It’s free guacamole day and Chipotle investigated as source of another outbreak

Chipotle appears to be linked to another outbreak of foodborne illness. Maybe it’s just two cases (according to Chipotle via CNBC reporting) or maybe it’s way more according to Patrick Quade over at iwaspoisoned.com. 

There are lots of things that can go wrong in the restaurant like poor handwashing, cross-contamination or improper temperature control. Or folks showing up to work while ill (and Chipotle’s seen this before).

The pathogen isn’t clear, nor is what dish/practice caused the illnesses. It’s too early to tell.

What we do know is that the local health department is investigating:

From the duh files: Human behavior and corporate culture impact on hygiene, food safety

Easy to talk about; harder to do.

Leadership and efficient communication in food companies have a large impact on hygiene and food safety, as proven by research at Ghent University.

Many food processing companies have implemented a food safety management system to comply with the severe measures to deliver hygienic and safe food. Nevertheless, consumers can be exposed to unsafe food, with food poisoning as a result.

Research at Ghent University shows that human behavior and corporate culture may have an impact on these problems.

Researchers Elien De Boeck, Prof. Liesbeth Jacxsens (faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University) and Prof. Peter Vlerick (faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University) took a closer look at food companies and their management systems.

“Food safety is often looked at from a purely technological approach”, De Boeck explains. “Many companies choose to obtain a food safety certificate merely because their customers demand it; not because they are intrinsically motivated to improve their company’s hygiene and food safety. As such, certificates risk to become merely a checklist with requirements and lose their original goal: to safeguard and improve hygiene and food safety.”

A certificate is no guarantee for safe food”, the researcher continues. “Some companies with certificates still encounter food safety problems.”

Their study shows that in many cases, food safety problems are caused by the behavior of individual employees, who are, in turn, influenced by the corporate culture with respect to food safety and hygiene.

De Boeck: “As a company, you make choices: for instance, how do we manage food safety? Is it our priority to produce safe and hygienic food, or to increase production? This organizational culture reflects on all aspects in production and processing, and on the behavior of employees. If you give employees sufficient time to do their job well, they will get the signal that quality and food safety are more important than quantity. Furthermore, stress and burn-out are clearly linked to a weak food safety culture.”

A strong leading management and efficient communication seemed crucial to realize a better food safety culture.

“Every food processing company should have strong leaders on crucial positions in the company”, De Boeck advises. “These persons have a positive influence on the behavior of individual employees.”

Also good communication is important, to make employees aware of the importance of food safety and hygiene, for example by organizing frequent food safety and hygiene training.

In certification of companies, food safety culture will become more important in the future.

“Food companies need to aim for a good food safety culture, in which every employee is aware of the importance of safe and hygienic food”, the researcher concludes.

Electrolyzed water: a pretty good review

An old friend of the blog emailed today looking for some info for someone he was working with who wanted to know about whether electrolyzed water, on it’s own, was a good replacement for sanitizers.

I came across this 2016 review paper in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

Electrolyzed Water as a Novel Sanitizer in the Food Industry: Current Trends and Future Perspectives

SME Rahman, Imran Khan, and Deog-Hwan Oh

Abstract:

Electrolyzed water (EW) has gained immense popularity over the last few decades as a novel broad-spectrum sanitizer. EW can be produced using tap water with table salt as the singular chemical additive. The application of EW is a sustainable and green concept and has several advantages over traditional cleaning systems including cost effectiveness, ease of application, effective disinfection, on-the-spot production, and safety for human beings and the environment. These features make it an appropriate sanitizing and cleaning system for use in high-risk settings such as in hospitals and other healthcare facilities as well as in food processing environments. EW also has the potential for use in educational building, offices, and entertainment venues. However, there have been a number of issues related to the use of EW in various sectors including limited knowledge on the sanitizing mechanism. AEW, in particular, has shown limited efficacy on utensils, food products, and surfaces owing to various factors, the most important of which include the type of surface, presence of organic matter, and type of tape water used. The present review article highlights recent developments and offers new perspectives related to the use of EW in various areas, with particular focus on the food industry.

It’s Not the Mayonnaise: Food Safety Myths & Summertime Food

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead at NC State News Services (and all-around great guy) writes,

When folks get sick after a picnic, people often blame the potato salad. Or the chicken salad. Or whatever other side dish was made with mayonnaise. But that’s usually not the culprit.

“It’s not always the potato salad…except when it’s the potato salad,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State University. “There are lots of other foods at a cookout that can also lead to illnesses.”

Potato Salad

When it is the potato salad, the culprits are usually Staphylococcus aureus or Clostridium perfringens. And a combination of factors can lead to problems. In most “salads” of this type, low-acid potatoes, chicken, pasta or hard-boiled eggs are added to the mayonnaise. The mayonnaise is acidified to make it safe, but the low acidity of the potatoes (or foods) offsets the acidity of the mayonnaise, creating an environment where bacteria can thrive.

That sets the stage. Then poor hygiene comes into play. S. aureus, for example, can often be found on our faces, particularly around the eyes or nose. So, S. aureus can be introduced to salads when people touch their face and then – without washing their hands – touch the food.

However, in order for bacteria to become a problem, there also has to be “temperature abuse,” meaning that the potato salad isn’t kept below 41°F.

“For example, above 90°F, foodborne pathogens in potato salad increase tenfold in as quickly as an hour,” Chapman says. “In ideal temperatures for bacteria, such as body temperature, bacterial populations can double in less than 20 minutes.”

So, it’s rarely the mayonnaise. Instead, it’s the combination of mayonnaise and other salad ingredients, plus poor hygiene and poor temperature control.

But, in rare cases, it can be the potatoes. An outbreak of botulism poisoning in 2015 stemmed from potato salad made using potatoes that had been canned improperly by a home cook.

“Potatoes need to be ‘pressure canned,’ using a boiling water bath,” Chapman says. “These potatoes weren’t, which led to 29 illnesses and two deaths – the largest botulism poisoning in 40 years.”

Why It’s Not the Mayonnaise (And When It Could Be)

A big reason that mayonnaise rarely causes foodborne illness these days is that most people buy their mayonnaise, rather than making it from scratch.

“Commercially produced mayonnaise is acidified to reduce spoilage and kill off human pathogens,” Chapman says. “It’s really low risk on its own.”

However, many mayo recipes for the home cook don’t include acid, which makes it possible for pathogens – like S. aureus, C. perfringens and Salmonella – to grow and become a health risk.

“So, if you’re making mayonnaise at home, pick a recipe that uses pasteurized egg products and incorporates acid – such as vinegar or lemon juice – to reduce risk” Chapman says. “And refrigeration is still incredibly important, as recipes may not incorporate enough acid to address risks.”

More Likely Culprits

If it’s probably not the mayonnaise salad, what are the more likely culprits behind foodborne illness? The answer may surprise you.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are responsible for more outbreaks of foodborne illness than any other type of food; they’ve been linked to 46 percent of foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008,” Chapman says.

That does not mean that you shouldn’t eat your fruits and veggies. Just beware of risks.

Unfortunately, in most cases, contaminated produce was contaminated before the consumer bought it – at any point between the field where it was grown and the shelf where the consumer picked it up.

That said, you can still take steps to reduce risk

First, you really want to avoid cross contamination, which is when pathogens from uncooked food (like raw meat) are transferred to food that’s ready to eat. That can happen if you don’t wash your hands, for instance, or if you use the same cutting board for cutting chicken and preparing salad.

You can also reduce risk by washing your produce – though that won’t eliminate risk altogether.

And, if you are growing your own fruits and vegetables, make sure you’re that you are following some fundamental food safety guidelines for gardeners: using a clean water source (not your rain barrel); keeping wildlife from contaminating your garden; keeping your hands and gardening gear clean; and not using uncomposted manure.

As for grilling, check out our “5 Things You Should Know About Grilling Burgers (To Avoid Getting Sick).” There are good tips in there!

Bon appétit!

Parasites in poop fossils reveal the crappiness of ancient human hygiene

Sarah Sloat of Inverse reports you can learn a lot from poop. These days, scientists look at people’s feces to figure out their diets and what type of drugs they’re partying with. According to a study released Wednesday, ancient poop is just as revealing. In PLOS One, researchers report that they found a bunch of parasite eggs in feces piled up in ancient latrines, and that this fantastically gross endeavor has provided clues into the lifestyles of humans that lived thousands of years ago.

Ancient latrines found in Bahrain, Jordan, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania are the focus of the new paper, authored by a team of Danish and Dutch scientists. The samples of ancient waste range significantly in age, with the oldest, found in Bahrain, dating to 500 B.C. to the most recent, found in the Netherlands, dating to 1700 A.D. Microscopy techniques allowed them to pinpoint parasite eggs within the old poop, and DNA analysis of those parasites revealed not only what these humans ate but also the animals they interacted with and the parasites that plagued their stomachs.

“Using a novel approach of applying shotgun sequencing on ancient parasite eggs that have been purified by filtering, we have obtained a new and much more detailed insight into parasitic infections of human populations of the past,” the authors write.

When parasitic worms infect an animal, they lay eggs in the intestine, which are then later plopped out when that animal defecates. The scientists had at first reasoned that there were several ways the eggs could have gotten into the poop: They might have been spread from human to human, passed to humans from animal hosts, or introduced through the consumption of already infected animals.

The team’s analysis showed that most of the parasite DNA came from parasites that spread from human to human. The second most common parasite came from a species that’s spread when people eat raw or undercooked fish and pork.

Via shotgun sequencing, the scientists reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes of some of the parasites. Doing this revealed the species of parasites lurking in the ancient poop, which included the giant roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) and human whipworm (Trichruis trichiura). While humans, especially those in Europe, were commonly infected with intestinal worms until the last century, today roundworm and whipworm are fortunately only highly prevalent in countries with low levels of sanitation, insufficient water refinement, and animals that live close to humans.

Their analysis also turned up parasites known to infect sheep, horses, dogs, pigs, and rodents, indicating that the humans who used these latrines lived in close proximity to those animals, with their feces ending up in the same dump. Some poop samples really let the researchers dig into the details of the lives of their makers: For example, feces harvested from the Danish samples, dated from 1018 to 1400 A.D., hints that those ancient people dined on fin whales, roe deer, and hares. Meanwhile, plant DNA found in the feces from North European latrines dated to the same period shows that the veggies of choice were cabbages and buckwheat.

Going public, Salmonella-in-French-cheese-style: Morbier and Mont d’Or cheese behind 10 deaths in France, 2015-16

In a country where reporting foodborne illness is deemed unpatriotic an investigation by France Inter radio revealed that at least 10 people died in the Franche-Comté region in the east of France linked to two cheeses made from unpasteurized milk  in late 2015 and early 2016.

The investigation produced a document which showed that in January 2016 national health authorities had discovered an unusually high number of salmonella contaminations in France that was centred on Franche-Comté.

Five cheese making companies in the region, between them making 60 different brands, were later identified as being at the source of the contaminations that began in November 2015 and continued until April the following year.

In a way that is truly French in its description, those who died in the outbreak were old people who were physically weak or who suffered from another illness.

Jean-Yves Mano, the president of the CLCV consumer association, said he was surprised that a product recall had not been ordered of products that might have been infected with salmonella.

“We do not understand why a general alert was not issued by state officials, or at least information given on what precautions to take,” he told France Inter.

The state food agency, the Direction générale de l’alimentation (DGAL), said there were two reasons why a recall was not ordered.

The first was that it would have allegedly been very difficult to identify which exact brand of the cheeses were contaminated because there were a total of 60 that were produced in the cheese-making firms where the outbreak originated.

The second was that by the time the authorities found out where the outbreak had come from, the contaminated cheeses had already been consumed and the new batches in the cheesemakers’ premises were not infected.

“It is perhaps due to these two factors that this contamination was not in the media, even though all the data was public nothing was hidden,” said Fany Molin of the DGAL food agency.

That’s French-bureau-speak.

Go public: Further illnesses may be prevented; others learn; citizens may not come with torches demanding change; and it’s the right thing to do.

Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

Mar.17

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell

http://www.neha.org/node/58904

Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

Food Safety Talk 149: Free-range, Grass-fed Raised Unicorns

This episode starts with a discussion on running really long relay races and unplanned home repairs.

Don and Ben then edible cookie dough validation (or lack thereof), sour milk pancakes and backyard chicken eggs. The episode ends on a discussion of moldy, fermented rice used as a meat flavor enhancer, glitter beer and Listeria in frozen corn.

Episode 149 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Intel, Chipotle and Facebook: The sorry history of full-page apologies

In the summer of 1994, Intel types discovered a flaw with their Pentium computer chip, but thought the matter trivial; it was not publicly disclosed until Oct. 30, 1994, when a mathematician at Lynchburg College in Virginia, Thomas Nicely, posted a warning on the Internet.

As perceived problems and complaints rose through the weekend Andrew S. Grove, Intel’s chairman and CEO, composed an apology to be posted on an Internet bulletin board—actually a web, but because he was at home with no direct Internet access, he asked Intel scientist Richard Wirt to post the message from his home account; But because it bore Mr. Wirt’s electronic address, the note’s authenticity was challenged, which only added to the fury of the Internet attacks on Intel.

(I remember those days, and did live-post to my friends that had e-mail my 4th daughter’s 1995 home birth on a shitty Mac SE with a 20MB external hard drive for extra power.)

At 8 a.m. the following Monday inside the company’s Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters, Intel officials set to work on the crisis the way they attacked a large problems—like an engineering problem. Said Paul Otellini, senior vice-president for worldwide sales, “It was a classic Intellian approach to solving any big problem. We broke it down into smaller parts; that was comforting.”

By the end of week two, the crisis looked to be subsiding; Then on Monday, Nov. 12, 1994, the International Business Machines Corp. abruptly announced that its own researchers had determined that the Pentium flaw would lead to division errors much more frequently than Intel said. IBM said it was suspending shipments of personal computers containing the Pentium chip

Mr. Grove was stunned. The head of IBM’s PC division, Richard Thoman, had given no advance warning. A fax (remember those? Still required for certain transactions in Australia) from Thoman arrived at Intel’s HQ on Monday morning after the IBM announcement, saying he had been unable to find Grove’s number during the weekend. Mr. Grove, whose number is listed, called directory assistance twice to ask for his own number to ensure he was listed.

After the IBM announcement, the number of calls to Santa Clara overwhelmed the capacity of AT&T’s West Coast long-distance telephone switching centers, blocking calls. Intel stock fell 6.5 per cent.

As John Markoff of the N.Y. Times wrote on the front-page in Dec. 1994, the reluctance of Intel to act earlier, according to Wall Street analysts, was the result of a corporate culture accustomed to handling technical issues rather than addressing customers’ hopes and fears.

Only then, Mr. Grove said, did he begin to realize that an engineer’s approach was inappropriate for a consumer problem.

According to one op-ed writer, Intel’s initial approach to the problem—prove you are doing sophisticated calculations if you want a replacement chip—was like saying “until you get to be cardinal, any internal doubts about the meaning of life are your own problem, a debate that has been going on since before Martin Luther.”

Intel’s doctrine of infallibility was facing an old-fashioned Protestant revolt.” (John Hockenberry, Pentium and our Crisis of Faith, N.Y. Times, Dec. 28, 1994, A11; this is how things were referenced before hot links)

Why and how did Intel go wrong? The answer was rooted in Intel’s distinctive corporate culture, and suggests that Intel went wrong in much the same way as other big and unresponsive companies before it.

Intel had traditionally valued engineering over product marketing. Inward-looking and wary of competitors (from experience with the Japanese) it developed a bunker mentality, a go-for-the-juglar attitude and reputation for arrogance.

According to one former engineer, Federico Faggin, a co-inventor of Intel’s first microprocessor, “The attitude at Intel is, ‘We’re better than everyone else and what we do is right and we never make mistakes.’”

Finally, on Dec. 20, Grove apparently realized that he and his company were standing at Ground Zero for an incoming consumer relations meteor. Intel announced that it would replace the defective chips—and pay for the labor—no questions asked, for the life of the original PC.

Discussing Intel’s previous position, Grove said, “To some people, this seemed arrogant and uncaring. We apologize for that.”

So what did a consumer with a Pentium do: Teach Intel that this isn’t about a white paper. It’s about green paper—the money you paid and the performance you didn’t get. Replace that chip. After all, consumers deserve to be treated with respect, courtesy and a little common sense.

Now apply all of that Intel stuff to Chipotle.

They even took out a full-page ad to apologize, just like Intel, but people still read newspapers 20 years ago. Today, the strategy seems hopelessly out of touch for a tragically hipster company.

Chipotle is the opposite, focusing too much on consumer whims and not enough on food science, and now it’s going to get worse.

An official chronology of the Simi Valley Norovirus outbreak involving Chipotle Mexican Grill customers and employees, which has been obtained by Food Safety News, shows there were far more victims than were reported at the time.

The report shows the Simi Valley outbreak was larger than any of the other four outbreaks Chipotle has suffered since July, including the ongoing Norovirus outbreak mostly involving Boston College students, the two E. coli outbreaks and the Salmonella Newport outbreak in Minnesota in August. Together these events have sickened more than 490 people.

The County’s chronology includes detailed tracking of the complaints as they came in and as the illnesses were confirmed as Norovirus victims. From that first report through Sept. 25, 2015, the chronology comes to this conclusion: ”The total number of reportedly ill customers and employees at this Chipotle outbreak investigation is 234.”

The number of victims was being reported in other media at the time as just 98.

And, the internal document says the real number of victims of Chipotle’s Simi Valley outbreak could be higher still. “In reviewing the food logs provided by Chipotle for both 8/18/15 and 8/19/15, it is estimated at least 1500+ entrees were sold each day.”  Sandy Murray, who did the analysis for the division, wrote: “Thus, the actual number of customers and employees ill from this outbreak is likely to be substantially higher than the reported number of 234.”

In 2015, Chipotle ran print advertisements in 60 newspaper markets with an apology from Steve Ells, the burrito chain’s founder and co-chief executive.   His apology though only went to the victims of the current nine state E. coli 026 outbreak and the Boston College outbreak.

“From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards,“ Ells said (Pinto defense). “But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a Norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better.”

No mention was made of the other foodborne outbreaks.

Now it’s Facebook’s turn: The full-page apology adverts in newspapers in the U.S., UK and Germany ran on Sunday (Mar. 25, 2018).

But, the polls say consumers are turning away from facebook, not by immediately terminating their accounts, but by slowly disengaging.

Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Bild am Sonntag, Germany’s largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized for “a breach of trust” in advertisements placed in papers including the Observer in Britain and the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” said the advertisement, which appeared in plain text on a white background with a tiny Facebook logo.

The newspapers are happy for the revenue, but if only Facebook had a way to reach out to its 2 billion or so customers rather than newspapers.

Australian rockmelon growers could learn a thing or two. I can’t keep giving out this free advice forever, but the public citizen in me and my values compel me to do so.

Rebels without a clue.

Runs to the border: People are still terrified to eat at Chipotle

Amy craved Chipotle when she was pregnant.

For whatever reason, 10 years ago, while Sorenne was forming in Amy’s belly, I would have to go on Chipotle runs.

It was Manhattan, Kansas, it was easy to get there, but I hated the hypocrisy of buying Chipotle because I knew it was shit.

But when your wife is pregnant, posing has no stature.

I dutifully bought her Chipotle.

According to a new UBS report, the biggest reason people say they’re eating Chipotle less frequently is a concern about food safety.

The chain’s E. coli outbreaks — in which 55 people were infected after eating at Chipotle — occurred almost two and a half years ago.

Chipotle is struggling to attract customers who rarely or never visit the chain, with 32% saying “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.

Customers still haven’t forgotten Chipotle’s food poisoning scandal more than two years later.

Food safety concerns top the list of reasons that customers said they’re eating Chipotle less frequently, according to a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,500 people. In the report, released on Monday, 26% of respondents cited a concern about food safety as the main reason they were eating at the chain less.

In late 2015 and early 2016, 55 people were infected in two E. coli outbreaks after eating at Chipotle. While the company made major changes to its food safety policies and practices, there have been a number of food poisoning scares over the last few years.

As a result, Chipotle’s food safety reputation is still far worse than any other fast-food chain. For comparison, roughly 15% of respondents say that food safety concerns are the main reason they are eating at McDonald’s less frequently.

Customers who rarely or never eat at Chipotle are the most likely to hold food safety concerns against the chain, with a whopping 60% of people who don’t visit the chain indicating a “significantly negative impact or a complete loss of trust in the brand.”

In March, former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol took over as Chipotle’s top executive. At Taco Bell, Niccol turned around the chain with creative ad campaigns and an emphasis on the chain’s value proposition, including its dollar menu.

Runs to the border.

I don’t see gender: ‘Sitting on the fence: Biology, feminism and gender-bending environments’

Somehow, I was quoted in a Jan. 2000 publication of the Women s Studies International Forum, and received notification today.

“The story of endocrine disrupters is no different. Yet science has long been a slippery ally for environmental campaigners: on the one hand, it is the products of science and technology that seem to present problems through pollution, while on the other, campaigners must turn to science in order to demonstrate the problems (Powell and Leiss, 1997; Yearley, 1991).”

I didn’t write that, Leiss did, although I probably edited the sentence to make it coherent.

And some folks wonder why I didn’t want anything to do with a second edition.

At the time, this is what I sent Bill (without the pretty pic, upper right).