Posted: September 12th, 2010 - 7:02am
by Doug Powell
Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s latest attempt at PR salvation in this morning’s Daily Mail is another crass and superficial effort to blame others for the March 2009 norovirus outbreak that sickened 529 at The Fat Duck restaurant. Heston has a memory of convenience in yet another quest for salvation and, sympathy while pushing a new fancy restaurant and cookbook. Here’s a reminder.
“I thought my world was caving in.”
So did the 529 people barfing and confirmed as having norovirus from your Fat Duck.
“I’m just a chef who likes asking lots of questions.”
Not enough questions – like where those oysters came from, and if I’m going to use them in dishes such as jelly oyster with passion fruit and lavender, should they be cooked so people don’t barf?
“Blumenthal is still seething about the report into the incident published 12 months ago by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which he believes maligns his £150-a-head establishment and his business methods. ‘The report insinuated things that I found very frustrating. For example, that staff were back at work while they were physically ill. Our staff training manual very clearly lays out a 48-hour return-to-work policy – you don’t come back until 48 hours after you feel better.’”
At the time of the outbreak, Blumethal reported conducting his own testing of staff and customers, and stated “so far it is categorically not food poisoning." Wrong.
The HPA report did state ongoing transmission at the restaurant—leading to illnesses from January 6 to February 22—was thought to have occurred through continuous contamination of foods prepared in the restaurant or by person-to-person spread between staff and diners or a mixture of both. Investigators identified several weaknesses in procedures at the restaurant may have contributed to ongoing transmission including: delayed response to the incident, the use of inappropriate environmental cleaning products, and staff working when ill. Up to 16 of the restaurant’s food handlers were reportedly working with norovirus symptoms before it was voluntarily closed.
“I took the decision to close the restaurant within 24 hours, as a precautionary measure. It was a financial blow but I couldn’t consider money at the time. … I felt desperately sorry for all the people who suffered. My instincts were to contact everyone personally and apologise but I was advised against this by my lawyers, insurers and official bodies conducting investigations. It was extremely frustrating, but my hands were tied.”
Blumenthal is arguing he took a financial blow, but wouldn’t risk a financial blow and say I’m sorry, which was the decent human thing to do instead of hiding behind barristers and bureaucrats.
When Blumenthal did finally issue an apology on September 25, 2009—seven months after the outbreak was discovered and more than two weeks after the Health Protection Agency report was released—it suggested that he viewed an empathetic apology as an admission of guilt.
"I am relieved to be able to finally offer my fullest apologies to all those who were affected by the outbreak at the Fat Duck,” said Blumenthal, “It was extremely frustrating to not be allowed to personally apologise (sic) to my guests until now. It was devastating to me and my whole team, as it was to many of our guests and I wish to invite them all to return to the Fat Duck at their convenience [for a free meal]." The apology was too late and again failed to accept responsibility for the aspects of the outbreak that were under the chef’s control—namely, acquiring seafood from unsafe sources and allowing sick employees to handle food.
“He has basically attempted to re-write the HPA report and its conclusions in his favour. It is pathetic and a complete PR disaster. There isn’t even a hint of apology. “ At first I was extremely sympathetic to Heston Blumenthal, but the way this has been mishandled beggars belief. I could not believe what I was reading in this email – it was like we had been sent different reports. I am taking them to court and a lot of other people are too. A simple apology might have ended all this a long time ago.”
Another diner blogged, “I’m appalled because I was so entranced by Heston Blumenthal and he comes across as being very decent and clever. We had been so ill and, at the very least, we expected some kind of acknowledgment. We really thought they would be interested in what had happened to us.”
Boxing promoter Frank Warren commented, "Everything was fabulous about the evening - the food, the setting, the service, it was unbelievably good but unfortunately, afterwards, all of us were ill. … Since then we have not heard anything from the restaurant at all. I am very disappointed and I know that the people I went with are very disappointed with the feedback"
Blumenthal is now gearing up for the opening of a lavish new restaurant, Dinner, at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel in December. He is also working on a new, simpler cookbook, Heston At Home, which will be out in a year’s time.
Heston, you need to get a lot better at this PR thing if you expect either to sell.
My “mind went to dark places.”
We’ve all been to dark places; grow a pair and admit what went wrong rather than incessantly whining while promoting. Then maybe you’ll get some sympathy.
Posted: September 9th, 2010 - 6:09am
by Doug Powell
Norovirus denier Heston Blumenthal was praised by the Sydney Morning Herald for his television show, Heston's Feasts, and his scientific approach to food prep, including exploding duck and edible eyeball.
“… believe it or not, watching half a dozen B-grade British celebrities get slowly shickered as plate upon plate of outlandish meals is piled before them and they try to describe the experience in their own words is classic, thesaurus-less, comedy gold. When they're gobsmacked, they admit it. ‘I'm gobsmacked.’'' Similarly, if they're amazed, they'll get straight to the point. '’That's amazing!’ an amazed TV presenter screeches, before adding: ‘I'm totally amazed!’
Posted: August 25th, 2010 - 10:12am
by Doug Powell
CNBC reports that experts have some simple advice when it comes to eating runny eggs these days: Run away.
With salmonella concerns triggering the recall of more than a half-billion eggs in more than a dozen states, warnings are becoming more dire every day against eating undercooked yolks and translucent egg whites.
But what's a home cook to do, especially when hit by cravings for eggs Benedict, pasta carbonara, homemade Caesar dressing or other dishes that call for raw or only slightly cooked eggs?
Drinking raw eggs for a protein boost? Even worse idea, given the risk of salmonella and its violent nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and temporary residency in the bathroom.
"We've got enough issues. Who needs to be barfing because of raw eggs?" asked Douglas Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University and author of BarfBlog.com, which highlights food-handling problems in the news and in popular culture.
He advises cooks to use a food thermometer in their frittatas, quiches and other egg dishes — and, in fact, when preparing meat or anything that poses dangers when undercooked.
Paul Stern, who cooks for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, an Ashford, Conn., camp for seriously ill children, many with compromised immune systems, said this year, the camp switched (before the recall) to pasteurized liquid egg product.
"I wouldn't be consuming or serving raw eggs any more than I'd be eating or serving raw chicken."
The Aussies have a way with words, as the Herald Sun proclaims this morning that Miss Universe 2004 and “glamazon Jennifer Hawkins has revealed a bout of food poisoning was the cause of her extra-skinny appearance at the Myer Summer Collection launch this month.”
Hawkins has told New Idea magazine she dropped weight quickly after falling ill while on holidays with her boyfriend, Jake Wall, adding,
"I had a severe case of food poisoning while I was in Europe recently and it took its toll on me. I knew I was smaller than usual, but there was nothing I could do. I ate lots of healthy food before the parade and my mum even came to Sydney to cook Jake and me a yummy meal. I do maintain a healthy lifestyle and love to exercise and eat well, but things like getting sick happen. I am only human."
In the latest ridiculously expensive survey of Canadians, 77 per cent of Canadians said they were either "very" or "somewhat" concerned with the safety of the food they eat, up from 66 per cent in 2007,
The Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Postmedia News found 87 per cent agree that they trust food that comes from Canada more than food that comes from abroad, with 85 per cent of respondents saying they make an effort to buy locally-grown and produced food.
So, Canadians trust Maple Leaf and their listeria-laden cold cuts more than stuff from other places?
Debbie Field, executive director of the Toronto-based food advocacy group FoodShare, said,
"Even though it seems silly and a bit utopian to imagine small producers being safer, what people like me believe is that it's true. You'll always have some problem, you'll always have contamination, you'll always have some airborne illness. But if it's kept local, its impact is much smaller.”
As director Kevin Smith would say, Brisbane, Australia, I’m inside you.
(Smith was inside Sydney last week as part of his touring standup Q&A sessions that get turned into fairly entertaining movies.)
Other than torturing Sorenne for 36 hours of transportation from Manhattan to Brisbane, the only excitement was the ‘Do Not Spit Here’ sign on the garbage can in the Auckland airport, also available in what looked like Chinese and Korean.
But there was a good food-related barf story out of Berkeley, Calif. Julie R. Smith writes in The Berkeley Independent that she used to sneer at germs, but is now plagued with the “social food” problem, when you’re faced with food that has not been prepared in a state-licensed restaurant with a sanitation rating of A+. Unless I’ve actually watched you crack the eggs or cook the meat (and preferably inserted the thermometer myself), forget it. I’m a nervous wreck.
In 2007 I started throwing up at work, which led to throwing up in the parking lot, which became throwing up in my car (a co-worker was driving, thank God), which segued into throwing up all over the ER admittance desk.
After barfing on a nurse and two gurneys, the fun began: I started literally foaming at the mouth. Every time I retched, foam flew far and wide. My co-worker, a staff photographer who served in Viet Nam, was convinced I had rabies.
Two hours later, after shots and IVs and heated blankets, the ER doc announced that I appeared to have norovirus. “Nora who?” I asked fuzzily. …
A year ago, I returned from a trip to North Carolina feeling fine. At 1 a.m. I woke drenched in sweat, fell out of bed and threw up on the dog. Then the other end of my digestive system decided to join the party.
Five hours later I was again in the ER with dry heaves and a nifty potassium drip. The doctor asked if I’d eaten anything “that didn’t taste right.”
“Not really, but I pigged out all weekend,” I admitted. “Chicken, deviled eggs, pasta salad, fried fish, pie, baked potato with sour cream. Too much rich food, I guess.”
He shook his head. “When you eat something that doesn’t agree with you, you throw it up and life goes on,” he said. “This is food poisoning. You ate something that was contaminated.”
So there you have it: Norovirus and food poisoning. Life’s too short to spend it throwing up. Pass me the meat thermometer.
That’s what eventual U.S. President Richard Nixon said to the press after losing the election for Governor of California in 1962 (he became President in 1968).
“I leave you gentleman now and you will write it. You will interpret it. That's your right. But as I leave you I want you to know — just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you.”
The Government recognizes the important role of the Food Standards Agency in England, which will continue to be responsible for food safety. The Food Standards Agency will remain a non-ministerial department reporting to Parliament through Health ministers.
In England, nutrition policy will become a responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health. Food labelling and food composition policy, where not related to food safety, will become a responsibility of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
This is tremendous news for food safety types as it was clear the Agency was being distracted by trying to be everything to everybody. Issues surrounding salt, fat, genetic engineering, labeling and others are largely lifestyle choices – they are not food safety issues, the things that make people barf.
Although the U.K. Department of Health needs new communications types when they begin a press release with,
“Public confidence in food safety issues will be protected, as the Government confirmed its intention to retain the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with a renewed focus on food safety.”
Public confidence is earned, not protected by a bureaucratic shuffling of the chairs.