore of Bernstein maintained a bullish stance on Chipotle’s stock even though she acknowledged that Chipotle’s brand has been “diminished” following the recent E. coli outbreak. However, the analyst noted that once the CDC gives the “all clear,” the company should benefit from “significant traffic driving initiatives.

Senatore said Chipotle is likely to initiate a series of initiatives including an up-tick in “traditional marketing,” including social media outreach and direct mail – which may consist of buy-one-get-one free offers and other discounting that have “proven very effective” for the company in the past. Naturally, these initiatives will result in gross margin pressure in the near term, but margin recovery should “materialize over time” as management realizes efficiencies and benefits from improvements in technology and throughput.

Here’s a significant Traffic driving initiative for you.

Boston chipotle closed after 80 illnesses; employee worked while ill

Things aren’t good for Chipotle. Here’s the list of recent outbreaks: E. coli in Seattle, Salmonella in Minnesota, Norovirus iportland-press-herald_3512878-300x235n California and E. coli O26 and in at least 9 states. All of that since July.

And now, according to NBC news, over 80 ill Boston College students (and probably others) have been linked to a eating at a Chipotle in Cleveland Circle. Environmental health folks shut the restaurant following an investigation revealed an employee worked while ill.

Not good.

City health officials ordered the outlet closed after an inspection showed the cooked chicken used to make burritos, tacos and other dishes was being kept at too low a temperature, an employee worked while showing signs of illness and because of the reports of possible foodborne illness.

Chipotle said it had voluntarily closed the restaurant in the Brighton section of the city.

“All 80 students have confirmed that they ate at the Chipotle Restaurant in Cleveland Circle during the weekend,” Boston College said in a statement.

“All have been tested for both E. coli and the norovirus. Test results will not be available for at least two days.”


‘When I pay an average of over $10 a meal I expect quality food and not poisonous meals’

A dining hall at Chapman University (no relation) was closed over the past couple of days after students came down with nausea, vomit and diarrhea. According to The Panther, health authorities believe that the illnesses are linked to a norovirus outbreak.

According to an email sent by Jerry Price, dean of students and vice chancellor for student affairs, the cafeteria will reopen for breakfast on Dec. 7 and throughout the weekend food will be available in the Student Union for students with meal plans.photo

“It doesn’t make me scared necessarily, however it’s a bit concerning since I’m on a 19 meal plan and I get a majority of my meals from the cafeteria,” wrote Michael Anderson, a sophomore television writing and production major. “When I pay an average of over $10 a meal I expect quality food and not poisonous meals.”

Kyler Asato, a freshman creative writing major, had lunch at the cafeteria last Wednesday and then lost his appetite. On Thursday he did not eat until 5:20 p.m. after nearly fainting during his dance class.

Asato said that he ate a sandwich and muffin from the Digital Media Arts Center. He then had a pizza from Doy’s Place which caused him to vomit.

“I went back to my room after around 45 minutes of not being able to move due to lack of energy,” Asato wrote. “Then, I had my friend give me Sprite, and went to sleep around 10. I woke up three times and barfed each time. I also had diarrhea at least four times throughout the day, starting from 11 a.m.”

Sounds nasty.

Brae Surgeoner, Doug and I had a paper published in the September 2009 Journal of Environmental Health about some research we conducted in the Winter of 2006. The study came about because a whole bunch of kids in the University of Guelph’s residence system started puking from an apparent norovirus outbreak. There were lots of handwashing signs up and we wanted to know whether they changed hygiene behavior (especially if kids were using the tools available when entering the cafeteria). Turns out that students weren’t doing as good of a job at hand hygiene as they reported to us.

All bets are off with sick kids: Hep A in berries edition

I’m an emotional dude and I’ve become more sensitive as a parent. I know my emotions aren’t unique, but sappy movies, especially those focused on parent/kid relationships, make me cry. I’m a nervous flyer (I wasn’t before) irrationally thinking the plane is going down with every bump (leaving my kids fatherless).

I’m empathetic of folks who have kids affected by foodborne illness; when they are young, all their risk protection comes from caregivers.Unknown-7

As NZ health authorities finger Fruzio Mixed Berries as a likely source of four hepatitis A illnesses in the country, the New Zealand Herald highlights how trust in food is impacted during outbreaks.

Some Kiwis who bought the berries quickly contacted the Herald this evening to share their concerns.

Stevie Sanders from Hamilton said she was very worried after giving her 7-month-old daughter the berries. “Oh my God. I’ve just been freaking out. She’s seven months … and I feel so guilty.” Mrs Sanders said she used to mash the berries in with her daughter’s organic yoghurt. She said it was important the Government told people which products were linked to the health scare.

Chloe Rarity from Blenheim said her family was “really shocked” about the berries and found out she’d been eating the Fruzio berries over the past week. She’d made “a huge batch” of berry sorbet for her new neighbours and four families ate it at a barbecue.

Justin Robbins said as a father, he was worried for his family after hearing of the Hepatitis A cases. “When you realise that you are totally and utterly in control of someone else’s life, the feeling that you could’ve given them something that would make them sick – that’s not a nice place to be. “To say it’s unnerving is probably a massive understatement,” he said this evening.


‘We strongly advise you not to Google search ‘Hepatitis A’ as you may access inaccurate and possibly worrying information.’

I play hockey with a bunch of technology nerds and last night’s post game dressing room chatter included a discussion on recalled emails. Instead of the intended message of ‘oh, I made a mistake, don’t read that last one,’ it leads to increased attention and urgency in reading the recalled message to see what the sender didn’t want you to see.

Sort of like telling someone not to Google something likely leads to that person immediately Googling it.yorkshire-puddings

That’s what a school in the UK did in an effort to reduce panic after 20 cases of hepatitis A was identified in a couple of schools, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.

An outbreak of Hepatitis A in two Leeds schools has seen national health chiefs offer mass vaccinations in the LS9 area.

Public Health England (PHE) stepped in after around 20 cases of the rare virus were confirmed in the area, sparking a vaccination program that will impact thousands of school staff and residents.

The YEP understands that the 630-pupil Richmond Hill Primary School, in Clark Lane, and 460-pupil Brownhill Primary Academy, in Torre Drive, are the two schools where all staff and pupils are being immunized.

A message put out to parents at Richmond Hill Primary School urges them not to “panic” over the situation. It reads: “We strongly advise you not to Google search ‘Hepatitis A’ as you may access inaccurate and possibly worrying information.”

PHE is working with Leeds City Council and the NHS in Leeds to vaccinate those most likely to have come into contact with the carriers. Around 300 people have taken up the vaccine when offered so far, and PHE is stressing that anyone who has not yet been offered the vaccination does not need it at the current time.

There were only 367 reported cases of Hepatitis A infection in England and Wales during 2010.

I Googled hepatitis A and found some good information sources.

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