Sprout producers need to kick it up a notch

Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reports
Producers of sprouts should add more food safety steps throughout the production chain to lower the risk of the kind of contamination that triggered a widespread Escherichia coli outbreak in Europe earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in a report released yesterday.
The EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards said it is difficult to limit bacterial contamination of seeds used for sprouting in the face of many risk factors, but called on producers to step up their efforts. The panel also said no reliable method has been found to decontaminate all types of seeds without reducing germination or yield.
Recent article published in Journal of Food Science 2011 evaluated the effectiveness of calcinated calcium spray on Escherichia coli 0157 H:7 87-23 population on radish sprouts. The results indicate that a 200 ppm NaOCl soaking followed by 0.04% calcinated spray resulted in no microbial growth after a 72 hour sprouting, while maintaining a high germination rate. However, the study reveals that despite treatment method, most of the inoculated Escherichia coli 0157 H:7 87-23 cells accumulated on the sprout roots and biofilms formed on sprout surfaces.
            Sprouts are inherently dangerous as there is no proven method to effectively eliminate pathogenic bacteria during sprouting. There appears to be limited steps sprout producers are able to take to reduce the risks associated with such a product. As such, the public needs to be adequately informed on the risks of consuming sprouts, in particular, vulnerable populations such as pregnant women. 
The EFSA risk assessment on pathogenic bacteria in seeds and sprouted seeds was prompted by the enterohemorrhagic E coli (EHEC) outbreak centered in Germany this past spring and summer. The outbreak, which involved at least 3,134 cases and 40 deaths, was traced to fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt. The finding caused the EFSA to warn consumers not to eat any sprouts for a time; the warning was canceled on Oct 3, after the implicated seeds were off the market.
Decontamination of seeds before sprouting is used as an additional safety measure in some European Union states, the panel observed. However, "To date, no method of decontamination is available to ensure elimination of pathogens in all types of seeds without affecting seed germination or sprout yield."
Fransisca, L., Zhou, B., and Feng, H. The Effect of Calcinated Calcium and Chlorine Treatments on Escherichia coli 0157 H:7 87-23 Population Reduction in Radish Sprouts. Journal of Food Science. Vol. 76, Nr. 6, 2011

Food safety education: child-to-parent instruction in an immigrant population

Food safety training programs must take into consideration language barriers in order to be effective. I further believe that unless these training courses provide some sort of demonstration and not just regurgitation of information and facts, retention will be minimized. 
2011 Journal of Environmental Health Abstracts
Dhitinut Ratnapradipa, PhD, CHES | Daniela Quilliam, MPH, REHS | Lauren Wier, MPH, PhD (c) | Darson L. Rhodes, PhD, CHES
Abstract: A quasi-experimental pretest-posttest design was used to examine increases in food handling knowledge among eastern European refugee restaurant candidates as a result of educational material taught either by the employee’s child or the Salt Lake Valley Health Department. Participants were nonrandomly assigned to a study (n = 15) or control group (n = 17). The study group was taught by their children in their native language. The control group was taught by an SLVHD instructor in English. All participants completed pre- and posttests that measured four areas of food handling knowledge: personal hygiene and hand washing (PHHW), cooking and holding time/temperature (COOKTT), cooling and holding time/temperature (COOLTT), and cross-contamination (CC). Both groups demonstrated a significant increase in knowledge of PHHW, but only the study group demonstrated significant improvements in COOKTT and CC knowledge. These study results suggest that food handling education programs are effective in increasing knowledge and mode of delivery may be an important factor.
Mode of delivery is an important factor in health education programs. The nature of training itself involves not only the dissemination of food safety messaging in the hopes of achieving a high grade; rather it involves demonstrating the principles.   I have seen this multiple times; people retain more if they are shown what to do and why it is important. For instance, it is one thing to inform operators to use a digital tip sensitive thermometer and another to show how to use one. Often times, through routine observations, this practice has been done incorrectly thereby increasing the probability of a food borne illness. Physically demonstrating the proper use of the thermometer, including calibration, engages the operator and helps in retention. This works for any food safety practice.

Sick food handlers….stay home

Viruses, such as Norovirus, are very contagious and therefore spread rapidly causing significant food borne outbreaks. Symptoms are predominantly vomiting and diarrhea with a typical incubation period of 12- 24 hours. Unlike bacteria, viruses do not multiply in food, and infectious doses are rather small (10-100 viral particles), meaning that it doesn’t take much to cause an illness. Sick food handlers can spread the virus in a number of ways including lack of hand washing, sneezing, and coughing. Viral shedding can even occur up to 2 weeks after initial symptoms have worn off. So, as a food handler, if you’re sick, stay home, stop spreading the love.
Lindsey Connell from WTVM reports that basic trainees at Sand Hill on Fort Benning endure rigorous training every day but a recent outbreak is stopping some in their tracks. 
On Thursday, officials reported that 150 soldiers have come down with what they suspect is a food borne virus.
Common areas likes dining halls, barracks and buses are being sterilized, down to chairs and banisters.
The 150 sick soldiers have been isolated in separate barracks to stop the spread of the illness.
Public Affairs officials say 300 soldiers have reported to sick call over the past two days but only half actually have the gastrointestinal virus. The sickness lasts one to two days and causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Officials suspect it was spread by a food handler who was sick and coughed on the food or had dirty hands.

Will your home kitchen pass a health inspection? Kitchen crimes (mini version)

In light of the recent reports on whether or not your home kitchen would pass a health inspection, I was asked by City TV in Winnipeg to comment and perform an inspection in a home kitchen. In reality, one cannot compare a restaurant inspection to a home inspection as there are a myriad of differences a health inspector would look for in a restaurant; most home kitchens would most certainly fail. In the home, it is more prudent to look at proper food handling and food preparation practices, that is, the use of digital tip sensitive thermometers, proper hand washing, and so on. Below is the link to my interview. 

Relying on a friend

A new study from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna has shown that Campylobacter jejuni is protected and dependent upon the presence of spoilage bacteria on meat, in particular Pseudomonas for survival.
It is known that C. jejuni cannot grow under normal atmospheric conditions – the levels of oxygen are too high for it – so how it survives was until recently unknown. The mystery has now been solved by Friederike Hilbert and colleagues at the Institute of Meat Hygiene, Meat Technology and Food Science of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.
The surface of meat harbours a number of species of bacteria that – fortunately – are rarely harmful to humans, although they are associated with spoilage. It seems possible that the various species interact and Hilbert hypothesized that such interactions might help bacteria such as Campylobacter jejuni survive under hostile, oxygen-rich conditions. She thus tested the survival of C. jejuni in the presence of various meat-spoiling bacteria. When incubated alone or together with bacteria such as Proteus mirabilis or Enterococcus faecalis, Campylobacter survived atmospheric oxygen levels for no longer than 18 hours. However, when incubated together with various strains of Pseudomonas, Campylobacter were found to survive for much longer, in some cases over 48 hours, which would be easily long enough to cause infection.
Campylobacter jejuni is a bacterium found primarily in the intestinal gut of animals and birds and shed primarily through the feces.  Poultry feces have been found to contain up to 106 cells or more per gram.  The infective dose for campylobacteriosis (disease acquired from the bacterium) can be as low as 500 cells. This makes it very easy for people to get sick from food contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni.  Symptoms commonly associated with campylobacteriosis are enteric in nature, that is abdominal cramps, diarrhea, in some cases bloody diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Keep poop away from food.
 Friederike Hilbert, Manuela Scherwitzel, Peter Paulsen and Michael P. Szostak. Survival of Campylobacter jejuni under Conditions of Atmospheric Oxygen Tension with the Support of Pseudomonas spp.
September issue of the Journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology (Vol. 76, 5911-5917).

Australians fall ill at the Commonwealth Games

A good friend of mine is competing in the Commonwealth Games and I’m looking forward to see how everything pans out.  Well, it seems as if some of his competition may not be doing so well.  
Commonwealth Games organisers have ordered an inspection of all food at the athletes village after Australians fell ill after eating there.
Swimmers Ryan Napoleon and Rob Hurley, and swim coach Matt Brown, suffered a classic case of Delhi Belly on Sunday night after eating a meat bolognese pasta at the village dining hall.
But Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell on Tuesday suggested their sudden sickness may not have come from the village – despite athletes being restricted to the campus apart from training and competition.
"We have asked for a check on the food, but we were not told that it necessarily came from the village, it could have come from anywhere," Fennell said.
"All I am saying, the village food, the caterers, we have asked to inspect fully."
Delhi Games organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said the food at the village had attracted rave reviews.

Washing pre-washed lettuce, trying saying that 10 times

The public seems to be bombarded with a myriad of confusing mixed food safety messages. This is to be expected as food safety is a technical discipline that is rather complicated. Let’s take lettuce for instance, should one wash pre-washed lettuce in their sink or not? The simple answer is no. This practice would simply encourage cross-contamination of the already pre-washed lettuce from the sink, an unnecessary step. Others may feel that washing their lettuce in the sink with a dilute solution of bleach would be the answer. Dilute, what is dilute and what is the magic number?   I don’t know of anyone to have chlorine test strips in their house to verify free chlorine, which would end up being combined chlorine due to the organics anyway, to measure 50 ppm. Let’s go back to science, what does the research tell us. It has been documented that simple agitation under running water for 10 minutes is a very effective means in reducing E. coli counts.  The best treatment, however, is applying 35% white vinegar directly on the lettuce and let sit for 10 minutes(1). This has been shown to dramatically reduce E. coli counts on lettuce. You’ve gotta love science.
1. CHITRA VIJAYAKUMAR AND CHARLENE E. WOLF-HALL. Evaluation of Household Sanitizers for Reducing Levels of Escherichia coli on Iceberg Lettuce.
Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 65, No. 10, 2002, Pages 1646–1650

Reusable grocery bags not a major contributor of foodborne illness

The University News in Manitoba reports that food service and home kitchens cause the majority of foodborne illness in society and not reusable grocery bags. Dr. Rick Holley, a food safety and food microbiology professor with the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, says
I don’t think foodborne illness in humans has developed as a result of contaminated reusable grocery bags.
There really hasn’t been very much work done in this area.
My suspicion is though that when the work is done we will find that this is not a major contributor to foodborne illness but rather, as we have always thought, the handling of food at food service and the home, the kitchen is the second most frequent place where foodborne illness develops.
That relates to, for whatever reason, our inability as consumers to consistently follow the recommendations that we get from government agencies about how to handle foods in the kitchen.
Food safety recommendations are available from a number of government agencies, yet foodborne illness continues to occur. The consumer definitely has an obligation to inform oneself on matters of food safety to minimize the risk of excruciating barfing. The problem, however, occurs when the product is already contaminated at some level through the farm to fork chain. In this case the informed consumer is out of luck. 
The most frequent setting for foodborne illness to develop is in the food service industry and that speaks to the need for continuing education both at the food service level but certainly at home as well.
Yes, food service workers need to be continually informed on matters of food safety. Many food service operators take a food safety certification course, typically 8 hours in length, to meet regulatory requirements. I agree that this is a good thing but the delivery of the course could use some work. Classroom settings make people nervous and pending a dreaded final exam is not effective. Reminds me of Jason Stackhouse from True Blood trying to write an exam, you may forget certain things cause your little friend anxiety kicks in and guess what retention goes out the window. Perhaps on-site training coupled with info sheet postings for quick reference may work better- basis for my Masters thesis.  


Reusable grocery bags harboring bacteria

Reusable grocery bags are indeed friendly to the environment but studies have shown that these bags may harbor foodborne pathogens. As such, it is important to wash your reusable bags frequently, just like you would with your dirty socks. Simply wash the bags using soap and water, machine dry, and reuse. The use of bleach may be overkill especially when the bags are meant to be environmentally friendly.  It is also a good idea to separate ready to eat foods, such as produce, from meat, poultry, and fish to prevent cross contamination. Perhaps designate one bag or bin for meat and meat products and all others for ready to eat products. I have also noticed that people tend to reuse their plastic bags as well, in particular, to carry lunches. Remember that bacteria aren’t picky and if that bag had been carrying raw meat, there’s always the potential of pathogenic bacteria being present, it doesn’t take much. 
Reusable grocery bags contaminated with E. coli, other bacteria***
These bags may be friendly to the environment, but not necessarily to you, according to a new report by researchers at two universities.
Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health, according to a joint food-safety research report issued today by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California.
The research study – which randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco – also found consumers were almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash their bags.
"Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled," said Charles Gerba, a UA professor of soil, water and environmental science and co-author of the study. "Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis."
Bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death. They are a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, Gerba said.
The study also found that awareness of potential risks was very low. A full 97 percent of those interviewed never washed or bleached their reusable bags, said Gerba, adding that thorough washing kills nearly all bacteria that accumulate in reusable bags.

Handwashing, just as important as the World Cup

Health inspectors and any health type professionals for that matter always push for more handwashing as it is the best measure to reduce spread of microorganisms. Proper handwashing involves lathering with soap and water using friction for 10 seconds or so, then drying with a clean paper towel. Hand air dryers are not recommended because they simply don’t dry hands efficiently. This results in moist hands that support microbial growth and therefore defeating the purpose of handwashing altogether.
The New Zealand Herald reports,
A third of New Zealand’s schools are using hand dryers that are potentially leaving children’s hands dirtier than when they left the toilet cubicle.
The findings come from a study in which 400 New Zealand parents and 100 schools were asked about washroom hygiene.
SCA Hygiene Australasia commissioned the study in a bid to learn more about washroom behaviour, fears about the upcoming flu season and the best way to reduce bacteria on hands during the drying process.
SCA spokesman Mark Stevens said not all hand drying methods were created equal – but not everyone was aware of that fact.
"Most people know that washing your hands with soap and water is important but it is the method that you then use to dry them that determines how clean your hands are.
"The key is getting your hands dry because germs thrive in a moist environment."