Proving again that risk comparisons are risky and that maybe raw oysters are as dangerous as Cheetos, Eurosurveillance today reports on the fourth norovirus-related outbreak linked to raw oysters in recent memory – and there’s a bunch of them.
Since January 2010, 334 cases in 65 clusters were reported from five European countries: the United Kingdom, Norway, France, Sweden and Denmark. The article describes the available epidemiological and microbiological evidence of these outbreaks.
Oysters are grown in coastal waters of several countries and are considered a delicacy in most parts of the world. Like all bivalve molluscs, they feed by filtering large amounts of water through their gills. In situ studies with bioaccumulation of a virus indicator in oysters have shown that oysters can concentrate viruses up to 99 times compared to the surrounding water . In water contaminated with norovirus, this leads to the accumulation of the virus within the flesh and gut of the oyster.
Norovirus has been detected in 5 to 55% of oysters from Europe and the United States (US) by random sampling at market places and oyster farms [2-4]. The detection of norovirus in oysters follows the same seasonal trend as the norovirus epidemiology in the general population, i.e. norovirus in oysters is generally detected between October and February [1, 12].
Seventy-eight percent of shellfish-related illness from noroviruses in the US between 1991 and 1998 were associated with the consumption of oysters harvested between the months of November and January . Contamination of oyster beds with noroviruses can occur after heavy rains cause flooding, which results in combined sewer overflow or hydraulic overload in sewage treatment plants [5, 13]. There are also examples of oyster harvesters disposing sewage into oyster-bed waters causing multi-state outbreaks of norovirus in the US . Noroviruses are difficult to remove from oysters through cleansing and also stay infectious . Oysters are often eaten raw, creating the potential for foodborne enteric virus infections.
From January to March 2010, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) was informed through its Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses (FWD) surveillance network about norovirus outbreaks linked to consumption of oysters in five EU/EEA countries: the United Kingdom (UK), Norway, France, Sweden and Denmark. In total 65 small clusters involving 334 cases were reported. Most cases had eaten oysters in restaurants. …
In conclusion, an increased number of norovirus outbreaks related to the consumption of oysters have been observed at EU level in the last three months. … consuming raw oysters involves potential exposure to norovirus and is particularly hazardous for immunocompromised or chronically ill persons. Therefore, countries might consider informing the public about the risks linked with consuming raw oysters.
As James Wesson, oyster scientist with the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, told the Daily Press the other day,
"More people die each year from eating Cheetos than from eating oysters.”
The first college game I ever went to on Jan. 30, 2008, Kansas State beat the University of Kansas – who went on to win the national crown – for the first time in 24 years.
All games should be like that. They’re not.
But I’ll watch tonight as K-State goes up against Xavier in a sweet-16 showdown, the first time K-State has been to that particular dance since 1988.
What would be a great storyline is if West Virginia met K-State for the final. Bob Huggins was rescued from career oblivion when they hired him as coach a few years ago. Huggins repaid K-State’s generosity by leaving after one year.
Locals are still upset.
But he left behind assistant coach Frank Martin, who’s turned K-State into a national competitor. The prodigy going up against the mentor. It would be like me and Chapman going on an all-nerd food safety Reach for the Top (trivia note: Chapman was actually on Reach for the Top or whatever the Ontario version was called when he was in high school).
In other NCAA news, the start of the Men's Swimming and Diving Championships has been delayed 24 hours to Friday after 18 student-athletes and a coach were treated for a possible gastrointestinal illness since arriving in Columbus, Ohio.
K-State’s Bramlage Coliseum would make an excellent hockey arena.
The Louisiana state Department of Health and Hospitals has closed a large section of east bank Plaquemines Parish waters to oyster fishing through at least mid-April, after 11 people in Mississippi – at a seafood conference, repeat, at a seafood conference -- became sick after eating oysters believed to be traced to that area.
The Times-Picayune reports the state has also issued a recall of any oysters harvested from that area since March 6, meaning wholesalers must review their records and contact any restaurants, brokers or other buyers who bought oysters from those waters. Under Food and Drug Administration and state health guidelines, oyster dealers are required to have a recall plan in effect.
This system can only benefit the restaurant industry, and the health board has been eminently reasonable in what it proposes to do. What’s more, the public overwhelmingly favors the idea. In a recent survey by my company, 83 percent of respondents said that they would like to have grades posted. …
In essence, the New York plan merely makes routine health inspection results more transparent. The city has inspected restaurants for decades, but the results have been available only online or at the health department; now they will be displayed in the restaurant itself. Establishments that fail to get an A on the first inspection will be given a second examination within 30 days, giving them time to correct any failings found in the first go-around.
Quite simply, the inspection process is intended to keep us safe when dining out. … The restaurant association would do well to take its place at the table — and support the proposed grading system.
Risk comparisons can be risky: they usually offend the target audience and make the author sound like a jack-ass.
James Wesson, oyster scientist with the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, told the Daily Press that the overwhelming majority of oysters sold in the United States are not contaminated, adding,
"More people die each year from eating Cheetos than from eating oysters.”
No data was provided.
The comment was made as part of a story about Virginia regulators requiring stiffer rules to prevent the sale of contaminated oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay during warm-water months.
Each year about 15 people die from eating contaminated oysters, according to the agency. Most of the problem oysters come from the Gulf of Mexico, but at least one has been linked to Virginia waters since 2000, said Robert Croonenberghs, director of the state Health Department's shellfish sanitation division.
If the FDA finds another contaminated oyster sold by Virginia seafood suppliers, the agency could prohibit shipping raw oysters outside state lines, he said. Such a ban could stifle the industry and cause thousands of dollars in losses to suppliers, watermen, and oyster farmers.
The number of deaths may be statistically trivial – unless it happens to you or someone you know. And this risk can be managed.
The story says that Bartolome co-founded a hot little salsa company, grossing $1,000 from his Diego's Awesome Salsa by December and landing accounts at grocery stores. The salsa boy also got a taste of the media spotlight, with a profile in The Bee and an appearance on Channel 31's "Good Day Sacramento."
Then the food police paid him and his mom a visit. An inspector from the state Department of Public Health noticed in a TV segment that Diego's Awesome Salsa wasn't labeled properly, and there were possible temperature-control issues.
Diego's Awesome Salsa got accounts at grocery stores? Who was the third-party auditor that approved a supplier that hadn’t passed even basic health code requirements?
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has just released a couple of new food safety advertisements for television.
Chapman and I looked them over, would have liked a thermometer, and don’t like the message that food safety is simple (otherwise, we wouldn’t all have jobs) but overall the ads seem better than most. As Marshall McLuhan said, those who try to distinguish between entertainment and education don’t know the first thing about either.
WRAL in Raleigh reported today that the Shereton Hotel (at right, exactly as shown, with ambulances taking kids away), the focus of an outbreak investigation about a month ago (150+ teenagers ill at a statewide YMCA youth leadership conference) was not likely the source of the illnesses, nor was norovirus likely the pathogen of concern.
The updated information released by Dr. Megan Davies, , state epidemiologist, was that students who ate at a banquet on Feb 12 were more than 3 times more likely to have symptoms than those who didn't attend. Best guest of investigators conducting a follow-up study reviewing all the symptoms, is that a foodborne toxin (likely due to temperature abuse) was the likely culprit.
“The timing of the outbreak and the fact that most sick attendees had only diarrhea and not vomiting make it unlikely that norovirus was the main cause of the outbreak,” Dr. Megan Davies, state epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Still, some students might have had norovirus when they arrived at the conference in Raleigh.”
The short time between the dinner and the onset of illness makes it more likely that bacterial toxins, a common cause of food poisoning, were to blame, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting tests to pinpoint the toxin that caused the illnesses.
Convention Center Director Roger Krupa was quoted as saying "At this point, it's hard to accept the report. All of the evidence is statistical and circumstantial. There are no lab results, no food samples, nothing factual."
Epidemiology and statistics are pretty powerful; science isn't used to prove or disprove anything, but to provide best guesses. And the best guess in this situation, with the current info, was that the banquet facilities were the likely source.
I'm in Atlanta (the ATL or HotLanta to some) for the USDA/NSF hosted food safety education conference. I’m writing this post from the bar of the Hyatt, where the background noise is peppered with food safety talk (not surprising) and construction talk (because there’s a restoration conference being held here as well).
After a 6 hour+ drive from Raleigh (via Ikea in Charlotte and outlets in Gaffney, SC) the fam and I rolled in to the Hyatt in time for dinner. We sought out a close and toddler-friendly dining locale and came across a brewpub about 300 yards from the hotel. After enjoying the food and service, we packed up and strapped Jack into his stroller for the quick walk back to the room when I noticed the restaurant’s inspection report.
The report was framed, close to the door and had the score (an 83) highlighted at the top, as well as the previous score (a 94). Without context or criteria it’s tough to figure out what the score means—but what I like about Atlanta is that the entire report is posted there to view. I could see the infractions (the most striking was 5 points lost for improper temperature controls of potentially hazardous foods) and could have made the patronage decision for myself (had I seen this before we ate). We probably would have still eaten there.
Scores on doors, posting grades and the 300 other names for restaurant inspection disclosure systems might have an impact on public health – that hasn’t been measured in isolation yet – but this one place, the closest and only open restaurant within view, was packed, despite the what might be considered by some to be low score.
New York Chinatown legend, Great NY Noodletown, was forced to close on Friday night.
A February inspection turned up evidence of insects, roaches and mice in the Noodletown's food and/or non-food areas, and, according to Eater NY, pinged the restaurant for its storage of delicious meats that hang behind the counter.
Where the DOH finds fault, Noodletown's devoted customers find flavor. The 50 violation points from February required a follow-up visit, which apparently didn't go so well, and the restaurant remains closed. Luckily, the shut down is happening now and not during soft-shell crab season, one of Noodletown's specialties.
Sadie was about 10 weeks old when I found her one Saturday morning under our vehicle.
Amy and I had recently moved into our Kansas compound, we had some people over, things didn’t go well, we had a, uh, dispute, and the next morning things were still festering. I packed my knapsack, which always has everything important, and was headed out the door for a long, long walk.
I found this pup under the truck.
I’d seen her running around in our yard about 5 a.m. but didn’t think much of it.
Now, the whimpering pup was glued to my heel.
Sadie had been well-cared for but ultimately abandoned, a not-uncommon occurrence in a student and military town. We took her in and realized our quarrels weren’t all that terminal.
Former Kansas State president Jon Wefald loved the story of Sadie. I would often see him around campus, walking our two dogs after accompanying Amy to her office, and he would always ask about the story of Sadie.
One time, there was an outbreak of Salmonella in pet food going on and a bunch of humans had gotten ill as well. The Pres asked how humans could get sick from pet food, and I explained about cross-contamination, and that some people ate pet food.
Professor Hugh Pennington is apparently unstuck in time, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
In November 1996, over 400 fell ill and 21 were killed in Scotland by E. coli O157:H7 found in deli meats produced by family butchers John Barr & Son. The Butcher of Scotland, who had been in business for 28 years and who was previously awarded the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year, was using the same knives to handle raw and cooked meat. That's a food safety no-no.
In a 1997 inquiry, Prof. Pennington recommended, among other things, the physical separation, within premises and butcher shops, of raw and cooked meat products using separate counters, equipment and staff.
In 2008, Prof. Pennington heard in a new inquiry how John Tudor and Son, the Butcher of Wales, used the same machine to vacuum package both raw and cooked meats, leading to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak beginning in Sept. 2005, which sickened some150 children in 44 schools in southern Wales and killed five-year-old Mason Jones.
I’m not sure extra money is going to change anything. If someone wants to clearly skirt with food safety, as butcher William Tudor did, bad things will happen. And the local councils were already turning a blind eye to Tudor’s most egregious actions.
The Butcher of Wales was shown to have:
• encouraged staff suffering from stomach bugs and diarrhea to continue preparing meat for school dinners;
• known of cross-contamination between raw and cooked meats, but did nothing to prevent it;
• used the same packing in which raw meat had been delivered to subsequently store cooked product;
• operated a processing facility that contained a filthy meat slicer, cluttered and dirty chopping areas, and meat more than two years out of date piled in a freezer;
• a cleaning schedule at the factory that one expert called "a joke;"
• falsified crucial health and safety documents and lied about receiving hygiene awards; and,
• supplied schools with meat that was green, smelly and undercooked.
Professor Chris Griffith, head of the food research and consultancy unit at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, told the inquiry the culture at the premises was “dominated by saving money.”
So who allowed Tudor to operate under such conditions?
Prof. Pennington heard that Tudor and Son was visited several times in the months leading up to the Sept. 2005 outbreak, that inspectors knew there was only one vac-pac machine being used for both cooked and raw meats but, despite Pennington's 1997 recommendation, inspectors decided the business did not pose "an imminent risk" to human health.
"There was a failure in the series of inspections to identify poor hygiene and working practices and a failure to take action."
The inspectors also took on "face value" explanations offered by Tudor and his staff for various food safety failures.
The best the 6-figure bureaucrats who came up with this – and there were many – could do was borrow piping hot from the U.K.?
So is that standard advice now for aged-care facilities across Canada, where the staff dieticians were completely clueless about the potential for deli-meats to be contaminated with listeria? Is this Maple Leaf-sanctioned advice? Will it appear on warning labels for vulnerable populations, including pregnant women?
I started picking people up about 7 p.m. Amanda, Sarah, Janis, Lynn and Marty.
Marty was last and not ready, as usual.
Marty had no reason going to the first food safety educators conference in Washington, D.C. in 1997. He was working as a student life advisor or something but, I had gotten in the habit of taking Marty along on the 12-hour D.C. road trip from Guelph –got lost once in some New York mountains in the middle of the night and thought we were going to die – for fun and driving chores.
The 1996 Nissan Quest minivan still had the new car smell, and as a new prof with a carload of students, I decided driving all night was better than dishing out non-existent cash for an extra night of hotel rooms.
We arrived in Georgetown about 7:30 a.m., ate at a dive, and found the on-campus conference room. People looked at us like we had just rolled out of a vehicle and been driving all night.
Most of us went and changed into fresh clothes, while Marty crashed somewhere until the room was available.
The conference started and we were pumped.
I may have fallen asleep.
I remember that Peter Sandman gave a keynote and was treated like a rock star – I thought he was ineffectual, especially when it came to the hazard and outrage around foodborne illness.
There was a big deal about social marketing, presented to the attendees like we had all arrived on the short bus.
I remember going out to a Georgetown bar later that night, watching The Truth About Cats and Dogs in the hotel room while Marty farted, and commenting that Janis looked like Janeane Garofalo. I remember the drive home.
I don’t remember much about the conference.
Which is why I haven’t gone back.
Tomorrow, the International 2010 Food Safety Education Conference kicks off in Atlanta and its focus is to identify “communication and education strategies to increase the public’s knowledge of the causes of foodborne illnesses and improve food safety practices.”
Admirable goals. But what has happened since 1997?
I’m all for providing food safety information in a compelling, creative and critically-sound manner. However education is something people do themselves. Lewis Lapham wrote in Harper’s magazine in the mid-1980s about how individuals can choose to educate themselves about all sorts of interesting things, but the idea of educating someone is doomed to failure. Oh, and it’s sorta arrogant to state that others need to be educated; to imply that if only you understood the world as I understand the world, we would agree and dissent would be minimized.
At least it’s not a consumer food safety education conference. With outbreaks in pizza, pot pies, pet food, peanut butter, bagged spinach, carrot juice, lettuce, tomatoes, canned chili sauce, hot peppers, cookie dough, and white pepper, I’m not sure what consumers have to do with it.
Chapman is going, apparently as part of a southeast IKEA tour for his wife, and also to present a paper we wrote entitled, I updated my Facebook status to ‘I just got food poisoning:’ using social networking services (SNS) to communicate food safety risks. The abstract is below.
Me, I’ll be hanging out somewhat east of the 100th meridian, wondering why Americans don’t understand The Tragically Hip (especially the early stuff).
Chapman, B. and Powell, D. 2010. I updated my Facebook status to “I just got food poisoning”: using social networking services (SNS) to communicate food safety risks. FSIS/NSF Food Safety Education Conference. March 24, 2010. Atlanta Georgia.
Up to 30 per cent of individuals in developed countries become ill from the food and water they consume each year. Recent outbreaks of foodborne illness involving produce, peanut butter and potpies have further elevated the public discussion of microbial food safety risks. With the expansion and ease-of-use of non-traditional, Internet-based communication tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and blogs, individuals are discussing high-profile food crises online. As an estimated 60 per cent of online American adults use SNS, an opportunity exists to utilize these communities to engage individuals around foodborne risks by providing information and establishing relationships, to prepare for or mitigate potential catastrophic incidents. The rapid dialogue between individuals with common food safety interests can impact belief formation and affect food decisions. Using case study methodology and media analysis of the coverage of recent outbreaks of E. coli O157 linked to spinach and Salmonella linked to fresh tomatoes and peppers, a catalogue of mediums and will be presented. Through examples gleaned from barfblog.com and bites.ksu.edu an online food safety communication template and strategies for food safety communicators will also be presented. Understanding target audiences, using communication technology while providing rapid messages can enhance both risk management awareness and trust with stakeholders. Communicators developing food risk behavior change programs can be more effective by monitoring and utilizing diverse media to adjust strategies and maintain message relevance.
Bobby Krishna reports from Khartoum, Sudan, where he is attending the first Sudan international food safety conference.
The conference is organized by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the Sudanese Authority for Standards and Metrology. The minister of council of ministers for standards, Mr. Kamal Abdulatif inaugurated the conference, saying that countries like Sudan have huge problems with food and water sufficiency. The priority has always been to provide more rather than safer food. He said that the government will prioritize food safety and also called for an international commitment for capacity building in the region. The outcomes of the conference will be used for policy revisions, he said. Sudan is looking to establish a central agency to ensure food safety.
Dr. Ezzedine Boutrif, director of nutrition and consumer protection division of FAO spoke at the inaugural conference . He said that food safety is a key component of food security. Dr. Boutrif said that it is important to provide safe and nutritious food, even during emergencies; unsafe food given to a malnourished people could be fatal.
In a new take on faith-based food safety, Jeff Brown, owner of the Dungeness creamery in Washington state which produces raw milk and was linked to three cases of E. coli illness in Dec. 2009, was quoted as telling the Seattle Times this morning,
"Everything God designed is good for you."
I don’t know who designed small pox, but I don’t want it.
Not sure who designed aflatoxins in food, but don’t want that either.
And I don’t want pathogens in milk, especially when there is an easy technological fix – pasteurization.
The story cites the state Department of Health as saying between 2005 and 2009, 395 Washingtonians with lab-confirmed cases of foodborne pathogens reported consuming raw-milk products shortly before getting sick.
Brown maintains the government has unfairly damaged his farm's reputation.
"You know how you can tell they're lying? Their lips are moving. … God designed raw milk; man messed with it. You draw your own conclusions."
A year after 529 diners were sickened by norovirus at the swanky Fat Duck restaurant in the U.K., after the chef, Heston Blumenthal, blamed his decision to buy and serve raw oysters grown in human sewage on others, and months after a government report slammed the restaurant for letting sick workers work, Blumenthal has received £200,000 compensation for lost business related to the incident while sick diners have yet to receive a penny.
The Mail Online repots the payout news has angered scores of customers still fighting the restaurant for compensation.
Deborah Darke, 53, a deputy headteacher from Ilfracombe, Devon, who was one of the diners who became ill, said,
“I’m incensed the restaurant has received this payout when so many are still waiting for compensation. I understand that if he was supplied with contaminated food it is not his fault, but the report said there were hygiene issues. I won’t be returning.”
A long-time barfblog.com reader -- first-time commenter -- writes in with the following restaurant experience from Olathe, Kansas:
I literally just got home from one of my favorite casual dining restaurants here in Olathe. I ordered my favorite sandwich -- the Avocado Turkey Burger. The server took my order first as my girlfriend was still deciding what to order. She ordered a different turkey burger (copy cat). As the server wrote her order down I jokingly called my girlfriend a "Copy Cat" out loud at the table for ordering the same (almost the same) sandwich. So to be different, I told the server "Hey, can I get my turkey burger medium rare"....she said "sure no problem sir", took her pad back out, wrote it down and walked off. I called her back to the table to explain I was just joking and that turkey had to be cooked "all the way."
She just stared at me, then the light went off in her head...."oh, ya, I knew that."
I was afraid to eat...but I did and it was still tasty as usual.
On the drive home all I could think about was this could totally have been a story I read on barfblog.com with some picture of bloody rare turkey or something -- or not.