Quasi-daily probe E02: A snapshot in time

My friend and colleague Alyssa Barkley of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association joined me on Episode 2 of the quasi-daily probe. Here’s our conversation in it’s raw, unedited, form.

Today we talked about restaurant inspection, media coverage and posting grades.Quasi-daily-probe

The article that prompted the probe was from the Triangle Business Journal, who put together a list of restaurants in Wake County (where I live) that were cited for five or more  more critical health code violations since the beginning of August. 

Frances Breedlove, who oversees foodservice facility inspections for Wake County, says a critical violation is any rule violation that increases the likelihood of spreading foodborne illnesses. Those can include storing food at the incorrect temperature, employees failing to wash their hands or not keeping cooking areas sufficiently clean.

In all, more than 200 Wake County restaurants were docked for having at least one critical violation. Of those, roughly half were cited for having five or more critical health code violations. Many more were cited for noncritical violations of food safety rules.

Wendy’s meltdown in NYC?

An astute reader from Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) notes that a Wendy’s restaurant in at 335 Fifth Ave, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, was Wendys Fifth Ave Closed 091715bclosed back in mid-Sept.

He writes: “What struck me was the sign saying the ‘supply’ (I guess that means food) was being moved to a ‘safer’ location (and not to a ‘safe’ location). Hmmm. And how hot was the food before it was moved to a ‘safer’ location?”

Wendys Fifth Ave Closed 091715a

Use a thermometer? 5 sick in Vermont E. coli outbreak

A South Royalton restaurant voluntarily closed for several days recently and switched food vendors after being contacted by state officials who are investigating an E. coli “cluster” that has sickened at least five people.

worthy.burgerMeanwhile, state officials have released few details about their investigation, including the potential source of the contamination or how widespread the risk may be.

Jason Merrill, executive chef at Worthy Burger, said the Vermont Department of Health approached the restaurant’s leadership team last week and asked them to consider changing some of their food vendors out of precaution.

“They haven’t told me which ones they wanted me to change, so I changed pretty much all of my vendors,” Merrill said, noting he uses six or seven area farms to supply ingredients for the menu at Worthy Burger, which specializes in locally sourced food.

At least five people have contracted E. coli in what state officials have referred to as a “cluster,” according to the Vermont Department of Health. The locations of the five laboratory-confirmed cases, as well as a sixth case listed as “probable,” haven’t been divulged by health officials nor is it clear how the six cases are connected.

The health department is working on identifying the source of the contamination, spokesman Ben Truman said on Thursday.

94 sickened at staff retreat; further test results sought

Health types in Brantford, Ontario, Canada have revealed that 94 people at a staff retreat could have sickened by Plesiomonas shigelloides.

WanyeGretzkyParkway“We’ve had just one positive result,” warned infectious diseases manager Ruth Gratton of the Brant County Health Unit.

“That is not enough evidence to confirm this organism

About half of those who ate at a Brant Family and Children’s Services staff event on Sept. 10 at the South Dumfries Community Centre in St. George became sick after a catered lunch that included egg salad wraps, chicken wraps and potato salad.

Dozens of workers began calling in sick the next day with severe abdominal cramping and diarrhea. Many had to consult a doctor and several went to the emergency department with intensive symptoms.

The caterer involved in the luncheon has been ordered, until further notice, to stop providing food service in the Brantford or Brant County. If the caterer is found to be at fault, it can be charged under the Health Protection Act.

At Brant Family and Children’s Services, things are returning to normal. “My sense is that a handful of staff are still off (but) I don’t have exact numbers,” Patrick Banning, director of administration at the BFCS, said Tuesday.

Gratton said area health-care providers were asked to notify the unit if any complications arose from the 94 cases but no one has been in touch.

Boca restaurants can suck

There was this one-time, BC (before children), that Amy and I went to a hockey game in Phoenix and I waved at my friend Wayne, who was the coach, but he didn’t wave back.

hockey.refThe two guys behind us were typical Arizona-post-grad doucebags, and wouldn’t shut-up.

After hitting Amy for about the third time with their beers, I had to be pretend tough guy and tell them to back off.

But it was the idiotic level of conversation we remember.

This dude was going on about how he had a cougar in Boca, and he was so important because he got 50 e-mails a day.

I get about 1,000.

Only those who are insecure brag about that.

But who wants to brag about Boca, in Florida, with restaurant ratings like these?

Leading off in the Yuck category is Bonaccino Café, a little place near one of the east entrances of Town Center Mall (by the parking structure and Willams-Sonoma). They were temporarily closed and the inspection report indicates a total of 24 violations including 10 marked high priority. Here are some of the lowlights:

Employee failed to wash hands before changing gloves and/or putting on gloves to work with food. Cook washed hands and changed gloves upon request.

Stir Crazy in Town Center had 14 violations with 3 marked high priority.

64 sick: Tomatoes fingered as Salmonella source in Minnesota Chipotle outbreak

As the number of Americans sick from Salmonella linked to Mexican cucumbers reached 418, tomatoes have been identified as the source of a Salmonella outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota.

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145So much for the wife’s tomato and cucumber salad, with olive oil and salt.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports tomatoes have been identified as the source of the Salmonella Newport outbreak that has sickened dozens of people who ate at Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota since late August. Investigators are working with state and federal partners to trace the tomatoes back to the farm of origin.

Since the outbreak was reported last week, additional illnesses have been confirmed by MDH.  A total of 64 cases and 22 locations now have been linked to the outbreak [locations are listed below]. Nine people have been hospitalized; all are recovering. Meal dates for the cases range from August 16 to August 28 and people became ill between August 19 and September 3. The cases range in age from 10 to 69 years and are from 13 metro counties and several greater Minnesota counties.

“We expected to see additional cases because it can take up to 10 days for symptoms of Salmonella to appear, another few days to a week before people go to their doctors and the cases get reported to us,” said MDH Epidemiologist Dana Eikmeier. “However, there is no longer a risk of Salmonella from this particular product at Chipotle.”  The company has switched suppliers for its tomatoes and implicated product was removed from stores.

Russian state media say French supermarket, Burger King fined over food violations

Russian state news agencies say government officials have issued a total of $600,000 in fines for alleged food safety violations at Burger King and French supermarket chain Auchan.

ussrAnna Popova, head of Russian consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, was quoted by media outlets including RIA Novosti as saying Auchan’s fines totaled over 25 million rubles ($372,000) and that “several hundred” employees were suspended from work.

Specific reasons for the fines were not immediately clear and Auchan declined to comment.

Auchan is also the target of allegations from Russia’s agricultural agency, which claims some Auchan meat products tested positive for bacteria such as E. coli and Listeria. The allegations have reportedly led Auchan to close down some facilities for cleaning.

The inspections come at a time of tension between France and Russia over the extension of European Union sanctions and France’s decision to cancel a deal to provide warships to Russia.


Everyone’s got a camera: Maryland school lunch version, and ‘food safety is our top priority’

The Prince George’s County Public School System rejects a student’s allegations that students are being served food that is moldy, unhealthy and disgusting.

belushi.zit.food.fight“Our school meals are healthy, nutritious and safe. And food safety is our top priority,” says Sherrie Johnson, spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Public Schools.

The student, Tamera Perry, a senior at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, made her complaints about school food public. Other students took to social media, posting pictures including undercooked hamburgers and moldy sandwich rolls.

But Johnson insists most of the pictures are of food from other school districts.

“We actually met with members of our Food and Nutrition Team [Tuesday] morning, and we examined the photos and they were quite clear: some of those are not ours. We could tell by the color of the food tray and we don’t use milk cartons — we have bottled milk,” Johnson says.

Among the complaints the girl made to Fox5 was that the Rojo Fiesta Pizza she was served Friday, Sept. 11, “wasn’t pizza at all, it was disgusting.”

Johnson says there’s a reason the pizza looked different.

“This is a new product this year. It’s a vegetarian pizza in which mashed kidney beans and cheese are part of the protein source,” Johnson says.

NYC briefly shuts down sushi shop for live roaches

A midtown sushi restaurant that had been wracking up health violations for months when inspectors found evidence of rats, roaches and mice was shuttered for three days last week, records show.

EEL_TH_C_^_THUIQFuji Sushi, located at 238 W. 56th St., was forced to close by the Health Department on Sept. 8 when inspectors found live roaches in the restaurant.

But what about food safety? Or peer review? Most US restaurant chains get failing grades on antibiotic use in new report

Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread were given high marks for their efforts – but they suck at microbial food safety – to eliminate the use of antibiotics from the meat they serve, while fast-food giants Burger King, Domino’s and Wendy’s are among those given failing grades, according to a new scorecard released Tuesday by a coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy groups.

chipotle.ad.2Panera, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s have all adopted policies that either limit the use of medically important antibiotics, or prohibit any antibiotic use in the production of the meat they serve.

But the report notes Panera and Chipotle, which were given A grades, are the only chains that publicly affirm that the majority of their meat and poultry offered is produced without routine use of antibiotics.

And that’s why grades suck. Especially those published as an easy news hook in the absence of peer review.