Doug Powell

About Doug Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Download C.V. »

Crazy (noro) train: ‘I was throwing up everywhere’: Sydney woman hospitalized in mass gastro outbreak on luxury train

Sydney woman Lesley Thompson was enthusiastic about her journey across the heart of Australia when she stepped onto the Indian Pacific train with her sister Pam last month.

But in less than 24 hours the elderly woman was being rushed to hospital in an ambulance, struck down with a “vile” case of gastro that began to cause trouble with her heart.

Carrie Fellner of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Ms Thompson is one of at least 100 passengers to have fallen ill in a mass outbreak of norovirus, a form of gastroenteritis, on the Indian Pacific train in recent weeks.

The 80-year-old, from Greenwich on Sydney’s north shore, was relieved she was in good health with no pre-existing heart problems, and has been able to recover from her ordeal.

The Indian Pacific train travels from Sydney to Perth via Adelaide, crossing the Nullarbor Plain on its 4352-kilometre journey.

More than 100 people have become ill with gastro after travelling on the Indian Pacific train.

The first case linked to the train was recorded on September 8 and the latest case was identified on Monday September 30.

Ms Thompson has been unable to get through to health authorities and does not know if they have counted her among the two passengers reported as requiring hospitalisation.

She boarded the train on September 11 in Sydney and fell ill during a stopover in the South Australian town of Hahndorf the following day.

“I was throwing up everywhere,” she said. “It was vile.”

Ms Thompson is yet to receive a refund on the ticket cost of nearly $10,000, and was initially told she had to pay a “curtailment fee” for abandoning the train during the stopover.

A spokesperson for Great Southern Rail, which operates the service, said it was still working through compensation options for affected guests on a case-by-case basis.

The Indian Pacific remains in operation but SA Health said it had the power to take the train off the tracks if the situation escalates.

“The health and wellbeing of guests is paramount and we have acted quickly to respond to this situation,” a spokesperson said.

Uh-huh.

(Not an Ozzy fan so I go for this train song)

24 now sick from shiga-toxin producing E. coli in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial health department is advising residents of an outbreak of E. coli bacteria.

There have been 22 cases of E.coli confirmed in the province, according to an advisory issued last Friday afternoon.

Another two suspected cases have since emerged.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said some of the cases are connected to an advisory issued by Memorial University last week, saying Eastern Health was investigating reports of students experiencing gastrointestinal illness.

The university said Wednesday that test results indicated one student living in residence “may have contracted the E. coli bacteria” and 21 students had reported similar symptoms.

Fitzgerald said it’s too early in the investigation to determine a cause of the outbreak.

Raw is risky: Eating raw pig liver from Singapore market may increase risk of hepatitis E

Danielle Ann of Alvinology reports researchers at the Singapore General Hospital have found definite similarities between the virus strains of Hepatitis E virus or (HEV) in pig liver and human liver.

This means that ingesting raw pork liver could mean you’re ingesting a strain of HEV that’s similar enough to human HEV that it could cause you get infected.

The same report said that people who have contracted HEV has risen steadily over the years. While the researchers could not say if the ingestion of raw pig liver is the main cause of the rise in cases, many local dishes feature this ingredient and do not cook the meat thoroughly.

The same report said that you can acquire the disease from eating contaminated food or substances. Ingesting water that is laced with the disease or accidentally drinking water that has trace amounts of faeces. Eating raw or half-cooked meat that is infected can also transmit the virus to you.

Everyone’s got a camera: Netherlands café edition

Janene Pieters of the NL Times reports a video of a mouse munching on a crepe in an Amsterdam cafe, resulted in the business being ordered closed by the Dutch food and consumer product safety authority NVWA. The video was posted on Twitter on Wednesday. NVWA inspectors went to inspect the cafe and found more vermin. Which is why the cafe was ordered closed, RTL Nieuws reports.

“The business can only be reopened if the entrepreneur has thoroughly cleaned everything up and has taken measures to prevent vermin”, the NVWA said. All food supplies currently in the store must also be discarded. The situation in the cafe was unsafe and a public health hazard, an NVWA spokesperson said to the broadcaster.

The NVWA is pleased that consumers report when they see vermin in shops or catering establishments. “With or without a video we take these kinds of complaints seriously. Mice are a direct threat to food safety.”

What foods are most likely to cause illness by shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and how best to control secondary infections

Two abstracts attempt to provide guidance to these important questions to reduce the toll of STEC.

FAO and WHO conclude shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections are a substantial public health issue worldwide, causing more than 1 million illnesses, 128 deaths and nearly 13 000 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) annually.

To appropriately target interventions to prevent STEC infections transmitted through food, it is important to determine the specific types of foods leading to these illnesses.

An analysis of data from STEC foodborne outbreak investigations reported globally, and a systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control studies of sporadic STEC infections published for all dates and locations, were conducted. A total of 957 STEC outbreaks from 27 different countries were included in the analysis.

Overall, outbreak data identified that 16% (95% UI, 2-17%) of outbreaks were attributed to beef, 15% (95% UI, 2-15%) to produce (fruits and vegetables) and 6% (95% UI, 1-6%) to dairy products. The food sources involved in 57% of all outbreaks could not be identified. The attribution proportions were calculated by WHO region and the attribution of specific food commodities varied between geographic regions.

In the European and American sub-regions of the WHO, the primary sources of outbreaks were beef and produce (fruits and vegetables). In contrast, produce (fruits and vegetables) and dairy were identified as the primary sources of STEC outbreaks in the WHO Western Pacific sub-region.

The systematic search of the literature identified useable data from 21 publications of case-control studies of sporadic STEC infections. The results of the meta-analysis identified, overall, beef and meat-unspecified as significant risk factors for STEC infection. Geographic region contributed to significant sources of heterogeneity. Generally, empirical data were particularly sparse for certain regions.

Care must be taken in extrapolating data from these regions to other regions for which there are no data. Nevertheless, results from both approaches are complementary, and support the conclusion of beef products being an important source of STEC infections. Prioritizing interventions for control on beef supply chains may provide the largest return on investment when implementing strategies for STEC control.

Second up, in 2016, we reviewed preventive control measures for secondary transmission of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in humans in European Union (EU)/European Free Trade Association (EEA) countries to inform the revision of the respective Norwegian guidelines which at that time did not accommodate for the varying pathogenic potential of STEC.

We interviewed public health experts from EU/EEA institutes, using a semi-structured questionnaire. We revised the Norwegian guidelines using a risk-based approach informed by the new scientific evidence on risk factors for HUS and the survey results.

All 13 (42%) participating countries tested STEC for Shiga toxin (stx) 1, stx2 and eae (encoding intimin). Five countries differentiated their control measures based on clinical and/or microbiological case characteristics, but only Denmark based their measures on routinely conducted stx subtyping. In all countries, but Norway, clearance was obtained with ⩽3 negative STEC specimens. After this review, Norway revised the STEC guidelines and recommended only follow-up of cases infected with high-virulent STEC (determined by microbiological and clinical information); clearance is obtained with three negative specimens.

Implementation of the revised Norwegian guidelines will lead to a decrease of STEC cases needing follow-up and clearance, and will reduce the burden of unnecessary public health measures and the socioeconomic impact on cases. This review of guidelines could assist other countries in adapting their STEC control measures.

Mapping of control measures to prevent secondary transmission of STEC infections in Europe during 2016 and revision of the national guidelines in Norway

Cambridge University Press vol. 147

  1. Veneti(a1)(a2)H. Lange (a1)L. Brandal (a1)K. Danis (a2) (a3) and L. Vold 

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0950268819001614
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/epidemiology-and-infection/article/mapping-of-control-measures-to-prevent-secondary-transmission-of-stec-infections-in-europe-during-2016-and-revision-of-the-national-guidelines-in-norway/1990D2338B220F80F0E683DF6F622A40

British girl, 2, dies from E. coli after holiday in Turkey

A two-year-old British girl has died after contracting E.coli while on holiday in Turkey.

Allie Birchall came down with the severe illness after returning to the UK following a stay at a luxury resort east of the coastal city of Antayla.

Her family were forced to turn off Allie’s life support machine just two weeks after their holiday because of complications caused by the illness.

The family had travelled to Turkey with tour operator Jet2 Holidays on 12 July and said they had concerns about the hygeine of the Turkish resort.

Katie Dawson, Allie’s mother, said her daughter did not start getting ill until five days after getting back to their home in Atherton, Greater Manchester.

According to Ms Dawson, Allie began suffering with stomach cramps, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and lethargy before being admitted to Royal Bolton Hospital on July 30.

The hospital confirmed Allie had contracted Shiga-Toxin producing E.Coli (STEC), which later led to her developing deadly Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) – a life-threatening complication related to the poisoning.

Allie was moved to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and put in an induced coma on August 1.

An MRI scan was carried out, which revealed that she had sustained severe brain trauma and damage. Katie had to make the difficult decision to terminate Allie’s life support following the advice from doctors.

“While nothing will bring her back, we need to know what caused her illness and if anything could have been done to prevent it.

The family have now instructed specialist international serious injury lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, to investigate what happened.

Public Health England is also currently investigating the matter, and an inquest has been opened to examine the circumstances surrounding Allie’s death.

Size does not matter: 21 sick from Salmonella linked to pet turtles

I want a new drug, or approach or message, rather than CDC sending out yet another warning about yet another Salmonella outbreak from kids kissing their pet turtles.

(And I can’t believe I’m quoting Huey Lewis and the News, one of my 1982 university room mates’ favorite bands, along with Hall and Oates).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports:

21 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Oranienburg have been reported from 13 states.

7 hospitalizations have been reported. No deaths have been reported.

Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicate that contact with pet turtles is the likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, 12 (71%) of 17 ill people reported contact with a turtle.

This investigation is ongoing and CDC will provide updates when more information is available.

Turtles can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings while appearing healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and habitats. People can get sick after they touch a turtle or anything in their habitats.

People who own or come in contact with turtles should take steps to stay healthy around their pet:

Wash your hands.

Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for a turtle or cleaning its habitat.

Adults should supervise handwashing for young children.

Play safely.

Don’t kiss or snuggle turtles, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick.

Don’t let turtles roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens.

Clean habitats, toys, and pet supplies outside the house when possible.

Avoid cleaning these items in the kitchen or any other location where food is prepared, served, or stored.

Pick the right pet for your family.

CDC and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human Salmonella Oranienburg infections linked to contact with pet turtles.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. DNA fingerprinting is performed on Salmonella bacteria isolated from ill people by using a standardized laboratory and data analysis method called whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC PulseNet manages a national database of these sequences that are used to identify possible outbreaks. WGS gives investigators detailed information about the bacteria causing illness. In this investigation, WGS showed that bacteria isolated from ill people were closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection.

Ill people reported contact with red-eared sliders and other turtles that were larger than four inches in length. Previous Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to turtles with a shell length less than four inches. Due to the amount of Salmonella illnesses related to these small turtles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distributionexternal icon of turtles with shells less than four inches long as pets.

Regardless of where turtles are purchased or their size, turtles can carry Salmonella germs that can make people sick. Pet owners should always follow steps to stay healthy around their pet.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide updates when more information becomes available.

Norovirus most common foodborne pathogen in 2017

This is the CIDRAP summary of the latest CDC number crunching on microorganisms that lead to barfing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late last week released a summary of foodborne illnesses in 2017 based on an annual analysis of data from the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System, and norovirus was the most common pathogen reported, responsible for 46% of illnesses. Salmonella and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli were also linked to a substantial number of outbreaks.  

In 2017, the CDC tracked 841 foodborne outbreaks, which included 14,481 illnesses, 827 hospitalizations, 20 deaths, and 14 food product recalls. A single etiologic agent was confirmed in 395 outbreaks (47%), which are defined as two or more related cases.

Tainted seafood and poultry were tied with causing the most outbreaks, with mollusks (41 outbreaks), fish (37), and chicken (23) the specific food items most often implicated. The most outbreak-associated illnesses were from turkey (609 illnesses), fruits (521), and chicken (487), the CDC said.

California had the most outbreaks (107), followed by Ohio (69), and Washington state (67). 

As in past years, restaurants with sit-down dining were the most commonly reported locations for food preparation associated with outbreaks (366).

The complete report is available at: https://www.cdc.gov/fdoss/pdf/2017_FoodBorneOutbreaks_508.pdf

And here:

 

Hydration hype: Fancy bottled drinking water is nonsense, just drink tap

My friend Tim Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty & Happiness” (Beacon, 2015) and host of “A User’s Guide to Cheating Death” on Netflix (that’s a long bio) writes for NBC News, humans need water but the marketing of water as a detoxifying, energizing, health-enhancing, miracle beverage has become a lucrative business. Over the past few years the booming wellness industry (aka Big Wellness) has coopted this most basic of biological needs to sell products and promises of miraculous improved health. But is there any evidence to support the hydration hype?

Before I dump on the water business, let’s give a nod to the positives. There is growing recognition that sugary beverages are not a good choice, nutrition wise. Evidence suggests that consumption of sugary beverages, especially soft drinks, is associated with a range of health issues, including obesity and heart disease. As a result, there is a broad consensus among nutrition and public health experts about the value of limiting the consumption of these calorie-dense and relatively nutrition-free beverages.

So, in this context, the shift to water is a very good thing. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy what the “premium” water market is selling.

But before we get to the fancy packaging, we need to talk about volume. Do you actually need to drink eight glasses of water a day? In a word: Nope.

This strange and incredibly durable myth seems to have emerged from a misinterpretation of a 1945 US Food and Nutrition Board recommendation. That document suggested a “suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 litres daily” (i.e., roughly eight glasses a day). But what is almost always overlooked is that the recommendation — which was not based on a robust body of research — also noted “[m]ost of this quantity is in prepared foods.” In other words, you already get the bulk of your needed water from the food you eat.

In reality, there is no magical amount of water. We do need to stay appropriately hydrated, of course. And as our climate and activities change, so does the amount of water we lose through sweating etc. But our bodies are good at telling us how much and when we should drink. (Thanks, evolution.) And all liquids — coffee, tea, that weird fluid inside hotdogs — count toward your daily consumption of water. My body can’t tell if an H20 molecule came from a fresh-water spring on the side of a remote Himalayan mountain or from a cup of gas station java (which isn’t, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, dehydrating).

But even if water is found in a lot of foods and beverages, pure bottled water is still better for us, right? Wrong again.

Yes, drinking plain water is almost always a better choice than some other, sugar-infused, beverage. But the water you drink doesn’t need to come out of a plastic, glass, or 24-karat gold (yes, that is a thing) bottle.

The twisted logic behind wellness gadgets like Fitbit isn’t making us healthier

Studies have shown that some people believe bottled water is healthier than tap water. That perception is wrong. In fact, tap water in the U.S. and Canada is almost always the best, cheapest and most environmentally friendly choice. Bottled water can be essential during emergencies that disrupt the supply of clean water. And there have been scary examples of contaminated public water — the Flint, Michigan water crisis being only one recent example.

We also need to be vigilant to ensure our public water supply remains clean. But in most places in the United States and Canada, tap water is tightly regulated and safe. Not only that, but tap water can have less contaminants than bottled waterA study from Canada, for example, found that 70 percent of the tested bottled water brands contained high levels of bacteria and generally had more bacteria than tap water. A 2019 Consumer Report investigation concluded “that in some cases bottled water on store shelves contains more potentially harmful arsenic than tap water.”

But bottled water tastes better, you say! Actually, blind taste tests have consistently found that to be untrue too. To cite just one example, only one-third of the participants in a Boston University study, were able to correctly identify tap water. One third thought it was bottled water and one third couldn’t tell the difference.

But bottled water tastes better, you say! Actually, blind taste tests have consistently found that to be untrue too.

And now we get to what is probably the biggest scam. Wellness wonks have been pushing absurd diets, supplements and potions for decades. Now that same thinking has come to water, with alkaline, hydrogen, gluten and GMO-free water brands hitting the supermarket and health food store shelves near you.

Nope, nope and — sigh — nope.

Alkaline water is part of the larger multimillion-dollar alkaline diet fad embraced by celebrities like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Proponents claim that humans can become too acidic and, as such, we need to consume foods and beverages that will lower the pH of our bodies. By doing so, we will improve our health and reduce the incidence of disease and cancer, the theory goes.

Problem one: There is little evidence to support the entire premise that adjusting the pH of your food will have an impact on our health. And the studies that have explored the claim have found little benefit to this dietary approach, outside of the diet’s push to eat more fruits and vegetables. (Eating more fruits and vegetables is of course good for you hand can help you stay healthier for longer.)

Problem two: You can’t change the pH of your body through food and beverages. So the entire premise is scientifically absurd. Your body tightly regulated the pH of your blood. It doesn’t need the help of overpriced bottled water.