Obit: Des Sibraa

Widely admired former Chief Food Inspector for New South Wales, Australia, (NSW), Des Sibraa, sadly passed away on Saturday, 7th April 2018.

Des was a truly special soul, with an infectious humour and passionate about the important things in life –  his family, animal welfare and of course, food safety. Des was an avid advocate for food safety, constantly seeking to improve the integrity and expected standards of the food service industry in NSW. In later years, he also became very passionate and vocal about animal welfare.

His legacy lives on through his family. Des was a loving husband to Helen, father of Tatiana, Veronica and Paul, and doting grandfather to Mick, Natalia and Ivan.

Taxes, folks and WKRP

Like any good American, I spent the early hours of the Australian morning to finalize and submit my 2017 U.S. taxes.

Wasn’t too hard, I don’t get paid, but we have to declare any foreign income to avoid future troubles with the IRS.

The Canadian one is next and then will be starting on the Australian one, where the tax year runs from July 1 rather than Jan. 1.

Filing in the U.S. is joint for me and my partner, but separate in the other countries.

I get confused.

And when I get confused, I watch TV (was WKRP in Cincinnati a great TV show or the greatest?).

Or go to the supermarket.

When I started in the food safety stuff, my friend Gord told me, pay attention to the farmers.

Those that produce the food.

I agreed, did that for years, then expanded further to customers, the people that actually buy food.

Yesterday I went to my supermarket-lab after a few hours in the city.

Half of the meat section was cleared out.

I asked if they had a power outage, but the young dude said, nah, it’s all monitored at HQ, the temp went down so we had to pull the stock to the back cooler.

OK, cool, way to be responsive, until a manager walked by, tapped the worked on his shoulder, meaning get back to work or stop talking to the food safety dude, or both.

At the checkout, I overheard a number of staff had called in sick.

That prompted me to ask, are you told to stay at home when you’re sick, and they both said yes, until the one said the other was sick, and at work.

They said it’s a great policy but lousy in action.

I learn so much just goofing around.

Disease outbreak at Texas cat café leads to kitty quarantine, investigation

I was walking Ted the Wonder Dog the other morning — which I try to do every day but often fail because I’m human, dammit, and Ted would rather sleep beside me all day, and then party at 2 a.m. — and we passed the new cat café in Annerley, Brisbane.

I never had indoor cats until the townhouse rules in Brisbane forced us so. Same with the tiny dog. Now we have our own inner city million-dollar property (in Monopoly money) the cats go in and out, and the dog won’t shut-up.

Cuteness overload was supposed to be the number one item on the menu at San Antonio’s first cat cafe, but now the owner is facing an investigation from local authorities.

City of San Antonio Animal Care Services seized two cats last week and ordered the remaining 54 cats in the 1,000-square-foot San Antonio Cat Cafe to be quarantined from the public on Monday, according to WOAI.

“You are not going to get the sick cats better in that environment and unfortunately you are likely to spread those ailments to the other animals that are currently healthy,” Shannon Sims, the assistant director of Animal Care Services, told the station.

The ailments that he’s talking about allegedly include ringworm and FIP, a viral disease that tends to attack the cells of the intestinal wall and is usually fatal in domestic cats, according to WebMD. Animal Care Services spokeswoman Lisa Norwood told KENS that the investigation thus far had revealed that up to three dozen cats that did not have rabies shots and that sick cats were often mixed with healthy cats.

Leah Taylor, a former cafe employee, who is studying to become a veterinary technician, told KENS she filed a complaint against owner Casey Steuart with Animal Care Services after witnessing four cats die there during her four months on the job.

“A lot of the cat care wasn’t maintained,” Taylor told KENS. “There were animals that should have been on medicine. There were animals that needed to see a vet for medical attention that weren’t tended to. There was a lot of ringworm and upper respiratory, which is very contagious not only to people but also to other animals.”

Cas Moskwa, another former Cat Cafe employee, posted a series of photos on Facebook Sunday, detailing what she called “the reality of the cafe and the poor state it currently is in.” She claimed that Steuart waited for weeks at a time before taking sick cats there to a veterinarian and left at least one sick and dying cat, named Decoy, out in the public lounge during his last agonizing days.

Her post includes photos of cats with crusted eyes and allegations that Steuart brought in a cat infected with ringworm into the facility’s kitten coop, resulting in three different litters becoming infected. She said in a separate post that a cat she took home from the cafe was one of them that had been infected.

According to KSAT, though, Steuart disputes the reports from Moskwa and other former employees, blaming “a lack of communication and misinterpretations.” She specifically disputed the reports of ringworm, a skin infection that can be transmitted to humans, in the cafe.

She also told the San Antonio Express News that three cats did die at the cafe, but none from neglect. One, she said, was 17 years old.

WGS links Salmonella in egg outbreaks in Australia

Building on their work with whole genome sequencing and eggs – because there’s a lot of outbreaks of Salmonella in eggs — a group of Australian researchers have reported on seven outbreaks of Salmonella Typhimurium multilocus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis (MLVA) 03-26-13-08-523 (European convention 2-24-12-7-0212) in three Australian states and territories investigated between November 2015 and March 2016.

We identified a common egg grading facility in five of the outbreaks. While no Salmonella Typhimurium was detected at the grading facility and eggs could not be traced back to a particular farm, whole genome sequencing (WGS) of isolates from cases from all seven outbreaks indicated a common source. WGS was able to provide higher discriminatory power than MLVA and will likely link more Salmonella Typhimurium cases between states and territories in the future. National harmonization of Salmonella surveillance is important for effective implementation of WGS for Salmonella outbreak investigations.

Seven Salmonella Typhimurium outbreaks in Australia linked by trace-back and whole genome sequencing

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, March, 2018, 10.1089/fpd.2017.2353

Laura Ford Qinning Wang Russell Stafford,Kelly-Anne Ressler, Sophie Norton, Craig Shadbolt, Kirsty Hope, Neil Franklin, Radomir Krsteski, Adrienne Carswell,Glen P. Carter, Torsten Seemann,Peter Howard, Mary Valcanis,10 Cristina Fabiola Sotomayor Castillo, John Bates, Kathryn Glass,Deborah A. Williamson, Vitali Sintchenko, Benjamin P. Howden and Martyn D. Kirk1

People barfing: Listeria in Deli Classic brand Seasoned Cooked Roast Beef Round in Canada

There was this one time, about 5 years ago, and I had to go to emergency to get 13 stiches after falling while trying to teach Sorenne to ride a bicycle, and Dr. Monty Python said, “merely a flesh wound.”

I was back 8 hours later for an additional 10 stiches cause it was still bleeding.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency there have been reported illnesses associated with a product similar to Erie Meat Products Ltd. Deli Classic brand Seasoned Cooked Roast Beef Round however, at this time, there have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the product identified in this Food Recall Warning.

Uh-huh.

The Canadians are like their Commonwealth breathen, the Australians, in that the food regulators leave it up to the heath regulators to say if someone is sick from food.

At least in Canada the food types will say if someone is sick, whereas the Australian food types say, nothing to see here, move along.

But, Canadian regulatory types refuse to say how many are sick, leaving that to the health folks: shouldn’t a government be able to deliver a clear, consistent message?

We play but agree, cause many of us do hockey

After Chapman posted about the Humboldt Broncos’ terrible bus crash, I thanked him because, I didn’t know what else to say.

I’ve been playing, coaching and even sometimes administering local hockey for 51 years, and this stuff strikes deep into any parent who has swerved on a snow-covered Canadian road only to listen to the kid (me) complaining, ‘we need to get there.’

Chapman wrote, “I often tell people that all I really know is hockey, food safety and family; everything and everyone important to me falls in one of those buckets. …

“All I could think of is all the teams I have been part of, back to when I was just a kid until now. Those experiences have meant so much more than competition and sport.

“It’s exactly why I got into coaching.”

No. Chapman got into coaching because I was his graduate supervisor, and his responsibilities included helping to coach a 6-9-year-old girls rep hockey team from Guelph, and bailing me out of jail upon request.

(He will say he was coaching before, but it probably wasn’t as much fun).

In 2005, Chapman and I came up with barfblog.com, and the first post was about hockey and barfing.

The worst was when I was 10 or 11. I was playing AAA hockey in my hometown of Brantford Ont., and we were off to an out-of-town game. My parents (bless them) usually drove, but obligations meant I had to get a ride with a friend on the team. About half-way to the arena, I started feeling nauseous. I tried to ask the driving dad to pull over, but it came on so fast, I had to grab the closest item in the backseat, an empty lunchbox. 
I filled it.

And more.

Back in the 1970s, the coach’s main concern was that we win. I was the starting goaltender almost every game, while the backup sat on the bench. We had something to prove because we were from Brantford, the city that had produced Wayne Gretzky just a couple of years earlier and everyone was gunning for us. 

I tried to get myself together to play. No luck. We got to the arena and I promptly hurled. 

And again.

I couldn’t play, and, unfortunately, couldn’t go home. So the rest of the team went out for the game, as I lay on a wooden bench in a sweat-stenched dressing room, vomiting about every 15 minutes. 

Such tales are not unique.

Whenever I spark up a conversation with a stranger, and they discover I work in food safety, the first response is: “You wouldn’t believe this one time. I was so sick” or some other variation on the line from American Pie, “This one time, at band camp …”

But the stories of vomit and flatulence are deadly serious. In 1995, a 5-year-old died in Wales as part of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has sickened some 170 schoolchildren. Four people in the Toronto region were sickened with the same E. coli several weeks ago after drinking unpasteurized apple cider. Over 20 people are sick with the same bug from lettuce in the Minnesota area. And so it goes.

How did my game end? I could hear the various cheers but was lost in dizziness and nausea and sweat, wondering when this would end. 
The trip home was uneventful; I was drained — figuratively and literally.
We lost.

Thanks to all the Australians I hung out with today and asked me about the Humboldt Broncos’ and hopefully I provided some insight into the role of (ice) hockey in the small and large communities throughout Canada.

7 sick with Hepatitis A linked to frozen pomegranate in Australia

I’m not a fan of pomegranates, and I’m really not a fan of the way the NSW Food Authority announces recalls.

Here’s what they said.

The NSW Food Authority advises:
Entyce Food Ingredients is conducting a precautionary recall of its Creative Gourmet Pomegranate Arils 180g from Coles Supermarkets nationally, due to potential Hepatitis A contamination.

Product details:

Creative Gourmet Pomegranate Arils 180g, frozen, plastic snap lock bag

All Best Before Dates up to and including 21/03/20

Consumers should not consume this product and should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

If you are concerned about your health you should seek medical advice.

What they didn’t mention but ABC did is seven people have been diagnosed with hepatitis A after eating frozen pomegranate purchased at Coles supermarkets, prompting NSW Health to warn anyone who bought the product to throw it out immediately.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, director of communicable diseases at NSW Health, said it was working with the state’s Food Authority to determine whether the infection could be definitively linked to the Coles frozen pomegranates, despite the fact that each person affected had eaten the product.

I get the difference between NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority. But mention how hard is it to mention there are sick people so consumers can judge how much they should pay attention.

Vaccines still work.

Everything is fine, go back to sleep: Rockmelon grower says it wasn’t him, 6 dead from Listeria

I was wrong.

Australia isn’t 20 years behind the U.S. on foodborne illness issues.

It’s 40 years behind, when the Bee Gees hit the charts with Saturday Night Fever

(Well you can tell by the way I use my walk,

(I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.)

The New South Wales farm at the centre of the rockmelon Listeria outbreak that claimed six lives has said it will resume supplying fruit to the public again this week.

Melinda Hayter and David Claughton of ABC report a statement by the Rombola Family Farms confirmed the state’s Food Authority has given them approval to resume production, packing and the sale of rockmelons.

The farm, which is based at Nericon near Griffith, has met all the requirements of the authority’s clearance program.

While a link between the contamination and the rockmelons was established, the farm’s statement said neither the authority nor an independent microbiologist were able to identify any specific source associated with Rombola or with the farm’s rockmelon washing, storage or packing facilities.

This was disputed by the State Government, with the NSW compliance and biosecurity director Peter Day saying that was “wrong”.

“There was very much direct linkages and direct proof that their rockmelons were responsible for the outbreak,” Mr Day said.

“We got positive testing in 20 rockmelons taken from different shops from Rombola [and] across the state, five whole rockmelons from different boxes from that farm, a boot swab from the packing area at the farm itself.”

The Australian melon industry also voiced concerns about farm receiving the all-clear.

In a statement, the Australian Melon Association (AMA) said the cause of the outbreak had not been “traced or adequality addressed.”

The association’s industry development manager, Dianne Fullelove, said growers were anxious to understand what went wrong, adding that they had not received a report on the outcomes of the Food Authority’s investigation.

“We are asking the growers supplying rockmelon now to brand or identify their rockmelons so that consumers will know the origin of the fruit,” Mrs Fullelove said.

 The AMA said the melon industry was working to develop an accreditation scheme for rockmelon growers in collaboration with state health authorities.

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.

Just trust us: How not to build consumer confidence in rockmelons

Maybe rockmelon growers and Woolworth’s think Australian consumers are just too daft to understand things like Listeria and rockmelon.

Listeria (and Salmonella) in cantaloupe has happened before.

(A table of rockmelon-related outbreaks is available here.)

Here are some basic questions:

  • was the farm prone to flooding and near any livestock operations;
  • what soil amendments, like manure, were used;
  • after harvest were the rockmelons placed in a dump tank;
  • was the water in the dump tank regularly monitored for chlorine levels;
  • did a proper handwashing program exist at the packing shed;
  • were conveyor belts cleaned and tested;
  • did condensation form on the ceiling of the packing shed;
  • were transportation vehicles properly cooled and monitored;
  • was the Listeria in whole cantaloupe or pre-cut; and,
  • was the rockmelon stored at proper temperatures at retail?

I’m just spit-balling here, but these are basic questions that need to be answered before any dreams of regaining consumer confidence can be entertained.

Good on Coles.

Rockmelons are, according to Dominica Sanda of AAP, starting to reappear on some Australian supermarket shelves, nearly a month after the fruit was linked to a deadly listeria outbreak.

Woolworths stores in Queensland and Western Australia have been restocking the melon sourced from local farms, the company said Wednesday, but shoppers in other states will have to wait a little longer.

A spokeswoman said the supermarket has taken a “careful approach” with restocking the fruit and those being sold were from suppliers not affected by the recent outbreak.

Coles, however, is holding off on selling rockmelons as it continues to work with producers to meet its new increased standards.

“We will recommence supply from growers around Australia once this process is complete,” a spokesman told AAP.

The Australian Melon Association has welcomed the fruit’s partial comeback, which comes just in time for the melon season in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

“Growers in these regions want to reassure consumers that they have been reviewing their processing practices to ensure that the rockmelons are safe to eat,” industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is a huge vote of confidence in our industry and the efforts we are making to ensure that Australian rockmelons meet customers’ expectations – both here in Australia and internationally.”