Talking food safety: It don’t mean shit

I’ve stepped aside for two weeks and this has become painfully apparent: Most of everything I did in my 20-year academic career don’t mean shit.

it-dont-mean-a-thing-swingIt’s the food safety version of the liberal bubble.

I’ve been praised and criticized along the way for using new messages, new media and new ways of gauging food safety behaviour.

But it don’t mean shit.

We microbiologially-inclined folks look on with dismay as mere plebes engage in all kinds of risky food stuff, and then lament amongst ourselves at the uneducated public (I don’t, but many others do).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), long considered the holy tome for all things food safety, has just published its 10 Most Talked About MMWR Reports of 2016:

CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016

Interim Guidelines for Pregnant Women During a Zika Virus Outbreak — United States, 2016

Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014

Possible Association Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly — Brazil, 2015

Interim Guidelines for the Evaluation and Testing of Infants with Possible Congenital Zika Virus Infection — United States, 2016

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2016–17 Influenza Season

Possible Zika Virus Infection Among Pregnant Women — United States and Territories, May 2016

Sleep Duration and Injury-Related Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — United States, 2007–2013

Interim Guidelines for Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016

Neisseria gonorrhoeae Antimicrobial Susceptibility Surveillance — The Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project, 27 Sites, United States, 2014

For all the outbreaks, deaths, tragedies, and criminal behaviour, microbial food safety doesn’t even make the top-10 at CDC.

Food safety fairy tales would probably rate higher.

Producer groups, government, industry, your food safety communications budgets are ripe for hacking.

Because it don’t mean shit.

Strategies? Cook ‘em: 120 sicken by noro in raw oysters in BC

Oysters are officially to blame for a norovirus outbreak that originated in Tofino last month.

“We do know of at least 120 people who became ill with norovirus and it was because of exposure to raw oysters,” Island Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback told Andrew Bailey of Westerly News on Monday.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada shut down all shellfish harvesting in a portion of Lemmens Inlet last week and Hasselback suggested further closures could be coming.

“The investigation isn’t quite complete. There are some loose ends and there may be further actions,” he said. “We can’t put every oyster back exactly where it came from but, believe it or not, we can actually track lots of oysters as to where they were processed, harvested and transported and that’s all been part of this investigation.”

tofinos-clayoquot-oyster-festivalOysters were the primary suspect in Island Health’s investigation from the onset as roughly 30 reports of norovirus cases came in in the immediate aftermath of Tofino’s Clayoquot Oyster Festival.

Hasselback said the number of reported cases ballooned from 30 to 120 after anyone who became sick after attending the festival was encouraged to report in.

“We certainly did get individuals who had consumed the product in Tofino that had gone to other provinces, or even south of the border, who were notifying us of illness so it’s good to know that the communication channels worked well,” he said.

He said the oysters were likely contaminated before arriving at the Oyster Festival’s tables.

“The investigation strongly suggests that the oysters were already contaminated with norovirus before they came to any of those locations so there was nothing that the festival people or other locations would have had any control over or would have known about,” he said.

tofinos-clayoquot-oyster-festival-2“Unfortunately we don’t have easy lab testing for things like viruses that would make it simple to screen the product before it gets out and then we end up finding out afterwards that potentially was contaminated.”

He said he has spoken with festival organizers to hash out strategies for next year.

He said the recent Tofino outbreak is the largest norovirus cluster he’s seen in the past five years but noted it was not unprecedented.

“We have seen it before,” he said. “We know this can occur.”

Data says so: Australia does have a raw egg problem

Statistics show that the consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest source of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks in Australia.

garlic_aioliI based a large part of my research career on verifying the soundbite, ‘we have released guidelines’ or, ‘we follow all recommendations’ by arranging to have students see what actually goes on.

In October 2014, the New South Wales Food Authority released Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products (the Guidelines). Despite this, outbreaks continued to take place, particularly where business hygiene and temperature control issues were apparent. In addition, businesses and councils approached the Food Authority for advice on desserts containing raw eggs and other unusual raw egg dishes. As a result, the Guidelines were recently updated and give specific reference to Standard 3.2.2, Division 3, clause 7 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to ensure that only safe and suitable food is processed.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks caused by Salmonella, retail businesses are advised to avoid selling food containing raw or minimally cooked eggs. The Guidelines give food businesses that do sell food containing raw egg specific safety steps for its preparation and clear guidance and advice on what they must do to meet food safety regulations. The revised Food Safety Guidelines for the Preparation of Raw Egg Products is available at www. foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/ retail/raw_egg_guidelines.pdf.

raw-eggsOr as the Australian Food Safety Information Council now says, buy, don’t make aioli or mayonnaise.

This is nice but of no use to consumers at a restaurant who order fish and chips  with a side of mayo or aioli. I’ve already begun an ad hoc investigation – because I don’t want my family to get sick – and can say that out of the 15 times I’ve asked over the past few years – is the aioli or mayo made at the restaurant or bought commercially – the server invariably returns and proclaims, We only use raw eggs in our aioli or mayo.

Wrong answer.

Only once, so far, has an owner or chef said, we know of the risk, we only use the bought stuff. And they’re ex-pat Canadians.

Giv’r, eh.

A table of Australian egg outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-10-9-15.xlsx

Raw is risky: Searching for answers behind Vibrio-in-raw-oyster outbreaks

Michael Casey of The Charlotte Observer reports that for the past 25 years, researcher Stephen Jones has tried to understand the threat that bacteria may pose to oysters in New Hampshire’s Great Bay estuary. He often couldn’t get funding to study the problem. But that is beginning to change as scientists notice “something is going on.”

Oyster-Vancouver, B.C.- 07/05/07- Joe Fortes Oyster Specialist Oyster Bob Skinner samples a Fanny Bay oyster at the restuarant. Vancouver Coastal Health now requires restaurants to inform their patrons of the dangers of eating raw shellfish.  (Richard Lam/Vancouver Sun)   [PNG Merlin Archive]

Scientists are recognizing that a waterborne disease sickening tens of thousands of people each year is associated with warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico moving northward, partly due to climate change. The problem is extremely rare in New Hampshire and neighboring Maine, but scientists have seen cases elsewhere in New England and expect it to become a bigger problem.

Cases of human illness have been piling up since Sept. in Florida, Massachusetts and Western Canada.

“We have this situation in the northern part of the United States and other cooler climates where people haven’t thought this had been a problem,” said Jones, of the Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology at the University of New Hampshire. “In the last 10 or 20 years, it’s become very apparent that there is something going on.”

In a paper in the science journal PLOS One, Jones and other scientists reported their findings that illnesses from vibrio bacteria have jumped significantly in New England — from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. Disease-causing bacteria can contaminate oysters, leading to infections such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Jones and his colleague, Cheryl Whistler, concluded that warmer waters in the Great Bay, higher salinity and the presence of chlorophyll all contributed to higher concentrations of one of the more common vibrio species that makes people sick — vibrio parahaemolyticus. The researchers are hoping their findings will serve as the foundation of an early warning system for the region’s booming oyster industry.

oysters-grillCurrently, all experts can do is monitor the waters and rapidly cool harvested oyster to halt bacteria growth.

An August report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warming waters were linked to waterborne food poisoning, especially from eating raw oysters.

“There is similar reporting in Alaska where it has been found that increased cases have been occurring where it has not been reported before because of the temperature rise,” said the study’s lead author, Rita Colwell, of the University of Maryland.

The industry has welcomed Jones and Whistler’s work, noting that outbreaks like the one that occurred last month in Massachusetts need to be avoided. Nearly 75 people were sickened.

“When you are involved with a recall because people have gotten sick, you are a losing tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of credibility,” said Tom Howell, president of Spinney Creek Shellfish Inc., in Eliot, Maine, which harvests oysters from the Great Bay. A predictive model would allow the industry to move more aggressively to avoid an outbreak, he said.

But Howell and Chris Nash, New Hampshire’s shellfish program manager, said that day could be far off.

“We are still learning what seems to trigger these pathogenic strains to multiply … We don’t have that knowledge yet and it may be that we never do,” Nash said. “We are talking about biological organisms … They react to their environment different, the same way humans do.”

Norovirus: Over 100 sickened by raw oysters on Vancouver Island

CBC reports Island Health says Norovirus is likely to blame after more than 100 people who ate raw oysters in Tofino earlier this month fell ill.

osoyoos-oyster-festival-sampling-feature-600x403Roughly 120 people, many of whom had attended the Clayoquot Oyster Festival, suffered gastrointestinal symptoms last week.

But Island Health says people got sick at more than one location, and that people reported being ill over the course of several days.

They say it appears everyone who became ill consumed raw oysters from the same supplier, who is not being named. 

Why not? Going public failure.

“The predominant amount of evidence clearly shows that raw oysters at that particular point in time that were available were the cause of the illness,” said Paul Hasselback, a medical health officer for Island Health.

norovirusHasselback says they are now investigating how the affected oysters were harvested and transported.

There have been a number of shellfish-related illnesses in B.C. in the past two years, and officials have warned that the warming climate is linked to an increase in food poisoning from oysters.

Barf’s up: South Bank Surf Club faces 32 charges after 28 sickened with raw egg aioli

On Sept. 23, 2015, Brisbane’s South Bank Surf Club allegedly made up a large batch of raw-egg-based aioli sauce and served it for seven days.

garlic_aioliAt least 28 diners were sickened.

At the time, the manager of the club said the cause was “a bad batch of eggs’’ provided by a supplier. They said the eggs had been used in sauces served with seafood platters.

“We’ve been caught out, unfortunately. Our customers’ wellbeing is our priority and anyone with concerns can get in touch with us,” they said. “To rectify the problem, we are not making sauces in-house.’’

This is a common refrain in Australia.

We, the chefs, would never put the health of our customers in harm’s way, yet they continue to do so with the line, we got a bad batch of eggs.

south-bank-surf-club-1_lrgNow, Brisbane City Council health inspectors have filed a complaint in Brisbane Magistrates Court accusing the club, owned by Brisbane hospitality king Bevan Bickle, of letting the aioli and other sauces sit kitchen benches for up to three hours without refrigeration on the day they were used in meals including fish and chips, burgers and pulled pork sandwiches between September 23 and October 1 last year.

Court documents state aioli is a “potentially hazardous food” because “pathogenic microorganisms” can grow due to the raw egg and it needs to be refrigerated.

The club faces 32 charges of breaching food safety laws.

When inspector Heath Vogler visited the restaurant on October 16 he alleges the aioli was kept at 11C.

The council summons filed in court states aioli must be stored below 5C to minimise the growth of poisonous bacteria.

The case returns to court on December 23. The restaurant has not entered a plea.

A table of Australian egg outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-10-9-15.xlsx

Gross: Raw chicken sashimi: Japan’s health types urge

Takahiro Takenouchi of The Asahi Shimbun reports that chicken sashimi and “tataki” (seared chicken breasts and livers) are a common menu item in yakitori bars and restaurants across Japan.

chicken-sashimiHowever, eating undercooked or raw chicken can cause food poisoning via the campylobacter bacteria, which can cause severe stomach pain and diarrhea.

Raw beef liver and raw pork are banned, but no such restrictions have been imposed on raw chicken, despite many cases of food poisoning caused by eating tainted bird meat.

“It is not fatty, and I love it. I never worry about food poisoning,” said a 39-year-old company employee enjoying a plate of chicken sashimi at a yakitori bar in Tokyo.

The owner of the yakitori bar added, “Chicken sashimi and tataki have been some of our popular dishes since we opened (50 years ago). I am careful about campylobacter.”

The owner said she purchases chickens freshly butchered in the morning for sashimi, and the meat is boiled in hot water until the surface turns white. No cases of food poisoning have ever been reported related to her restaurant.

In June this year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare finally took action and advised regional public health centers to take steps to implement preventative measures to reduce food poisoning from raw chicken.

Although the advisory is not legally binding, the ministry printed fliers asking restaurants to change their practices.

“Re-evaluate raw and half-raw chicken menus,” the flier reads, urging restaurants to heat the meat at 75 degrees at its core for one minute.

More than 800 people complained about stomachaches or diarrhea in Tokyo and Fukuoka in April and May after eating chicken breast sashimi and chicken sushi rolls at events made by the same company.

chicken-sashimi-2The mass food poisoning in the span of two months prompted the ministry to issue its advisory.

According to ministry preliminary statistics, there were 56 cases with 395 people treated at the hospital for food poisoning from campylobacter from June to August. More than half of the identified causes were due to consuming chicken.

Another ministry report says that 67 percent of chicken meat processed for consumption tested positive for the bacteria, and freshness does not always mean safe.

 “There is a certain demand for raw chicken eating, and it is part of our food culture,” a health ministry official said.

The ministry plans to estimate the number of campylobacter infection cases that go unreported to gauge the extent of the food poisoning as it only causes minor diarrhea in some cases. In addition, the ministry seeks to implement sterilizing methods, such as rapid freezing technology or food disinfectants.

“We never expect the public to consume chickens raw,” said Teruaki Oshima with the Japan Chicken Association, which is made up of meat producers and food processing companies. “If consumers choose to eat raw chicken, they should carefully consider the risks, and the level of hygiene and credibility of the restaurant.”

5 things a Canadian food safety expert will never eat

Carmen Chai of Global News reports that Rick Holley, a veteran food safety expert and University of Manitoba professor emeritus says these are the five things he won’t eat:

mi-rick-holley-1212Raw shellfish and seafood

Raw sprouts and chopped raw vegetables and fruits

(“I do not eat sprouts, unless they’re cooked.”

He eats the chopped salads from the grocery store, though.

“I’m confessing now that I accept the risk because I value the convenience,” he said.

If you’re chopping up vegetables and fruit, they’re safe to eat for about four hours if kept at room temperature. In the fridge, they can last for up to three days, he said.)

Unpasteurized drinks

Undercooked meat

Undercooked eggs.

“My wife doesn’t like to sit with me at dinner and have guests in because, invariably, the conversation rotates to subjects near and dear to my heart and that’s contamination,” Holley joked.

My list is the same.

‘MasterChef-itis’ leading to Australian restaurant staff shortages (and dumb food safety)

Young Australians are attracted to the “rock star” chef lifestyle depicted in reality cooking shows, but don’t want to put in the hard graft to get there, Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby says.

rockstar-chefRigby has just released the latest annual Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and said while the food industry was going strong, many restaurants were still having a tough time finding staff.

A Deloitte Access Economics report last year found a current gap of 38,000 staff across the tourism and hospitality sector, a shortage predicted to increase to 123,000 by 2020.

The report predicted demand would be strongest for chefs and restaurant managers.

However, Rigby said young people in particular just weren’t prepared for the years of physical toil it required to make it to the top.

“I think there’s a little bit of MasterChef-itis, I’m going to call it.”

Meanwhile, the Guide announces 11 café trends they’re glad are going away.

Here’s another: No more raw eggs in mayo and aioli.

But that’s a food safety thing and can’t compete with food porn.

Until people get sick.