Your vomit and diarrhea is our bread and butter: Portland’s outbreak museum

I still miss Bill.

I never really knew him, but we all have our demons.

Everyone has problems, especially the ones who think they don’t.

He was awkward in a way I found familiar

Thing is, Bill could nail an outbreak in a heartbeat.

Emily Smith of Atlas Obscura writes about the home-canned beets killed someone.  The freezer-aisle pot pies (there’s about 50 in Phebus’ freezer from 2007). The cheese, breakfast cereal, frozen pizza, tampons, tattoo ink and plastic bags have victims of their own.

These are a handful of the exhibits on display at the International Outbreak Museum in Portland, Oregon, which curators say is the world’s only museum of its kind. It features objects collected from outbreaks of infectious diseases that took place in Oregon and around the globe.

The museum is a single windowless room in a state office building that’s home to the Oregon Health Authority. This room was once the office of Bill Keene, an internationally respected disease investigator for the State of Oregon who assisted on cases around the world. He officially began collecting the mementos for a museum in 1993, though he started holding onto items a decade or more earlier. After his unexpected death in 2013, his colleagues have continued his efforts.

The small room is crammed with more than 100 exhibits that fill tall glass-encased cabinets and cover every surface. The beets and the box of Rely tampons are authentic. Others, like the papier-mache cantaloupes in a net that hangs from the ceiling, are carefully handcrafted representations.

Not every item in the collection represents a fatal outbreak. But every item hints at ailment: stomach cramps, fevers, chills, rashes—the often-agonizing symptoms that accompany an outbreak. And each exhibit hints at investigators’ quiet, crucial work to unravel the mystery of their cause.

On a shelf along the back wall, some tarot cards and mugs bearing the image of cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh mark a dark chapter for disease detectives, when a cult in rural Antelope, Oregon, perpetrated the largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history. The goal was to suppress voter turnout in Wasco County, ensuring that cult members, known as Rajneeshees, could overtake locals in the November 1984 elections. They slipped liquid tainted with salmonella into salad-bar offerings at 10 restaurants and several other public places. The attack sickened 751 people, who ranged in age from newborn to 87.

The plastic milk jugs contained in a red plastic crate recall a yearlong case that stumped investigators as they pondered 25 cases of salmonella spread across Oregon, over the course of 12 months, with no clear link. The only detail the cases had in common was milk, which perplexed investigators because the milk was pasteurized. However, a trip to a beloved local dairy in Roseburg, southern Oregon revealed that while the milk itself was fine, a crate-washing machine at the facility was contaminated with salmonella bacteria. So, as crates of milk cartons moved through the facility, they were doused with a salmonella-infused solution. A thorough cleaning of the facility ended the yearlong outbreak.

The Outbreak Museum’s peanut-laced products including granola bars, cookies, and crackers serve as a reminder of Stewart Parnell, a corporate peanut peddler who was sentenced to 28 years in prison for knowingly selling contaminated products. Parnell, the CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, famously wrote in an email, “Just ship it,” when he learned a shipment had been delayed pending salmonella testing. The shipped peanut-butter paste was linked to a 2008 outbreak that killed nine people and sickened more than 700 others.

In isolation, the stuff that fills this one-room museum is the same ordinary stuff that fills trash and recycling bins. It’s waxy paper boxes printed with company slogans and plastic wrappers bearing logos and nutrition facts. In some cases it’s convincing reproductions of raw meat you’d find shrink-wrapped and refrigerated in the grocery store or fresh strawberries you’d buy from a farmer’s market.

But in Bill Keene’s world, each exhibit stands for a smoking gun. This museum is the evidence of real, everyday items that harmed or killed—and that could have gone on to hurt more, if not for the scientists who solved these mysteries. Even before it was a museum, this room was a place where other investigators drew inspiration.

“You could come in here when you needed a break from your work, sit here and ask him about anything,” epidemiologist Tasha Poissant says.

Keene wanted this museum to commemorate the successes, remember the failures and demonstrate the importance of this work, Poissant says. He understood that outbreaks affect people’s lives in intimate and powerful ways, which means they also have the power to educate, to influence public opinion and change policy.

“When Bill passed away, we all wondered what are we going to do with this museum?” epidemiologist Hillary Booth says. “He didn’t get a chance to make it into the proper museum he wanted to.”

So his colleagues and family stepped in to bring some order to the collection he’d amassed. They installed the display cabinets in his office and catalogued exhibits on the museum website. They continue to collect artifacts, from their own work as well as from cases around the world. While the museum isn’t open to the general public, the curators show it off whenever the opportunity arises—when a public health conference comes to town or guests visit the office.

Memorabilia from Keene’s work spills out of the museum and covers the walls leading to its door. Newspaper clippings, photos from his field work and quotes from Keene (Keene-isms) decorate the cubicle walls just outside.

“Your diarrhea is our bread and butter,” one quote reads.

Poissant offers a correction: What Keene actually said was, “Your vomit and diarrhea is our bread and butter.”

Either way, Keene’s words capture a genuine passion for this line of work that in some cases saves lives but almost always remains invisible.

Sounds like marketing: Food safety culture for economic gain

Research into the connection between organizational effectiveness and culture has been documented since the early nineteen nineties. A connection between economic performance and organizational culture has been established directly linking strong cultural drivers to economic performance in both the finance and retail sectors.

This research proposes a similar association between food safety culture, the measures of maturity and cost of poor quality. Through data collected at five multi-national food companies, this association is explored, and an improved food safety maturity model suggested.

The authors also propose a dynamic model of food safety culture, segmenting it into 4 building blocks: I. Organizational effectiveness, II. Organizational culture norms, III. Working group learned and shared assumptions, and behaviours, and IV. Individual intent and behaviours; and discuss the crucial role of actions between building blocks as part of the pathway to realizing economic gain.

The impact of maturing food safety culture and a pathway to economic gain

19.nov.18

Food Control, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2018.11.041

Lone Jespersen, John Butts, Greg Holler, Jeff Taylor, Dave Harlan, Mansel Griffiths, Carol Wallace

cedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713518305863″>https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713518305863

 

 

Food Safety Talk 170: Pants Pants Pants!

The show opens with a discussion of technology and cyber Monday, before segueing to Ben’s missing tooth. From there the guys do a deep dive into the recent E. coli O157:H7 in romaine lettuce outbreak before turning to listener feedback. They cover heating breastmilk, putting bleach on the food of homeless people, temperature monitoring devices, proper methods for thawing turkey, reconditioning cutting boards, and air quality of dairy processing plant all based on listener feedback. Buckle up, this is a bonus sized episode.

You can download episode 169 here and at iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

Lets get the food safety science right at Thanksgiving

I’ve written before that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A mid-week day off (which often stretches to a whole week of food, football and hanging out) is the way to go.
My parents make their annual pilgrimage from Southern Ontario to take in the whole turkey week Black Friday festivities as well.
The week also provides a really great opportunity to take food safety pictures (right, exactly as shown) and talk food safety stuff. The yearly blitz of holiday interviews have started – and so has Dr. Bob, suburban Chicago columnist.
A valiant effort at tackling food safety in the holidays, Dr. Bob misses the mark with a few things:
He starts with,
Emergency rooms across the state and nation are gearing up for a busy week following the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, many family get-togethers will spread more misery than joy. And I am not speaking of those troublesome individuals that exist in all families that drive many of us to contemplate violent acts. Rather, I am alluding to seasonal foodborne illnesses, which will put a quick end to the Thanksgiving holiday for tens of thousands of families nationwide and several hundred here in our own state.
That’s a great lede – but show your work here Dr. Bob, tens of thousands of hospitalizations might be an over reach here – even if we evenly divide the estimated 128,000 hospitalizations a year we get to a weekly average of 2,500 – I don’t think there’s data to show that Thanksgiving is a 5x or 10x riskier time of the year.
More from the good doctor,
Foodborne illnesses fall into two general categories: intoxication and infection. Foodborne intoxication is caused by ingestion of foods that contain a toxin that may be naturally present in the food, introduced by contamination with poisonous chemicals, or produced by bacteria or fungi growing on foods. Toxins may also be present in some fish and shellfish that have consumed toxin-producing algae. Examples can include contamination with cleaning agents, pesticides and herbicides as well as heavy metals.
Uh, I’m a bit lost – are we talking food borne illness or other stuff now.
Here’s the best though,
It is a well-accepted fact that 100 percent of poultry products are contaminated with salmonella. You read right, 100 percent of the Thanksgiving turkeys carry salmonella. It is only the cooking to proper temperatures and the avoidance of cross contamination that stands between health and sickness.
Not quite, FSIS actually does a great job in reporting contamination levels of Salmonella in poultry, and shows that in turkey contamination is much lower (like only 1.7% positive in turkey). And campy is around the same.
I’m all for talking about food safety and risk reduction and using the holidays as a hook – but lets get the numbers right, avoid the fake news, and give people real risk information.

Schaffner in Consumer Reports: ‘you have to recall the whole burrito.’

When a common ingredient used in a bunch of ready-to-eat foods is recalled things snowball. One recall announcement turns quickly into multiple and leads to larger questions about overall systems.

Or as Don told Consumer Reports last week, ‘It’s the nature of our complex food system today. If a potentially contaminated bit of onion gets used in a burrito,’ he explains, ‘you have to recall the whole burrito.’

Since Oct. 16, there have been at least 13 recalls of ready-made foods, such as salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and burritos, due to potential salmonella and listeriacontamination. All of these foods have been traced back to a single plant owned by McCain Foods, in Colton, Calif., which processes, cooks, and freezes vegetables for distribution to other food producers.

To date, almost 4 million pounds of food sold under many different brand names have been recalled, and the Food and Drug Administration says more recalled products may still be announced.

All of the products involved are now past their expiration dates, so they shouldn’t be on store shelves. In addition, according to a spokesperson from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): “FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks … to verify [that] recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers.” (In this case, “customers” refers to food companies that purchase vegetables from McCain.)

The FDA notes that some of the recalled products require cooking, which could potentially kill dangerous pathogens. However, many of the recalled items are considered “ready-to-eat” or RTE.

And that makes them risky, says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. Even if the product was intended for cooking at home, different food items need to be heated to different temperatures to guarantee bacteria will be killed. Consumers may not always know to heat the product thoroughly.

Additionally, Rogers notes that handling products that contain foodborne pathogens—even if heated thoroughly—could contaminate anything they come into contact with, like your hands. The safest bet is to throw them out.

 

The barf museum in Sweden

Maura Judkis of The Washington Post writes buy a ticket to the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo, Sweden, and it won’t be printed on a slip of paper.

“Your ticket is a vomit bag with our logo,” said Samuel West, the museum’s founder. It’s a joke, but not really: Somewhere between the exhibit on the world’s stinkiest cheese and the free samples of fermented shark meat, someone’s stomach may turn. But, then again, the noni, an Asian fruit nicknamed the “vomit fruit,” is one of the displays. So visitors will already be acclimated to some pretty terrible smells.

Welcome to the world’s first exhibition devoted to foods that some would call revolting. The museum’s name and its contents are pretty controversial — one culture’s disgusting is another culture’s delicacy. That goes for escamoles, the tree-ant larvae eaten in Mexico, or shirako, the cod sperm eaten in Japan, or bird’s nest soup, a Chinese dish of nests made from bird saliva. The name is meant to grab visitors’ attention, but that’s the point that West says he’s trying to make: Disgust is a cultural construct.

“I want people to question what they find disgusting and realize that disgust is always in the eye of the beholder,” said West. “We usually find things we’re not familiar with disgusting, versus things that we grow up with and are familiar with are not disgusting, regardless of what it is.”

For example: Though the museum is in Sweden, he includes surströmming, an incredibly pungent fermented Swedish herring, and salt licorice, which is found throughout the Nordic nations.

Food Safety Talk 166: Surprising lack of cannibalism questions

Don and Ben traveled to SUNY Geneseo for a live version of the podcast sponsored by the Center for Integrative Learning, and hosted by the amazing Beth McCoy. The episode title comes from an unrecorded after dark which may or may not have taken place in a bar in Geneseo.

Episode 166 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home.

Food Safety Talk live in Geneseo, NY

Don and I are recording a live show tonight at SUNY Geneseo thanks to an invite from Dr. Beth McCoy. Beth has been a listener since close to the beginning. It’s always cool to find out that someone actually listens to the stuff we talk about. As I did some prep for the show, I stumbled upon a local bar and grabbed a Genny Cream Ale. The bartender saw the Food Safety Talk decal I have on my MacBook and we struck up a conversation about what it’s like to work in the back of the house of a restaurant.

My most valuable experience as a food safety person remains washing dishes in a local Guelph bar.

Sex & drugs & rock and roll.

And food safety.

We talked food safety myths, eating leftover pizza, stuff both of us have seen in the kitchen and cleaning up puke (and dragging the mop bucket back into the kitchen).

 

Food Safety Talk 163: Grown on Chia Pets

The episode starts with the ongoing history of Canadian cuisine, landing on peameal bacon and how it came to be an Ontario delicacy. The guys go on to talk creamers dropping in hot coffee and contamination potential. The guys put out a request to listeners to send on listener’s food safety in everyday life (send pics). The guys talk date balls, chia and immunocompromised individuals. Ben tells a story about navigating the public health investigation world from a victims perspective and Don provides his insight. They both then go on to chat about risk communication in deception studies with human subjects. The episode ends on rapid listener feedback on double gloving (again), washing onions and cutting boards.

Episode 163 is available on iTunes and here.

Show notes so you can follow along at home: