Farmers’ market peas in Green Bay linked to salmonellosis cases

When our group started working with farmers markets a few years ago we created a strong partnership with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Together, with funding from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, we developed best practices and engage directly with market managers and vendors through workshops and on-site visits. Since 2010 the curriculum we developed has been delivered to over 1000 managers and vendors and we’ve got some data that shows it led to some infrastructure and practice changes. Since then we’ve been working with others at Virginia Tech, University of Georgia, University of Arkansas and the University of Houston to take our vendor stuff national and couple it with other materials on that colleagues have developed.

Both of these projects were a result of wanting to help protect public health – and the farmers’ markets – from outbreaks. There haven’t been many farmers’ market-linked outbreaks reported. But one popped up today.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, four cases of salmonellosis have been linked to shelled peas from a vendor at a couple of farmers’ markets.

Authorities believe the cases stem from consumption of peas sold at a July 22 farmers market in Green Bay, said Anna Destree, Brown County’s health officer.

County authorities are reminding people to follow proper procedures for washing and preparing vegetables, but say there is no need to panic.

“There’s no need for people to say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t buy peas,'” Flynt said. “They just need to follow proper washing and food-handling procedures.”

Officials said any shelled peas purchased from downtown Green Bay farmers markets between July 19 and Aug. 5 should be thrown out.

Flynt did not have any word on the conditions of the county residents who were infected.

I don’t know who Flynt is, but blaming consumers isn’t a good idea. There’s no info as to whether these peas were consumed raw, whether cross-contamination was a factor – and c’mon, can someone show some data that says washing peas would be an effective risk reduction step here?

Here’s an infosheet on asking questions at farmers’ markets. Stuff like how do you keep Salmonella off of my peas.

Meal kits and food safety

I like shopping for groceries. A couple of times a week I take my youngest kid (who also likes to shop) to a variety of stores and pick up a bunch of ingredients for the next few meals. Not everyone is into pushing a cart around and fighting the masses over the best avocado enter the meal kit market. After discussing online meal kit companies on Food Safety Talk with Schaffner a couple of weeks ago, Don shot me a free week invite.

Our first Blue Apron shipment arrived Friday afternoon. I missed out on the temperature check when it arrived, Dani just said it was ‘cold.’

Don was on WRVO pubic radio talking about some of the food safety concerns with meal kits – stuff like transport temperatures, stuff delivered to the wrong address or boxes opening up.

So the meal kit companies need to consider a lot of factors, Schaffner says, in order to ensure the food being shipped remains fresh:

The perishability of the food itself
The kind of box and packing materials they ship it in
The kind of cooling device – dry ice, gel packs or regular ice
The nature of the delivery service
Clearly labeling the outside of the package that its perishable
Schaffner says it’s the food company’s responsibility to make sure its product is shipped in a way that ensures it is safe to eat upon arrival. Common shipping carriers — like UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service – don’t take responsibility for handling perishable food.

So is it safe to eat food that’s traveled via a non-refrigerated shipping truck? Schaffner says, like many other issues regarding food safety, “it’s complicated, and it depends.” Because there are so many variables, there’s really no definitive answer.

After our meal kit stuff arrived most of it ended up in our fridge for a couple of days. Yesterday I made a tasty and fairly easy cheese, pepper and olive grilled sandwich and a salad. Tonight’s challenge was a bit more involved.  Warm potato salad, marinated cucumbers and chicken cutlets – and that’s where it all fell apart for me.

The food safety instructions sucked. 

The raw chicken package had the USDA safe handling instructions to cook thoroughly. Damn. No other info, like what temperature thoroughly might be (right, exactly as shown).

I went to the step-by-step meal instructions, figuring I might see a temperature. Nope. Just cook until golden brown. And cooked through (below, exactly as shown). Damn. Nothing about cross-contamination either. A missed opportunity, but not surprising. Katrina Levine, Ashley Chaifetz and I wrote about how shitty cookbook instructions are when it comes to food safety. And we weren’t the first.

There’s lots of anecdotal conversations about how folks don’t know how to cook. Millennials and otherwise. Meal kits might make cooking easier – but won’t help with food safety.

Health inspections are not easy

The field of public health inspection is not easy; it is a difficult job, yet gratifying. I remember inspecting restaurants that were notorious for non-compliance and trying to work with them to improve their food safety behaviors. I believed in quality inspections and not quantity as health inspections are essentially a snap shot in time and I wanted to make a difference.

Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t and it is frustrated when you feel like you haven’t made a difference. So I get the ideology of fines as a method to increase compliance.
But do fines actually work or is it the cost of doing business for some operators? What will the establishment look like in a month or two, did we influence change or not? I have done this in the past where I charged a facility for a number of significant non-conformance’s and they subsequently cleaned up, but a month later, they regressed to the same state that I initially found them. Our department did not have a risk-based approach at that time and so the operator wasn’t expecting me for another year…surprise…

It is all about behavior and behavior change.

The owner of an East Tilbury sandwich bar has been slapped with a fine of almost two-and-a-half thousand pounds.
The owner of Nancy’s Sandwich Bar has been ordered to pay £2,353 for failure to comply with food safety legislation.
Daniel Wood appeared at Basildon Magistrates on Monday July 24, 2017 and pleaded guilty to 11 food hygiene offences, following a visit by Thurrock Council’s food safety team in September last year.
Inspectors visited the premises and found a makeshift kitchen had been set up in a room previously used for storage without consideration to food hygiene or public safety.
As a result, the food outlet was rated with a ‘1’ on the Food Standards Agency’s food hygiene rating scheme.
But the owner has since made improvements and the bar’s rating has gone up to ‘4’.
The bar was fined £1,230 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs and £123 victim surcharge.
Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods, Cllr Sue MacPherson said: “During the visit, the premises and equipment were found in a filthy condition, but I am pleased to see that improvements have since been made.”

 

Levine writes: Investigating shoppers’ perceptions of risk

Katrina Levine, extension associate and lead author of Consumer perceptions of the safety of ready-to-eat foods in retail food store settings writes,

While I was grocery shopping one day at my regular store, I noticed that one of the doors to the dairy refrigerator case was missing. There was no sign or notice to explain the gaping hole where the door should have been in front of the shredded cheese, nor was any attempt made to compensate for the absent door, such as by relocating the items in that section or putting up a temporary covering.

After first being a bit confused when trying to reach for a non-existent handle, these questions popped into my head:

• how can the food in this section be at a safe temperature, as well as the foods on either side of it? and,

• doesn’t this missing door affect the ability of the case to maintain its temperature?

I’m a food safety nerd. Most people just want to shop and get on with whatever they are doing, but I’m subconsciously always looking for food safety behaviors. The person standing behind me was probably more interested in which brand was the least expensive or which package looked the freshest, or just wanted me to get out the way so they could buy their cheese and leave.

Does the lack of a door on a normally enclosed refrigerator case pose a food safety risk for dairy the products in that case? Depends on whom you ask. The average consumer (interpret this as you choose) often doesn’t see the same food safety risks when shopping in grocery stores compared to food safety folks.

Our group from North Carolina State teamed up with John Luchansky and Anna Porto-Fett at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service to investigate this difference between consumers and food safety folks in food safety risk perception when shopping at grocery stores.  We conducted a national survey and several focus groups where, instead of just describing a situation, we showed pictures of a food safety situation someone could actually encounter while shopping. In addition to asking questions about whether each photo was safe or unsafe, we wanted to know about the actions, if any, people would take to do something about a situation they thought was unsafe. We prodded them further with questions about how their perceptions of safety would affect their shopping behaviors.

We found that consumers and food safety folks don’t always see the same food safety risks. There were some situations consumers perceived as risky but that weren’t actually risks, like seeing an insect on the floor. There were also some risks that food safety folks saw but consumers missed, like food not properly stored within the refrigerated area.

I was explaining our study to a friend the other day, and she flat out told me, “I look for food quality when I’m shopping – is it fresh, is there mold or signs of damage, does it look ok?” This is exactly what we found. Consumers are looking for those quality aspects, but aren’t always seeing the warning signs that the safety of the food could be at risk. The viruses, bacteria, and other things that cause foodborne illness such as Listeria monocytogenes, might be present on foods in the grocery store at high levels by not storing soft cheeses at the proper temperature, allowing bacteria to grow more quickly.

Our research team will be taking this one step further to better understand the mind of the shopper and see things through their eyes. Everyday consumers will become our secret shoppers, and we plan to arm them with the information they need to be food safety detectives every time they shop. #citizenscience for the win.

Consumer perceptions of the safety of ready-to-eat foods in retail food store settings

Katrina Levine, Mary Yavelak, John B. Luchansky, Anna C. S. Porto-Fett, and Benjamin Chapman

Journal of Food Protection

August 2017, Vol. 80, No. 8, pp. 1364-1377

DOI: doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-16-417

Abstract:

To better understand how consumers perceive food safety risks in retail food store settings, a survey was administered to 1,041 nationally representative participants who evaluated possible food safety risks depicted in selected photographs and self-reported their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Participants were shown 12 photographs taken at retail stores portraying either commonly perceived or actual food safety contributing factors, such as cross-contamination, product and equipment temperatures, worker hygiene, and/or store sanitation practices. Participants were then asked to specifically identify what they saw, comment as to whether what they saw was safe or unsafe, and articulate what actions they would take in response to these situations. In addition to the survey, focus groups were employed to supplement survey findings with qualitative data. Survey respondents identified risk factors for six of nine actual contributing factor photographs >50% of the time: poor produce storage sanitation (86%, n = 899), cross-contamination during meat slicing (72%, n = 750), bare-hand contact of ready-to-eat food in the deli area (67%, n = 698), separation of raw and ready-to-eat food in the seafood case (63%, n = 660), cross-contamination from serving utensils in the deli case (62%, n = 644), and incorrect product storage temperature (51%, n = 528). On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was very unsafe and 5 was very safe, a significant difference was found between average risk perception scores for photographs of actual contributing factors (score of ca. 2.5) and scores for photographs of perceived contributing factors (score of ca. 2.0). Themes from the focus groups supported the results of the survey and provided additional insight into consumer food safety risk perceptions. The results of this study inform communication interventions for consumers and retail food safety professionals aimed at improving hazard identification.

Telling people there’s no risk is irresponsible

There’s some dumb stuff in this interview with author Jack Gilbert (who wrote, Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System) about eating dirt and the hygiene hypothesis.

I get it, expose your kids to lots of things, boost their immune system. But why say things like this:

Unless you dropped it in an area where you think they could be a high risk of extremely dangerous pathogens, which in every modern American home is virtually impossible, then there’s no risk to your child.

and

As long as they’re properly vaccinated, there’s no threat, and they will actually get a stronger, more beneficial exposure.

There’s always a threat. There’s no zero risk. There’s a pretty good chance that foodborne pathogens, that sometimes kill folks, are in every kitchen.

Idaho food bank recalls foods after cooler temperatures reviewed

A few years ago an outbreak linked to a Denver homeless shelter made it into the barfblog new and notable category. Forty folks who depended on the emergency food were affected by violent foodborne illness symptoms after eating donated turkey. Fourteen ambulances showed up and took those most affected to area hospitals.

Earlier this year while speaking at the Rocky Mountain Food Safety Conference I met one of the EHS folks who conducted the investigation and temperature abuse of the turkey after cooking was identified as the likely contributing factor.

The very folks who need food the most were betrayed by the system they trust.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to be homeless or not have enough money to feed my family. Focusing on safe, nutritious food is moot if the money isn’t available to buy groceries. Or if there’s no home to take them too.

Volunteering as a food handler at a food bank, mission, shelter or soup kitchen and having a good heart and intentions doesn’t automatically lead to safe meals. An understanding of risks and having systems how to reduce them may.

Yesterday, a recall (we’re not recall net, others can do that) popped up as new and notable. The Idaho Food Bank recalled a few items that had been distributed to pantries  community meal sites and senior centers after someone reviewing cooler documentation saw that stuff was out of temp.

The Idaho Foodbank is recalling approximately 27,000 pounds of Coconut Beverage, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, Eggs, and Cheese Product.

These products are being recalled because they were not continuously maintained or stored at the required temperature due to a malfunction in the cooler. This could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens, which could lead to life-threatening illness if consumed. The Idaho Foodbank discovered the problem after reviewing cooler temperature records during high heat.

Affected Products were distributed in Southwest and North-Central Idaho

The Idaho Foodbank is committed to consumer safety and takes all product quality concerns very seriously. This recall affects less than 2% of the 1.5 million pounds of food IFB distributes statewide each month. We are recalling the products out of an abundance of caution, and are instructing consumers who received them not to eat these products and to immediately dispose of them.

Don’t know what temperature the coolers got to, or for how long, but that broccoli cheddar soup stuff is the type of stuff that could lead to botulism if temperature abused for a long time.

Ashley Chaifetz did a bunch of great work in this area a few years ago:

Evaluating North Carolina Food Pantry Food Safety–Related Operating Procedures

Ashley Chaifetz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University

Journal of Food Protection

Vol. 78, No. 11, 2015, Pages 2033–2042

DOI: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-084

Abstract: Almost one in seven American households were food insecure in 2012, experiencing difficulty in providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. Food pantries assist a food-insecure population through emergency food provision, but there is a paucity of information on the food safety–related operating procedures that pantries use. Food pantries operate in a variable regulatory landscape; in some jurisdictions, they are treated equivalent to restaurants, while in others, they operate outside of inspection regimes. By using a mixed methods approach to catalog the standard operating procedures related to food in 105 food pantries from 12 North Carolina counties, we evaluated their potential impact on food safety. Data collected through interviews with pantry managers were supplemented with observed food safety practices scored against a modified version of the North Carolina Food Establishment Inspection Report. Pantries partnered with organized food bank networks were compared with those that operated independently. In this exploratory research, additional comparisons were examined for pantries in metropolitan areas versus nonmetropolitan areas and pantries with managers who had received food safety training versus managers who had not. The results provide a snapshot of how North Carolina food pantries operate and document risk mitigation strategies for foodborne illness for the vulnerable populations they serve. Data analysis reveals gaps in food safety knowledge and practice, indicating that pantries would benefit from more effective food safety training, especially focusing on formalizing risk management strategies. In addition, new tools, procedures, or policy interventions might improve information actualization by food pantry personnel.

Virginia Chipotle closed after reports of illness

According to multiple outlets, a Sterling VA, Chipotle restaurant has closed due to what looks like a foodborne illness outbreak. Folks are speculating that it might be norovirus. And by folks, I mean Chipotle.

Huffpo reports,

After voluntarily closing a restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, after multiple customers reported falling ill, Chipotle said it plans to reopen the burrito spot on Tuesday.

Eight customers who ate at the location between July 14 and 15 filed reports on the food safety crowdsourcing website iwaspoisoned.com, indicating they suffered symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

According to the reports, at least two customers have been hospitalized. 

“Norovirus does not come from our food supply, and it is safe to eat at Chipotle,” Jim Marsden, Chipotle’s executive director of food safety, said in an emailed statement. “We plan to reopen the restaurant today.”

“We take every report of illness seriously,” Marsden added. “In accordance with our established protocols, our team is working to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, including voluntarily closing the restaurant yesterday to conduct a complete sanitization.”

Uh, Jim, noro can come from the food supply. Yours and others’. It has even been linked to lettuce distribution. It certainly sounds like this is localized (like most noro is), but seems a bit early for certainty statements like this. Oh, and noro can definitely be foodborne. Sure, there’s likely a lot of person-to-person transmission out there but a couple of years ago my man Aron Hal of CDCl (and colleagues) looked at foodborne noro outbreaks in the U.S. They state that on average, 365 foodborne norovirus outbreaks were reported annually, resulting in an estimated 10,324 illnesses, 1,247 health care provider visits, 156 hospitalizations, and 1 death.

Safe is a promise.

From Business insider,

Here are some of the reports from iwaspoisoned.com related to the Sterling restaurant. All the reports were made from Sunday to Monday:

• Friday 7/14: Daughter and friends went to Chipotle Saturday 7/15: stomach pains and nausea started in morning Saturday 7/15: violently sick, puking, diarrhea, severe pain, overnight into Sunday. Friends ill as well with one friend also in ER. Sunday 7/16: Hospital visit for dehydration, nausea, pain Monday 7/17: severe pain, trauma pain This is the worst that I have ever seen. Severe food borne illnesses can cause long-term damage to the gastro-intestinal track. This was BAD!

• I ate a chicken bowl at 6ish and the rest at 11 pm Friday and then woke up Sunday morning with diarrhea and was nauseous

• Wife and I ate chicken bowls Friday night. Puking brains out Saturday night and Sunday.

• Ate salad bowl on Friday at 1230pm, became ill at 3pm on Saturday. Three up multiple times, had fever, dizziness, etc. Salad bowl with chicken, Pico, beans, medium salsa, corn

• My husband and I both had chicken around 7:00 on Friday, July 14th. Over 24 hours later, we both started vomiting. We are still experiencing symptoms as of Monday morning.
Chicken bowl – around 6 pm on 7.15.2017

• My husband and I shared a burrito bowl last night for dinner around 6:30 PM. It had rice, chicken, corn, pico, sour cream, cheese, medium salsa. At around midnight my husband woke up vomiting violently. Less than an hour later I began vomiting as well. We have since continued vomiting in addition to having diarrhea, stomach pains, dizziness upon standing, and low grade fevers. Chipotle was the only thing we both ate yesterday.

• My Son and I both had burrito bowls and became violently ill within hours of each other. He was visiting from college. Chipotle was the only food item we both ate that day. Violent stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting. Violently ill. Same exact symptoms Burrito bowl. Steak, rice, green peppers and onions, guacamole, cheese. Violently ill.

Full disclosure, I’ve been collaborating with the iwaspoisoned.com guy, Patrick Quade over the past couple of years through NoroCORE.

Shares plummeted more than 5 percent after the illnesses were reported.

Chefs do the darnedest things

My experience as a dishwasher was short lived. When I was in grad school studying restaurant food safety I volunteered at a local restaurant. I wanted to know what it was like, even just a little bit, to be a food handler – figuring I’d be better at food safety if I understood the pressures of the job. I spent most of my time in the dish pit, listening to Tom Petty working with fun folks, who were into lots of different substances.

One day, one of my last, I was doing salad prep, and trying to wash my hands between handling lettuce (with bare hands) and dirty dishes. The chef yelled at me because we didn’t have time to waste – and I skipped the whole handwash process.

That’s my self-reported story. Researchers in the UK (Jones and colleagues) published a paper a couple of weeks ago about the self reported behaviors of chefs, managers and catering students. They didn’t fare much better than I had. And surveys have their limitations.

Foodborne disease poses a serious threat to public health. In the UK, half a million cases are linked to known pathogens and more than half of all outbreaks are associated with catering establishments. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has initiated the UK Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in which commercial food establishments are inspected and scored with the results made public. In this study we investigate the prevalence of food risk increasing behaviours among chefs, catering students and the public. Given the incentive for respondents to misreport when asked about illegal or illicit behaviours we employed a Randomised Response Technique designed to elicit more accurate prevalence rates of such behaviours. We found 14% of the public not always hand-washing immediately after handling raw meat, poultry or fish; 32% of chefs and catering students had worked within 48 hours of suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting. 22% of the public admitted having served meat “on the turn” and 33% of chefs and catering students admitted working in kitchens where such meat was served; 12% of the public and 16% of chefs and catering students admitted having served chicken at a barbeque when not totally sure it was fully cooked. Chefs in fine-dining establishment were less likely to wash their hands after handling meat and fish and those who worked in award winning restaurants were more likely to have returned to work within 48 hours of suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. We found no correlation between the price of a meal in an establishment, nor its Food Hygiene Rating Score, and the likelihood of any of the food malpractices occurring.

The data reported doesn’t point to human poop in iced coffee

That’s what I told Sara Miller of Live Science in reference to a BBC story on the safety of popular cafe drinks.

The original story Sara was asking about is from a BBC investigation into the safety of ice, iced drinks and coffee shop environments.

Samples of iced drinks from Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero contained varying levels of the bacteria, the BBC’s Watchdog found.

Expert Tony Lewis said the levels found were “concerning”. “These should not be present at any level – never mind the significant numbers found,” he added.

Cleanliness of tables, trays and high chairs at the chains was also tested at 30 branches. Seven out of 10 samples of Costa ice were found to be contaminated with bacteria found in faeces.

What is concerning to the expert? Fecal coliform.

I was introduced to fecal coliform when investigating wash water and vegetables at Ontario (that’s in Canada) greenhouses 15 years ago. We were looking for analytical methods to provide some feedback to producers. We sampled the water for coliform and generic E. coli – and the veggies for generic E. coli and Salmonella. We had initially started looking for coliform and fecal coliform but some smart produce microbiologists suggested the indicator group wasn’t telling folks much.

Or as Mike Doyle and Marilyn Erickson wrote in Microbe in 2006, ‘the fecal coliform assay should at a minimum be redefined to specifically qualify that it is not a reliable indicator of either E. coli or the presence of fecal contamination.’

Makes for good headlines. Doesn’t tell folks anything about risk. Or feces. Might as well sample for covfefe.

Chapman also noted that he’d be more focused on what’s going on in the coffee shops. For example, do employees wash their hands regularly and after handling potentially contaminated foods and products? Do they sanitize the equipment properly? These behaviors could be more indicative of the overall health risks the beverages and foods pose to consumers, he said.

In addition, it’s unclear what type of testing the investigators used for the BBC report. Knowing these methods would provide more useful information, Chapman said. If investigators looked only for bacterial DNA, for example, you wouldn’t know if the bacteria were alive or dead.

“We eat dead bacteria all the time,” he added, referring to the fact that dead bacteria aren’t going to make you sick.

We eat live bacteria all the time – and it doesn’t cause illness. I meant to say we eat dead pathogens all the time.

And if you want poop in your iced coffee, make it from kopi luwak.

French boy permanently disabled by E. coli in frozen beef

In June, 2011, eight children in Northern France were initially diagnosed with E. coli O157 after eating beef burgers bought from German discount retailer, Lidl.

In May 2012, the Institut de veille sanitaire summarized the outbreak, and revealed 17 children were sickened, 16 from E. coli O157-O177 and 1 due to E. coli O157-O26.

Now, a trial has begun for two former executives of French frozen food company SEB, charged with a “deliberate violation of safety obligations” that put customers at risk and caused involuntary injuries. Their trial began on Tuesday, June 6, and the two men face prison if convicted.

SEB has since gone out of business.

According to The Local, in 2011 a two-year-old boy named Nolan Moittie was one of 17 people in France who became seriously ill after eating steak hachés, or chopped steak patties, that were contaminated with E. coli bacteria, and which had been sold frozen at a Lidl grocery store. The illness caused the two-year-old boy to have a heart attack and fall into a coma while in the hospital.

The E. coli infection caused irreversible damage, and while Moittie survived and is now eight years old, he can’t talk and no longer has the use of 80 percent of his body. Doctors say the damage is irreversible.

But neither man is accepting responsibility and the defense is claiming that the illness from the minced beef was a result of consumers not storing and preparing them properly. 
 
Just cook it doesn’t cut it.
“Money as they say, won’t bring you happiness,  and it won’t help my son get back to how he was before,” his mother Priscilla said.
 
Steak hachés are a staple dish in France, particularly among children. In 2009 some 250,000 tonnes were sold, half of which were sold as frozen products.