My friend Dave got into the bottled water biz in the 1980s in Hamilton, Ontario, providing those 5-gallon jugs for water dispensers at home and offices. I never was into that stuff, but the 5-gallon plastic carboys that people haul to the grocery store for a refill are excellent secondary fermentation vessels for home beer production.
But, for those who work in an office, the water cooler is, I’m told, the place for gossip, flirting and bacteria.
The Sunday Herald reports that tests for watchdog organization, Consumer Focus Scotland, found potentially dangerous bacteria in drinking water dispensers in workplaces, schools and care homes. The group says the dispensers need to be better cleaned and maintained, and that the Scottish government, along with the Food Standards Agency, should review existing legislation because it is difficult to enforce.
Environmental health officers found bacterial contamination in 23 out of 87 water dispensers sampled in Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders. They tested for five types of bacteria known to cause illness, particularly in people who are vulnerable due to frailty or ill-health.
Water from bottle-supplied coolers was the most contaminated, with 14 out of 35 samples containing bacteria. Eight samples showed the presence of coliform bacteria, usually associated with faeces, and three contained staphylococcus aureus, which can cause serious illnesses.
Nine of the 52 samples from plumbed-in coolers taking water from the mains were also found to be contaminated, sometimes by more than one type of bacteria.
The contamination is thought to be due to the poor hygiene habits of some drinkers. Unwashed hands, putting mouths to taps and refilling dirty bottles could all be to blame.
Being that I’m living in the middle of Kansas, I just caught a live broadcast of President Obama announcing his nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to the head of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Media sources emphasize that, as Secretary of HHS, Sebelius would be implementing the president’s plans for health care reform, along with Nancy-Ann DeParle – an American expert on health care issues and Obama’s pick for “Health Reform Czar”.
However, Obama pointed out in his announcement that it’s not all about health insurance; the position is also responsible for the oversight of several agencies that serve as protective forces, including the FDA and the CDC.
The president alluded to changes in that area of the department as well, and noted the importance of science over politics when determining the best approaches to protecting the health of Americans.
Sebelius will have her work cut out for her on many levels, so I hope she holds that mind: Keeping the poop out of food safety policy is a great way to keep poop out of food.
Dlisted reports that Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson were on Germany's Wetten Dass... to promote that movie about a dead dog when they had to eat a doggy biscuit after losing a bet.
People magazine says that the bet was that a woman claimed she could correctly identity her team of Husky dogs just from listening to them drink soup. Jennifer and Owen and the host all indulged. People magazine even asked readers, “Have you ever tried your pet’s food?”
This is a bad idea. Salmonella has been routinely found in dried dog food and doggy treats. People worried about barfing should wash their hands after handling either – dog food or treats, Jennifer or Owen.
Restaurant inspection disclosure systems, like the ‘Scores on Doors’ scheme in the UK or online databases available in some states, are ways to display inspection information to consumers. Many jurisdictions are adopting these systems after positive consumer reception, and increase in compliance among restaurants in jurisdictions where disclosure programs have been implemented.
In the Canadian province of New Brunswick, public posting of restaurant inspection results has resulted in improved compliance, reports Times & Transcript.
One year after the health department started posting inspection reports on its website for everyone to see, officials have seen a definite increase in compliance by restaurants who want to make a good impression.
Nina van der Pluijm, regional director for health protection programs for the New Brunswick Department of Health, says,
"Compliance has gone up and if our inspectors find something, the restaurants want to hurry up and comply. If we give them five days to fix something, they usually say they'll have it done in two days and want us to come back for the re-inspection."
In New Brunswick restaurants are inspected, unannounced, every one to three years depending on their risk category. Establishments are termed satisfactory, unsatisfactory, minor infraction, major infraction and critical infraction; and respectively color-coded green, yellow, dark yellow, red with warning stripes and critical red, indicating a shutdown.
van der Pluijm indicated the program has gotten good feedback from the public and the food service industry, but like most disclosure systems, there is concern regarding the manner in which grades are presented to the public.
Luc Erjavec, a spokesman for the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association in Halifax, indicated industry generally doesn’t like color-coding schemes since the public may not try to understand it.
"They might look and see a yellow and move on without taking the time to see why, and the reports could give a restaurant a bad name for a relatively minor incident."
This may be true, but it may also encourage establishments to strive for a higher level of food safety. During development of the Toronto disclosure system – with green, yellow and red cards – a similar situation was encountered (right, above). Establishments didn’t want to receive yellow cards, and as a result over time yellow cards became nearly non-existent, being replaced by green pass.
There are many ways to communicate inspection results to the public, and each has pros and cons, but these schemes help to increase overall awareness of food safety amongst restaurant staff and the public.
As van der Pluijm said,
"The public likes to know what is going on and be able to read a report on a certain restaurant, see the ranking and be able to see what they did to get that ranking."
The Fat Duck is apparently a fancy restaurant in Berkshire, UK, run by TV chef Heston Blumenthal; it was voted Best Restaurant in the World by fellow chefs in 2005, or something.
The Independent reports that Blumenthal (right) spent a sleepless night before deciding to close the restaurant last Tuesday in the face of a steady stream – between 30 and 40 – of complaints from customers who suffered vomiting, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms.
"I made the decision to be transparent about it. Who knows if it was the right or wrong decision to make. But my gut reaction, the moral feeling about it all, was that's what we had to do. It was an incredibly emotional decision." But tests for viral infections and food poisoning have proved negative and there is speculation that the winter outbreak of norovirus could be the real reason why they became sick.
Yeah, check out the staff. And handwashing facilities. And suppliers. And places chefs rarely think to go when it comes to basic microbiology, from farm-to-fork.
I’ve been known to buy the odd slice of pizza or bucket of fried chicken from the ready-to-eat counter of grocery stores, often a result of shopping on an empty stomach. And truthfully, I’ve never thought much about how these food establishments were inspected, perhaps assuming they fell under the local health department’s umbrella, like most restaurants.
An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicates my assumptions may not always be correct. The story indicates that in the state of Georgia salad bars and ready-to-eat food counters in grocery stores are not inspected the same way as restaurants, nor are they required to publically display their inspection grade like restaurants in this state.
Local health departments inspect restaurants, and the state requires eateries to post the reports prominently on site, using a clear point system and letter grade.
The state Agriculture Department — the same state agency that was responsible for inspecting the peanut plant linked to the nation’s deadly salmonella outbreak — inspects grocery stores. But it doesn’t issue points or grades, and stores don’t have to post their most recent report.
In Georgia restaurants are required to display an “A” “B” “C” or “U” (for unsatisfactory) letter grade and numerical score near the establishment entrance so that patrons can make an informed dining decision. This includes drive-thru windows and other take-out entrances; unfortunately, since grocery store ready-to-eat counters aren’t inspected by the same department as other food establishments, customers won’t see a letter grade at these counters.
Sarah Klein, of the food safety program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said of public posting of restaurant grades,
“Once they know that an inspection report is going to be published, there is an incentive created to make food safety a priority. It is something you have to do because, otherwise, your business … will suffer.”
I agree. Restaurant disclosure systems can be an incentive for those within foodservice to increase compliance with regulations, while providing the public with inspection results to make an informed decision. If other Georgia foodservice establishments are required to put the score on their door, why not the fried chicken counter in the grocery store?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asks an important question beyond how did the salmonella get into PCA's Blakely, Georgia Plant -- how did the 2007 Peter Pan outbreak strain get into the PCA plant?
From the AJC article: Experts at the FDA and the CDC said they are intrigued by an unusual clue. Two years ago the ConAgra plant in Sylvester launched a nationwide recall of Peter Pan peanut butter after consumers were sickened by a less common strain of the bacteria, called Salmonella Tennessee. It had a unique genetic fingerprint. On Jan. 22, tests by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture found salmonella with that same genetic fingerprint in an unopened 5-pound container of King Nut peanut butter produced late last year at the Blakely plant.
The possible on-farm link to the peanut butter outbreak has been circulating around for a while (including being something ConAgra suggested during the investigation of the Peter Pan 2007 outbreak). This link reminds me of some of the stuff my good friends Linda Harris and Michelle Danyluk have looked at in the almond industry -- the environmental persistence of Salmonella PT 30 and it's subsequent transfer to the nuts (even frequent barfblogger Don Schaffner got in on some of this action). Maybe there is an environmental reservoir near of in some peanut fields. And if there is, maybe there are things that peanut producers can do to address them. The impact that this outbreak has had on peanut farmers suggests that any food safety hurdles that could be put in place is worth some investigation.
From the AJC article: Some food safety experts questioned whether the peanut industry is aware some farming practices may increase the risk of salmonella contamination. Only one Georgia peanut farm has sought and received certification of using good agricultural practices, said Arty Schronce, a state Agriculture Department spokesman. “My impression is the farmers really don’t have good agricultural practices,” said Michael Doyle, who has served as a consultant for ConAgra and the American Peanut Council. Doyle is director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. When peanuts are roasted, Doyle said, the focus may be more on achieving the right flavor rather than on safety. If salmonella is present in very large numbers, the roaster may not kill all of it, he said. Doyle said he recently got a call from a peanut industry adviser in Georgia. “The bottom line I got from him: The farmers feel the processor is at fault and should process the salmonella out of the peanuts,” Doyle said. “They’re looking at the peanut as a commodity, rather than a food.”
I hear a lot of talk and read a lot of articles that quote food folks saying that food safety is a farm-to-fork responsibility. True. That's why it's a good idea that the peanut industry (and heck, other nut and seed folks as well -- check this out) take these two outbreaks as indicators of something bigger -- that there may be on-farm Salmonella reduction strategies employable that .
It's not up to me to assign blame for the outbreaks (That's the law and Bill Marler's job) although I'm sure that some peanut growers will feel that's what the AJC article is all about. It's not -- this is the first step in the public dialogue around the good agricultural practices that peanut growers currently have. If there isn't much there, as Mike Doyle alludes to, then it's a good idea to do the research on what the risks are figure out how to address them.
Last month's congressional subcommittee revelations revealed that there's a bad operator in the middle of this outbreak, but peanut farmers, one of the groups hit hardest by the fallout, need to make sure they are part of the solution and truly make peanut butter food safety farm-to-fork.
In a nice intersection of music and food safety, Gasoline Magazine reports that Jack White (one of my very favorite thrashers) brought some poorly-handled Detroit pierogies to Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal resulting in some celebrity barf. Hughes says that the pierogies arrived before a show in Toronto last fall and gave him the squirts and a queasy stomach for most of the performance:
"Dude, I had botulism... Jack White bought pierogies in Detroit and brought them up to the gig, and I ended up eating one far too long after it had expired. I ended up contracting mild botulism and sweating out of every hole, so to speak, for about 12 hours. I was the worst f'n experience I've ever had. But you can't call in sick to rock & roll"
Amen, brother; that's why I love rock & roll.
Working in a restaurant, that's different. Call in sick.
It probably wasn't actual botulism (would have been difficult to pound the guitar with a body full of neurotoxin) but sounds like a nasty foodborne illness experience.
Actual botulism did appear this week in WA, where a woman in her 30s and two children under 10 fell ill from eating improperly-canned green beans from a home garden. The woman is reportedly recovering slowly and remains on a ventilator.
Here's some Sunday rock & roll, Jack White and the Rolling Stones, Loving Cup:
And a bonus video, The Dirty Mac's Yer Blues from the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus: