Where’s the risk assessment? Raw British eggs safe for pregnant women, old folks, report says

In an apparent triumph of culture over science, the UK’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food says pregnant women should be told they can safely eat runny eggs, almost 30 years after the Salmonella crisis.

runny-egg-yolksBritish eggs with the red lion mark carry such a low risk that vulnerable groups, such as expectant mothers and elderly people, could eat them lightly cooked or raw in items such as mayonnaise.

The report by the committee’s egg working group said lion-marked eggs, which make up almost 90% of UK production, should be categorised as “very low” risk. This was because improved hygiene and storage had resulted in “a major reduction in the microbiological risk from salmonella” in British hen eggs in the last 15 years.

It recommended that the Food Standards Agency change its official advice on these eggs but said the warning should remain in place for imported eggs, UK eggs without the lion mark and those from birds other than hens.

Fears over salmonella peaked in the late 1980s when 2 million chickens were slaughtered and pregnant women were told to avoid undercooked eggs.

The ACMSF report said: “The ‘very low’ risk level means that eggs produced under the lion code, or produced under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups in society, including those that are more vulnerable to infection, in both domestic and commercial settings, including care homes and hospitals.”

In 1988 the then junior health minister Edwina Currie said most egg production in Britain was infected with salmonella. Her comments sparked a public outcry and forced her to resign two weeks later. By early 1989 the link between eggs and salmonella poisoning was proved beyond doubt.


Jersey, this is a bad idea: Green anole lizard found in salad greens from store becomes class mascot; science teacher says it proves organic is safe

I’ll leave this to others to comment (and thanks for the contributor who sent it in):

salm.lizard.jan.16Sally Mabon and her kindergartener, Faye, found an unexpected surprise last week when they unwrapped a bundle of tatsoi greens: a 3-inch lizard.

It was cold and lifeless after having survived in the refrigerator for days, but is now thriving after some warmth and moisture.

The following day, Faye brought the critter to Riverside Elementary School, where it has become a mascot of sorts for teacher Mark Eastburn’s science lab.

“Interesting things can happen when you’re working as a science teacher,” he said. “We set up a little cage for it. It really came back amazingly well.”

While some of his fellow teachers were disgusted to hear that a lizard might be lurking in their salad greens, Eastburn said the lizard can teach them a couple of lessons: that organic food is safe for even the smallest of creatures, and that during the cold months, fresh fruits and vegetables need to come from warmer regions.

He said green anole lizards live in the southeastern United States, from Texas to North Carolina.

The lizard, nicknamed “Green Fruit Loop” by the kindergarteners, traveled from Florida.

“It probably has some moderate adaptation to the cold which is why it made it through,” Eastburn said.

Mabon bought the tatsoi from Whole Earth Center, a Princeton natural foods store whose produce is 100 percent organic (marketed that way).

Mike Atkinson, the store’s produce manager, said the lizard’s survival is a testament to organic food, which is generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

“I don’t think the lizard would’ve made it in a conventional, non-organic box,” he said. “It might normally surprise or freak out conventional shoppers, but the majority of organic shoppers realize that produce is grown on a farm and there’s lots of bugs and animals that live on a farm too. It shouldn’t be a surprise that one here and there makes it to the produce shelf.”

Eastburn has been teaching about DNA so he said it makes sense that the green anole lizard — the first reptile to have its genome sequenced — has now found a new home in the lab.

“It’s a really fitting mascot for our science lab,” he said.

Done that with food safety: NZ toilets provide road safety messages for foreign drivers

About 2003, Chapman and I were drinking beer after hockey, and thought, if entertainment pages were posted above urinals, why can’t we do the same with food safety information.

katie.barf.infosheetSo the manager at the bar above the rink agreed (probably because we were regulars, and used the urinal a lot) and food safety infosheets were born.

We got a unique opportunity to study if they actually worked in a bunch of food service establishments (self-reported surveys suck).

This has been Chapman’s baby all along, and now that he’s a big-shot prof, he don’t do them too much.

That’s fine, we’ve always been more about ideas – a think piece – and others can implement them.

This piece of nostalgia was prompted by a report that South Canterbury’s public toilets have become a novel location for pitching road safety messages to tourist drivers.

Maps in public toilets showing crash sites over the past five years are giving safety warnings in Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Filipino (we did them in English, French, Spanish, some Chinese, some Portugese, depending on what students were around).

The maps, placed above urinals and on the inside of toilet doors, also link readers to websites with road safety messages in 14 languages.

Tourists are being given the safety warnings and driver tips at 60 public toilets around South Canterbury.

South Canterbury Road Safety co-ordinator Daniel Naude said the signs were mostly aimed at foreign tourists, and toilets provided a captive audience.

It was difficult to get people to read road safety information, but he realised signs in toilets could make for good reading for “30 seconds when there’s nothing to do.”


Assessment of Food Safety Practices of Food Service Food Handlers: Testing a Communication Intervention

Chapman, Benjamin; Eversley, Tiffany; Filion, Katie; MacLaurin, Tanya; Powell, Douglas

Journal of Food Protection, Volume 73, Number 6, June 2010 , pp. 1101-1107

Globally, foodborne illness affects an estimated 30% of individuals annually. Meals prepared outside of the home are a risk factor for acquiring foodborne illness and have been implicated in up to 70% of traced outbreaks.

SPANISH infosheet-jan25-10The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called on food safety communicators to design new methods and messages aimed at increasing food safety risk-reduction practices from farm to fork. Food safety infosheets, a novel communication tool designed to appeal to food handlers and compel behavior change, were evaluated. Food safety infosheets were provided weekly to food handlers in working food service operations for 7 weeks. It was hypothesized that through the posting of food safety infosheets in highly visible locations, such as kitchen work areas and hand washing stations, that safe food handling behaviors of food service staff could be positively influenced. Using video observation, food handlers (n = 47) in eight food service operations were observed for a total of 348 h (pre- and postintervention combined). After the food safety infosheets were introduced, food handlers demonstrated a significant increase (6.7%, P < 0.05, 95% confidence interval) in mean hand washing attempts, and a significant reduction in indirect cross-contamination events (19.6%, P < 0.05, 95% confidence interval). Results of the research demonstrate that posting food safety infosheets is an effective intervention tool that positively influences the food safety behaviors of food handlers.

Food fraud: Ton of meat seized by food safety officers from halal butchers in Glasgow

Glasgow City Council’s environmental health teams have been investigating allegations that halal meat is being supplied by illegal sources to city food outlets.

A-halal-butcher-s-in-Lond-011In the biggest case to date, food safety officers seized 1000kg of meat from two halal butchers operating in the city.

The meat – which was believed to be lamb but couldn’t be verified because it had no labels – had been supplied by an unapproved cutting plant in Lancashire.

Halal meat involves slaughtering animals or poultry in a specific way. It is eaten by followers of Islam and is supplied by specialist butchers.

A report has been sent to the council’s Health and Social Care Police Development committee about traceability in the halal meat supply chain.

The report says officers launched a project in 2010 to find out if illegal meat was being processed in or distributed to Glasgow food outlets following allegations.

They found there was no evidence of meat being illegally slaughtered but documentation and labelling was “in many cases insufficient”.

The biggest haul happened in 2012. Recent allegations received include the supply of meat by unregistered traders, the supply of meat without any health marks and illegal street trading of meat from unmarked vans.

The report also referenced the horsemeat scandal in January 2013, which raised public awareness of the potential for food fraud in the meat supply chain.

The report said: “It would appear that some food businesses have not learned lessons from the horsemeat scandal.

“Unless traceability significantly improves it will continue to be impossible to differentiate legal meat from that originating from illegal sources.

“Consequently Glasgow food businesses remain at risk of food crime from elsewhere in the food chain.”

There are a total of 43 halal butchers across the city.

Whole-genome-sequencing and the longest run-on sentence in abstract history: And who’s we?

As we are approaching the twentieth anniversary of PulseNet, a network of public health and regulatory laboratories that has changed the landscape of foodborne illness surveillance through molecular subtyping, public health microbiology is undergoing another transformation brought about by so-called next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies that have made whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of foodborne bacterial pathogens a realistic and superior alternative to traditional subtyping methods.

runonsRoutine, real-time, and widespread application of WGS in food safety and public health is on the horizon. Technological, operational, and policy challenges are still present and being addressed by an international and multidisciplinary community of researchers, public health practitioners, and other stakeholders. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology Volume 7 is February 28, 2016. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/catalog/pubdates.aspx for revised estimates.

Genomic epidemiology: Whole-genome-sequencing-powered surveillance and outbreak investigation of foodborne bacterial pathogens

Deng X, et al. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2016.



Canberra gets a lot of gastro

For a nation’s capital – Canberra, that’s in Australia – with all those public servants preaching handwashing and sanitation, they get a lot of gastro.

CT Health has warned of the potential danger of gastroenteritis after a North Canberra childcare centre has been hit with the virus.

handwashing.sep.12Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Kelly said a handful of staff and children had been infected since he was first notified last Thursday.

It was the first outbreak of 2016 to involve ACT Health.

A Canberra woman was one of 150 people who fell ill on a musical cruise in October featuring Australian and international stars and Opera Australia performers.

Six months earlier, a Canberra nursing home was in lockdown after the diagnosis of gastroenteritis in a number of residents, leading to restricted access for family to visit residents.

Fifty-three students caught the virus after an ANU end of year celebration at Burgmann College in 2014.

Hockey players get better with constant practice, not 2 hour gimmicks: Chipotle is ‘focused on bullshit’

Yes, I said it.

doug.hockey.2.sep.15Sure it was 4 a.m., I was talking with Joseph Erbentraut of The Huffington Post, getting ready for hockey, and didn’t want to deal with niceties.

It’s been six months since the start of Chipotle’s food safety crisis — a series of six outbreaks that have sickened at least 500 people.

The company has apologized for the outbreaks of norovirus and E. coli, tweaked its cooking methods and announced that it will temporarily close all its stores for a companywide food safety meeting on Feb. 8. But with an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still underway, it appears the company still hasn’t identified the source of the contamination.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold pointed The Huffington Post to a Jan. 19 press release announcing that the company’s “comprehensive new food safety programs” are largely already in place, and that it will be sharing information with its employees at the Feb. 8 meeting about what they believe caused the food safety issues.

Doug Powell, a former Kansas State University food safety professor and the publisher and editor of Barfblog, a popular food safety blog, isn’t convinced. He’s been wary of Chipotle for almost a decade now, and has his doubts that the company’s new approach will solve anything.

HuffPost recently spoke with Powell about why Chipotle has struggled in its response to the outbreaks — and what it should be doing instead.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it taking Chipotle so long to figure out the source of this E. coli outbreak, compared to the other food safety issues they’ve had over this last year?

chipotle_ad_2Never underestimate the power of denial. The epidemiology is clear that there was an outbreak involving E. coli O26, and in this case it was probably from the cilantro or some other fresh produce item that wasn’t cooked. Fresh produce is the biggest source of foodborne illness in the U.S. and has been for the last 10 years, and that’s because it’s not cooked. We want it fresh.

Somehow in the last five years in the U.S., the produce folks have gotten much more aggressive about having to test [bacteria] in the product and find it. Tell any scientist that and they’ll say that’s bullshit, because it’s a fresh product, so it’s here and gone and we’re not going to find [bacteria]. Testing really only tells you that this one really minor sample, in this one batch, in one lot, came back negative. It doesn’t tell you much else. You can’t test your way to a safe food supply.

Chipotle has really built its brand around using fresh produce, and consumer demand for food like this has been rising. So the company has put itself in this risky position, right?

It doesn’t have to increase the risk. It means that they have to be better at having on-farm food safety plans for their suppliers and enforcing them. It seems to me that Chipotle was much more concerned about being natural, sustainable, GMO-free, hormone-free — anything but microbiologically safe — and that’s why they’ve had six outbreaks in six months. The two norovirus outbreaks have nothing to do with the on-farm contamination. That’s human.

They say they’ve introduced sick leave [on Wednesday], but they actually had it six months ago. They’re recycling press releases at this point, which tells me they’re kind of desperate. They’re all about the money and they’ve lost 47 percent of their stock value.

The company is facing a new class-action lawsuit this week, where it’s being accused of a cover-up in the norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, California. How much damage has this done to Chipotle’s brand at this point? 

It’s billions of dollars. It’s embarrassing that a company is allowed to get away with this sort of stuff, these multiple failures, while at the same time they’re charging a premium for “sustainable” food, whatever that means. All these adjectives that they use in their marketing don’t really mean anything. This is a company really focused on bullshit rather than being focused on microbiologically safe food. [Chipotle has emphasized that it is just as dedicated to using what it calls the highest-quality ingredients as it is to being an industry leader in food safety.]

Does the question of government regulation play a role in this?

Government is there to ensure a minimum standard. But they do not make the profit and they do not really enforce safe food. That is up to the company… You want to make the profit off the food, you’re going to be liable. So they’re taking some well-deserved hits at this point. Whether they’ll recover or not — they can, but just going to the PR solution and this gimmick of shutting all the stores down for two hours on Feb. 8 isn’t how you do training. It takes every week reinforcing the messages and focusing on one goal.

What should Chipotle be doing right now that it isn’t already? Are there examples to look to of similar companies that have handled this effectively?

They’ve followed the Jack in the Box model from 1993 in that they hired some food safety consultants and they’re listening to them. That’s good, but that is not going to change the culture within the organization. Those two norovirus outbreaks are cultural things more than anything. That’s not some mysterious bug coming in — it’s employees showing up sick to work. They can say they have strict procedures that sick employees don’t work, but anyone who’s ever worked at a restaurant knows what happens when you don’t show up to work. You’re done.

I don’t see, so far, that they’ve gotten that religious about food safety. They’ve hired some good consultants and they’ll do more testing and that’s all good, but when you’ve got 2,000 locations, that’s a pretty big vulnerability.

And get off my bench, posers.

1 dead, 8 sick (3 newborns): Deleware cheese company pleads guilty in 2014 Listeria outbreak

A specialty cheese manufacturer in Kenton, Delaware, has pleaded guilty to violating federal food and drugs laws that led to a 2014 outbreak of listeria infections from Hispanic-style cheese.

roos-cheese-santa-rosa-de-lima-300pxAfter a criminal and civil complaint was filed this week, Roos Foods Inc., has pleaded guilty to distribution of adulterated cheese in interstate commerce, a misdemeanor, U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III said in a statement Friday.

The company and its principals, Ana A. Roos and Virginia Mejia, also have agreed to a permanent injunction, which requires them to stop processing and distributing food products unless they bring the operations into compliance with federal laws, he said.

The plea stems from a 2014 outbreak in which eight people – five adults and three newborns – in Maryland and California were infected with the L. mono bacterium that causes the disease listeriosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One died as a result of the illness.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected the company’s Kenton facility and found unsanitary conditions, including roof leaks, rust flakes, un-cleanable surfaces, and product residue on equipment that had purportedly been cleaned, the complaint said. A sample collected at the facility found L. mono on 12 surfaces.

Is Blue Bell or Chipotle the food industry’s Volkswagen. Or both

My latest for Texas A&M University. Visit them at http://cfs.tamu.edu/2016/01/21/is-blue-bell-or-chipotle-the-food-industrys-volkswagen-or-both/

alices-restaurant-2-croppedVolkswagen’s top executive apologized earlier this month for his company’s role in its ongoing emissions cheating. CEO Matthias Mueller spoke at a Detroit restaurant on the eve of the city’s annual auto show, and said, I’m sorry.

Not much else.

I’ve been to that auto show, covering it as a journalist for a computer magazine 25 years ago, and it was deeply weird.

Scantily-clad women, sales-thingies hawking their new toys, a lot of back-slapping and back-stabbing.

As they say in Kansas, always smile when you twist the knife (because a straight stab usually isn’t enough to kill).

Blue Bell Creameries says that new findings of Listeria in one of its ice cream manufacturing plants are media misstatements.

And they’re still sorry.

When your product kills three people and your food safety strategy is shown to be woefully insufficient, that’s a bad soundbite.

Instead, share Listeria test results with the public, through a website or QR codes. How much does Blue Bell have left to lose?

Probably less than Chipotle.

The diarrhea burrito is not healthy eating, but Chipotle is still getting a free pass – not so for Chipotle shareholders, who have seen their investments decline by 47 percent in the past six months.

They’re really sorry too.

For whatever reason – money – Chipotle investors and apologists are willing to look beyond the company’s many failings.

If Chipotle really wanted to be a leader, they would have embraced microbiologically safe food and internal verification long before the 2015 outbreaks.

If Chipotle really wanted to be a leader they’d stop playing to consumer fears with their advertising.

If Chipotle really wanted to be a leader, they would embrace genetically engineered foods that require fewer and far less harmful pesticides.

Chipotle is a follower, sucking up dollars wherever it can.

In its latest PR rah-rah stunt, Chipotle is going to close all of its 1,900 outlets on Feb. 8 for a few hours “for company executives to be transparent about the status of the E. coli outbreak, and what Chipotle is doing to prevent it from happening again.”

“Chipotle emphasizes fresh, locally sourced ingredients. It was the first major chain to reject genetically modified food. Chipotle has embodied the notion of doing well by doing good.”

That’s not doing anyone any good.

It’s marketing BS.

Consumers aren’t so dumb or confused. Chipotle said same-store sales dropped a greater-than-expected 14.6 percent in the last quarter, and analysts have been scrambling to downgrade their ratings.

They’re going to wait until Feb. 8 to close all its restaurants so employees can learn about the gravity of its foodborne illness outbreak.

E-mail works.

Last week, company executives appeared at an investor conference in Florida in a bid to soothe unnerved shareholders, if not customers, and acknowledged 2016 would be a “messy” year for earnings. As reported in Wired, it helped. Shares in the company, once a darling of Wall Street, rebounded more than 12 percent and appear to be holding steady.

People can be dumb.

But food safety is nothing compared to the weight of investor portfolios, so of course, Chipotle had an investor smile and shake before it had a food safety meeting.

Anything to make a buck.

“During that whole time, all of our food safety and food handling practices were within industry standards,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, says. “These incidents have shown us what we need to do better in that area, and that is exactly what we are doing.”

The Pinto defense – that car that had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind — should not inspire investors.

And more testing won’t stop Norovirus.

“This plan should reduce the risk of similar risks to a level as near zero as is possible,” Arnold says.

There is no such thing as zero risk, no matter, how much testing, a topic I covered almost 20 years ago in my co-authored book, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk.

That Chipotle is just discovering this concept is an embarrassment for all the investors who have lost money.

And a blight on microbial food safety.

Stop apologizing for Chipotle just because it may be hipster.

It isn’t.

Neither is Volkswagon.

Stoner’s paradise (and good for them): White Castle website to display health scores

White Castle, America’s first hamburger chain, today announced the launch of WhiteCastleClean.com. This website is dedicated to promoting food safety, cleanliness and transparency by providing county health scores for all White Castle restaurants. White Castle is the first quick service restaurant chain to create a website specifically designed to share health inspection scores with the public.

harold-kumar-go-to-white-castle“The commitment to food safety, cleanliness and total transparency in our efforts are critical aspects of serving our customers and are the foundation upon which founder Billy Ingram built our family owned business,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle. “As we celebrate our 95th birthday, we are reaffirming our commitment to these values and I can think of no greater commitment than to be the first restaurant to offer our health scores online.”

“Online health scores are common for most but not all counties and cities,” said Richardson. “Restaurant inspection and health scores are handled at a county and municipal level. So while there is a semblance of a universal standard, there are unique differences in how the scores are assigned at each county across the United States. Unfortunately, budget challenges have forced some counties to abandon their health score websites. In the spirit of Billy’s transparency, we wanted to create a place where our Cravers could go to view their local Castles’ health scores.”

The site will be updated biannually and the most recent scores will be included on the site.

For more information about White Castle’s food safety and cleanliness initiatives, visit whitecastle.com.