Inquiry into NZ water contamination under way

An independent inquiry into the contamination of Havelock North’s water supply will begin its work this week, the Government has announced, as a woman sickened with Campylobacter was diagnosed with symptoms confirmed as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

wellington-waterAttorney-General Chris Finlayson has also revealed the members of the inquiry, who have to report back with their findings by March next year.

Last month, the Government announced an inquiry into the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak, which has affected thousands of residents and been linked to the deaths of two elderly people.

Finlayson said the inquiry would be chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Lyn Stevens QC.

“The members of the inquiry panel have the extensive legal, public health, local government and water management expertise required to conduct an inquiry of this nature,” Finlayson said.

The inquiry would start this week, but had until March 31 next year to report back.

It would focus on how the Havelock North water supply became contaminated and how it was dealt with, how local and central government agencies responded to the public health outbreak, and how to reduce the risk of a similar outbreak happening in future.

The latest outbreak made 5200 people sick and hospitalised 22. Two elderly women who died were found to have contracted campylobacter, but both had other health issues.

An investigation is under way to find how the bug made its way into the water. Evidence to date indicates it came from sheep or cattle and may have originated from near the bores.

So how is Wellington’s water made safe: chlorinated, fluoridated, then delivered to your glass.

Rachel Thomas of The Dominion reports that Kaitoke and Wainuiomata are home to Wellington’s two river-based water sources.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw says the catchments of both the river sources in Kaitoke and Wainuiomata are in protected forest parks where there is virtually no human activity. 

“There’s no agriculture up there and very little intrusions with the water. It’s pure water we get from the hills.”

That said, all water sourced from rivers is at permanent risk of contamination from faecal or other organic matter.

That is why it is chlorinated, says Lower Hutt Deputy Mayor David Bassett, who is also chairman of Wellington Water’s governance committee.

“It’s better to err on the side of caution, and we are very risk averse when it comes to Wellington’s river water supply.”

Most of the residents in Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Wellington get either chlorinated river water, or a mix of chlorinated river water and aquifer water.

The region’s confined aquifer can be found at Waiwhetu in Lower Hutt. It is the only source of unchlorinated, unfluoridated water in the region, and supplies drinking water to more than 70,000 Hutt City residents.

Water from the aquifer is free of bacteria and other contaminants, Bassett says.

That is because it is at least a year old and goes through a natural filtration process as it makes its way through the aquifer layers.

“It doesn’t need to be chlorinated, and so long as the network [of pipes] is secure, it is safe to drink at the tap – and we test the water throughout the network to make sure that it remains safe.”

Over the past year, there have been four positive E.coli tests at reservoirs in the unchlorinated network, Bassett says.

When that happens, Wellington Water notifies regional health authorities, shuts off the system, chlorinates the relevant reservoir, and re-tests the water until it is all-clear. 

Rodents rife in Wellington eateries

Wellington, NZ, is one of my favorite towns.

But they’ve got some sanitation problems.

doug.powell.new.zealand.musselsRodents and droppings are among cleaning failures found in more than 30 Wellington restaurants, eight of which were forced to close in the past year.

The annual list of city cafes and restaurants issued with cleaning and closures notices in the 2013-14 year has been released to The Dominion Post by Wellington City Council.

It shows a slight improvement on last year, with 31 notices compared to 38.

But more premises were forced to shut: seven businesses received closure notices, compared with four the previous year.

Wellington has about 1300 eating premises. Each is given a rating of excellent, very good or ungraded, depending on how well they comply with health standards.

Going public on restaurants in New Zealand

People want to know what’s in (or on) their food.

Some people care about different things: I care about the microbes that make people barf.

But when people buy food at a grocery store, restaurant or market, they don’t really know what they’re getting, because “food larry.david.rest.inspecsafety is the number 1 priority” or “we’ve done it this way for years and never made anyone sick” or “trust me.”

One attempt to fill that gap is making the results of food inspections public. It’s popular with local voters, and similarly popular with media.

The New Zealand Herald is the latest to embrace the dirty dining trend, running daily summaries of the worst offenders.

New Zealand has a hodgepodge of inspection disclosure systems, so the series focuses on the biggest city, Auckland, which does have a letter grading system.

Last month Central Auckland’s dirtiest eating establishments were named.

Food grades in the former Auckland City region show 10 restaurants and cafes have received E grades, with 29 given a D grade.

The New Zealand Herald online asked readers if they were influenced by the food grading system. Nearly 13,500 readers responded and just over half said they used the rating to make a call about whether to dine there. Or not.

But to the every day diner, how do these places really stack up?

A few brave members of the online team have decided to put their bellies on the line and review all 29 of the D listers, revealing one a day for the month of September. D grade eateries are reviewed twice a year, according to Auckland City Council. While they are qr.code.rest.inspection.gradesubject to change, our list is correct as of the last week of August, 2013. If the grade is changed at the time of publication this will be made clear in the review.

In capital city Wellington, city council records given reluctantly to Fairfax NZ show 38 premises were issued with cleaning or repair notices in the past financial year, including four that were forced to close.

The list of notices is publicly available information but it was released only after the council told the businesses on the list that it was “extremely reluctant” to provide their names.

Council operations and business development team leader Raaj Govinda said in a letter sent to all premises before the list was released, council was not able to withhold names from the public, though it was “extremely reluctant” to provide the list and “has not done so willingly.”

That will do nothing to build consumer confidence.

Other councils, including Auckland and Palmerston North, list the hygiene ratings for all eateries online.

Yesterday, Govinda said Wellington was considering doing that but it did not want to put businesses at risk.

“In general, council is not in the business of trying to close people. We have got a regulatory duty.”

But unlike the U.S. version of the restaurant lobby, Wellington Restaurant Association president Mike Egan said it was important for restaurants to be held accountable, as closure notices were often a last resort, adding, “Those places would have had ample opportunity normally to put things right and it’s about a failure to either take it seriously or react appropriately.” Putting ratings online could be a “big carrot” for good practice, he said.

We have some experience with restaurant inspection disclosure systems. Even in New Zealand.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand.
 
Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874
.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the bataligradespremises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2011/00000074/00000011/art00010

 

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

 

Christmas party norovirus outbreak in NZ

Twenty-two people were ill with norovirus after a work Christmas party at an Upper Hutt restaurant in New Zealand.

Wellington medical officer of health Margot McLean said 22 of 39 people who dined at the restaurant last Saturday night all became ill between 10 and 50 hours after the meal.

Some vomited while others had diarrhea. Laboratory tests confirmed today the presence of norovirus.

She would not name the restaurant but said the diners were all in the same workplace party.

”Norovirus is spread from person to person and it was mostly caused by somebody who was ill, either a food handler or possibly somebody else, who spread it. We don’t know for sure.”

She said this restaurant and all restaurants were advised to ensure food handlers who were ill with vomiting or diarrhea to stay off work for 48 hours.

”I guess the amount of these type of functions go up and its easier to identify outbreaks when this happens because there is a whole bunch of people who all come back and talk about it and ring Public Health.”

NZ ‘grim eater’ banned from funerals

Part of the premise in the movie, Wedding Crashers, besides the potential for a partner, was the great food. How much could Vince Vaughan eat? Did anyone want to find out? Then, the Owen Wilson character hits bottom and starts crashing funerals to hit on women in emotional distress, or something like that.

Now news from Wellington, New Zealand, where a man dubbed the ‘grim eater’ has been banned from funerals after attending up to four ceremonies a week and even taking home leftovers in a doggy bag.

Danny Langstraat, a director of Harbour City Funeral Home in Wellington, said,

"He was showing up to funeral after funeral and, without a doubt, he didn’t know the deceased. We saw him three or four times a week. Certainly, he had a backpack with some Tupperware containers so, when people weren’t looking, he was stocking up.”