Food Safety Talk 183: Raw Raw Raw Almonds

Image from PIRO4D at Pixabay

Don and Ben are joined by longtime friend and colleague, podcast downloader (and sometimes listener) Linda Harris. The three nerds talk about other podcasts, Kardashian indices, Erdos numbers, berries, and the long and progressive food safety story of raw almonds. The almond story touches on what should happen when an industry has a major outbreak, how working with extension and research academics can lead to solutions and ripples of managing food safety risks.

You can download Food Safety Talk 183 here or at iTunes.

Show notes so you can follow along at home:

At the intersection of food safety and hockey: Is drinking/eating out of the Stanley Cup risky?

For almost 20 years I’ve tried to connect the things I know about. Today it worked.

Matt Shipman and Chris Liotta, my buddies and colleagues in NC State Communications and our college communications independently hit me up with a question about if we could connect food safety and hockey as Raleigh was in the midst of NHL playoff fever.

Here’s what we came up with:

A lot of traditions have developed around the Stanley Cup since it was first awarded to hockey champions in 1893. One of those traditions is for members of the winning team to drink from the Cup, which raises the question: could the Stanley Cup spread disease?

To get at that question, we should discuss the history of the “common cup.”

Shared Cups and Public Health

In the early years of train travel in the United States, travelers were expected to share a common cup, or a dipper, when getting water in their train cars. This eventually raised public health concerns, which led to a spate of state and federal laws barring the use of common cups in train travel.

“We now know that whenever someone places their hands or mouth on a cup, or other eating utensil, that person can deposit bacteria or viruses on the surface,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State University (and avid hockey fan). “The next person to use that utensil may then ingest the bacteria or virus.

“This form of cross-contamination is well established, and has been identified as a vector for disease since studies of diphtheria and tuberculosis in the early 20th century – which is what led to the common cup laws in the first place.”

That’s good general background, but what about the Stanley Cup in particular?

Drinking From Lord Stanley’s Cup

The bowl part of the Cup, which is what people actually drink from, is made of silver – not dissimilar to a silver chalice your grandparents might own, if your grandparents own a silver chalice that’s been photographed with Wayne Gretzky. And the fact that it’s made of silver actually matters.

Silver is inert. That means it won’t react chemically with most of the substances you put into it, like the acidic fruit juices. Silver also has antimicrobial properties. However, given the circumstances we’re talking about (a bunch of hockey players drinking out of the Cup), those antimicrobial properties won’t reduce the risk of cross-contamination in any meaningful way.

What About Booze?

Everyone knows alcohol is a disinfectant. But does the presence of alcohol eliminate the risk of disease transmission for people drinking out of the Cup? No.

“There are two big factors here,” Chapman says. “One factor is the amount of alcohol in the beverage. For example, beer has a lower percentage of alcohol than champagne, which has less alcohol than hard liquor.

“An alcohol percentage of about 3% appears to be the threshold for making a difference in regard to contamination. And the higher the alcohol percentage, the more effective the beverage will be as an antimicrobial agent.”

However, this first factor is largely irrelevant, because of the second factor: time.

“In order to kill off pathogens, the alcohol has to be in contact with the pathogens for a specific period of time,” Chapman says. “The higher the alcohol content, the shorter the contact time needs to be.

“But, as we’ve noted in the past with eggnog, even strong liquor won’t significantly reduce microbial contamination in an hour or less. And nobody’s waiting an hour between sips when it comes to the Stanley Cup.”

What Increases Risk?

People have put all sorts of things into the Stanley Cup, from dogs to caviar. But the riskiest behavior comes when people put things in the Cup that are likely to be contaminated, such as raw eggs (that’s happened) or babies that are about to poop (that’s happened too).

Beyond that, basic health guidelines suggest that any time someone is drinking from the Cup, you want to make sure they’ve washed their hands first and haven’t thrown up recently. Players who are playing through an illness, for example, could potentially pass it on to the rest of the team. (Players who barfed due solely to athletic exertion likely don’t pose an increased health risk.)

What Is The Biggest Risk?

“If someone is going to contract a disease by drinking out of the Cup, my best guess would be norovirus,” Chapman says. “There are more than 19 million cases of norovirus each year in the U.S., and it is incredibly hardy. In addition, it only takes a little bit to make you sick – on average only a few virus particles are necessary to cause an illness.

“If norovirus got onto the Cup, it could survive there for months. What’s more, you have to take very specific steps to sanitize a surface contaminated with noro.”

However, it’s important to note that cross-contamination can only occur if one of the people handling the Cup is a disease carrier.

So, can drinking out of the Cup spread disease?

“Absolutely,” Chapman says. “But it’s really unlikely.”

Editor’s note regarding the video: Special thanks to Raleigh Center Ice for the ice time, and to the Washington Capitals for providing footage.

Dreams are weird, so is the brain

I had this dream, where I was coaching  ice hockey in Brisbane for a few hours, helping do evaluations of kids – male and female – and running them through drills.

As the kids got changed and the girls were mixed in with the boys, I explained we had enough girls in Guelph (that’s in Ontario, Canada) that they had their own league, and as a coach, I wouldn’t go into the dressing room until they were all dressed, and after the game would debrief for a couple of minutes, and then say good bye outside.

After 3 hours of on-ice training I said I’m going home for an hour and would be back in an hour.

I started to put on my street clothes, realized it was dark outside, looked at my iPhone and saw it was 2 a.m.

I miss coaching, but my brain is doing too many weird things.

And in real-life I fall a lot.

I’d post this to my other blog, but what’s left of my identity that I can remember is

Peeing in pools: Survey says half of Americans use swimming pools as communal bathtubs

Quixem Ramierz of KTXS writes that a lot of people pee in swimming pools.

I was one of them one of them.

A new survey finds more than half of Americans (51 percent) use swimming pools as a communal bathtub– either swimming as a substitute for showering or using the pool to rinse off after exercise or yardwork. And, still, Americans knowingly make pools dirty despite nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents saying pool chemicals do not eliminate the need to shower before swimming.

“When dirt, sweat, personal care products, and other things on our bodies react with chlorine, there is less chlorine available to kill germs,” said Dr. Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council. “Rinsing off for just 1 minute removes most of the dirt, sweat, or anything else on your body.”

The survey revealed 40 percent of Americans admit they have peed in the pool as an adult. Peeing in the pool reacts with chlorine and reduces the amount of chlorine available to kill germs.

“The bottom line is: Don’t pee in the pool,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming program. “Swimming is a great way to be physically active and not peeing in the pool is a key healthy swimming step.”

Officials probe cause as dozens sickened after local Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner

There was this time, I was editor of the Port Colborne New, a weekly broadsheet in 1988.

Katija came from that area.

There was one night, and the only night, me and a bunch of friends did magic mushrooms (which are being considered for medicinal purposes) ran along the waterfront, terrified by nothing, and then went to my home and someone fell through a window.

The primary story I covered in Port Colborne (and yes, I did live in a trailer) was the development of a new port, and how the duck hunters of Ducks Unlimited wanted it stopped.

They lost.

The Free Press in London, Ontario (that’s in Canada, not England) reports that at  least 57 people got sick after attending a recent Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner in Strathroy, prompting local health officials to investigate a possible case of mass food poisoning..

The Middlesex-London Health Unit received public complaints from people who got sick after attending a sold-out dinner for Strathroy-Caradoc Ducks Unlimited at the Strathroy Portuguese Canadian Club March 30.

“We don’t know the micro-organism yet. We haven’t had lab confirmation of anything yet, but all of their symptoms were gastrointestinal, diarrhea and vomiting. Some had a fever, some had nausea,” said Mary Lou Albanese, the health unit’s infectious disease control team manager.

The reported illnesses prompted a public health inspection of the facility two days later. The inspector found five infractions in the April 1 site visit, including one critical non-compliance issue that had the potential to pose an immediate food-borne illness risk.

The inspector found the facility failed to maintain pest control measures, didn’t have a trained food handler supervising the kitchen and didn’t ensure utensils, equipment and facilities were cleaned and sanitized. The inspector’s report also found the dishwasher wasn’t designed or maintained to ensure utensils are sanitized and the kitchen’s walls and ceilings weren’t kept clean and in good repair.

The inspector issued three remediation actions to the club, including implementing food handler education for its employees.

The facility was given a passing grade by health inspectors.

In a statement, Strathroy-Caradoc Ducks Unlimited said they’re “devastated” people fell ill at their fundraiser.

“Our thoughts go out to those affected and the families who are dealing with this unfortunate situation,” the group said.


Rust never sleeps.

A time to live, a time to die

My eldest, 1-of-4 Canadian daughters (she’s 32 and has a 5-year-old son) was honest with me and said I shouldn’t travel to Ontario, even if there’s people I want to see (yes that’s her in this 1988 pic I took for my science column; I even remember developing film in the darkroom, and had sex there too along with the electron microcopy room.)

I have brain problems and cannot travel by myself.

My wife, who has power of attorney over my finances and death, says I can’t travel alone.

Yeah, looks like I’m fading fast

My best friend from high school has pancreatic cancer, so our friends are waging who will go first.

My brain hurts because I fall a lot, and Amy is going to break up with me.

But my life has been full of wonder, and I will keep being curious and keep writing.

It’s the best medicine.

China teacher arrested for ‘poisoning’ 23 kindergarten students

The first words I wrote for in 2005 as me and Chapman went on a road trip to escape my ex-girlfriend stalker were something about my mother trying to kill me through foodborne illness.

She didn’t like that, and I knew my kindergarten teacher mom had nothing but best intents, but with food safety, who knows.

I’d like to make clear that my mother never intentionally poisoned any of her students.

But, a kindergarten teacher in China did, sending 23 pupils to hospital in early April after a teacher allegedly poisoned their morning porridge.

The incident in Jiaozuo came just before a new regulation took effect Monday, requiring school officials from kindergartens to secondary schools in China to dine with their students to prevent food safety scandals.

The pupils began vomiting and fainting after breakfast, the Beijing News said, citing unnamed city officials.

One parent told the newspaper that he rushed to the hospital after receiving a call from the school to find doctors had already pumped his child’s stomach to prevent high levels of toxicity in his blood.

One child remains in hospital with “severe” symptoms, and seven others have been held for observation, Xinhua reported.

The reports did not specify the ages of those affected, but typically, kindergarten students in China are aged three to six.

A preliminary investigation has revealed that sodium nitrite, which is used for curing meats but can be toxic when ingested in high amounts, caused the poisoning, Xinhua said.