Large shigellosis outbreak at wedding

My cousin of Barrie’s Asparagus is in the midst of the annual crop in southern Ontario, and I know they have good food safety because my students have checked them out in years past and, I’m his cousin.

Unfortunately not all growers are as diligent and any commodity can get branded as shit.

Specifically, Shigella shit.

Findings presented at the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, or EIS, conference last month found that contaminated asparagus was the likely source of an outbreak of shigellosis at a wedding party in Oregon that sickened 112 people.

The outbreak was caused by Shigella flexneri type 3a, which accounts for less than 3% of S.flexneri isolates in the United States, researchers said.

“This was one of the largest foodborne outbreaks of shigellosis in U.S. history,” Steven I. Rekant, DVM, MPH, an EIS officer with the Oregon Public Health Authority, said in a presentation. “It was the second largest ever attributed to Shigella flexneri and that type of Shigella flexneri, type 3a, is uncommon in Oregon.”

According to Rekant and colleagues, the Oregon Health Authority received reports of gastroenteritis among attendees at a wedding in August 2018 and identified S. flexneri type 3a in stool samples.

A total of 263 people attended the wedding, and 75% responded to the survey. The patients were aged 2 to 93 years, and 55% were female.

“Simply put, this was big outbreak — 112 cases were reported, with an overall attack rate of 55.7%,” Rekant said.

Of 95 patients with onset information, 97% reported illness 12 to 72 hours following the wedding. Additionally, 57 patients presented to a health care facility and 10 were hospitalized, including a 92-year-old woman. No deaths or additional cases were reported.

The investigators found that only asparagus consumption was associated with illness.

They pointed to poor hygiene on the part of the food-handler as the “likely cause of contamination.”

Rekant SI, et al. Shigellosis at a Wedding — Oregon, 2018. Presented at: Epidemic Intelligence Service conference; April 29-May 2, 2019; Atlanta.

Hockey and asparagus

My cousin Tim and I would play road hockey up in the upper level of the barn, during the two weeks I would spend at their farm while my parents goofed around.

Tim is about 6 months older than me, he grows asparagus, I write about asparagus, and we both ended up coaching hockey.

Tim wrote on his facebook page tonight that, hockey season starts for our Ayr Cens and is about to start for my son Will’s Midget Flames. For some reason (other than i am obsessed with #4) i started thinking about the time i met my hero Bobby Orr at a camp Will won an invitation for. We had a pre-camp reception for the kids and parents and there was a question/answer period with Bobby. Obviously i was 1st to raise my hand for questions LOL. My question to Bobby was “when you were a kid and were so much better than everyone else what did you do on the ice?” Bobby’s answer was simple…”My Dad always told me to make sure i passed the puck to a player that hadn’t scored a goal”. Hope this makes all of us think as we head into hockey season. Best of luck to all kids of all skill levels for an enjoyable and most importantly FUN season

My cousin embraces the values that I and anyone else who coaches should embrace.

I’m proud to call him my cousin (except when we talk about genetic engineering or he does his Bob and Doug SCTV impersonation).

Asparagus farmer: he’s not heavy, he’s my cuz

Between the anguished cries in the fetal position after his beloved Boston Bruins were bumped out of the Stanley Cup playoffs (that’s ice hockey to Australians), my cousin, Tim Barrie, manages to carry on the family tradition and farm asparagus.

It’s a late spring in southern Ontario (Cambridge area, to be specific), but Tim says the flavor is great and Tim is always finding the bright side.

tim.barrie.asparagusAnd he knows enough to practice good food safety.

According to the K-W Record, green and sweet asparagus is what spring is all about his 25-acre farm off Kings Road.

Blame a hard snowy winter and a wet spring for a tardy crop at Barrie’s Asparagus Farm, but the good news is it’s lip-smacking luscious and sweet-pea scrumptious.

Two years ago, drought made for a bitterly disappointing harvest, said 52-year-old Tim Barrie. Last year was a great crop for quantity. This year, quality binds every $3-a-pound bunch.

“Taste-wise, it’s as good as I can remember,” Barrie said from beneath his favorite spoked-number-four Bobby Orr ball cap.

This asparagus operation goes back four decades on this former cattle farm. The future is asparagus, Barrie’s father David was told by his father-in-law Homer — an Alliston asparagus grower.

David, who still trims the grass at the farm (and still plays pickup hockey at 80- years-old), listened and became a spear plucker.

His son Tim and his wife Libby run the fields of green and the farmhouse shop now.

Their grown daughters — Mallory, Emily and Hannah — and son Will, 13, help out too.

asparagu.barrieThere are only about 100 asparagus operations in Ontario because it’s labor-intensive. Barrie has 10 locally hired pickers harvesting his 24 acres every day until Canada Day. The spears are spun right into the farmhouse shop and put on sale within an hour of picking off the side of Kings Road.

On Saturday mornings, the parked cars fill up the country roundabout in front of the house, Barrie said. They come for the fresh asparagus. They may leave with pickled asparagus and asparagus barbecue sauce, too. Or asparagus ravioli and asparagus soap. Or asparagus salsa. A fresh batch of that salsa, bottled with a day of picking, is firehouse hot.

They plant strawberries too, along with rhubarb, sweet corn and pumpkins.

They sell some kettle chips, named Spud’s Finest in honour of Barrie’s mother Miriam (she’s my mom’s sister – dp). She grew up on a potato farm before her father turned to, of course, asparagus.

Cook chicken to 165F; color a lousy indicator

 A friend in Ontario (that’s in Canada) sent along this recipe from a can of Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus soup.

I have a soft spot for the asparagus soup, because that’s how my grandfather Homer, asparagus baron of Ontario, got his start in the fresh asparagus business, growing to 100 acres in the 1970s, selling almost all of it fresh at the door. What was left went to Campbell’s for cream of asparagus soup.

On the recipe for lemon asparagus chicken, the instructions state, cook chicken “… until chicken is no longer pink.”

Not good enough. If consumers are expected to be the critical control point, then food producers must at least provide clear and evidence-based instructions. Cook chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F as measured using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer.

Stick it in.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day: Mother’s Day scallops and asparagus

When I think Kansas, I think sea scallops. I also appreciate the technology of freezing.

So for moms, grandmothers, moms-to-be and everyone else who cares for children, here’s to you.

Sea scallops in a chicken stock reduction with asparagus, strawberries, blackberies, Camembert cheese, multigrain bread, bagels, smoked salmon, tomatoes, basil, shrimp, pistachios, bloody Caesar’s, champagne, and chocolate cheesecake.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day – oven-baked salmon, asparagus spears, baked potatoes and roasted corn

Sorenne eating dinner with mom and dad, Oct. 8, 2009.

Oven-roasted salmon fillets (the farm-raised kind – more sustainable) with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and fresh thyme, corn-on-the-cob (Sorenne’s favorite, but getting starchy as the cold weather moves in), baked Russett potatoes and asparagus spears, the frozen kind, which were surprisingly good.

Australia: Tables restaurant find $19,000 for deadly asparagus; widow says, ‘we’ve had enough’

A fancy restaurant that served a man deadly asparagus sauce has been fined $19,000 – a fraction of the maximum penalty available under the Food Standards Act.

William Hodgins, 81, died of a ruptured stomach about 12 hours after taking his wife to the award-winning Tables Restaurant at Pymble, in January 2007.

Food Authority spokesman Alan Valvasori said legal advice was that it did not have enough evidence for a charge such as manslaughter.

A coronial inquest heard Mr Hodgins dined on snapper covered in a creamy asparagus sauce that had bacteria spores at 10 times the toxic level.

The maximum penalty under the Act is $275,000.

Mr Hodgins’ widow, Audrey, said the family had decided not to proceed with further legal action.

"We’ve had enough."

Even fancy restaurants need to refrigerate sauces — cause toxins can kill

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 81-year-old retiree William Hodgins died just 12 hours after dining with his wife, Audrey, at the upmarket Tables restaurant in Pymble on Friday, January 12 last year (right, pic from Sydney Morning Herald).

Inspector Dean Lindley of Hornsby police told Westmead Coroners Court yesterday that an investigation by the NSW Food Authority discovered Bacillus cereus in an asparagus cream sauce served to Hodgins and 14 other customers that night who had ordered the fish of the day, snapper.

It is alleged the sauce was up to 48 hours old when it was served to him.

Inspector Lindley said he was contacted by food inspector, Bryan Biffin, who said he had taken a sample of cream asparagus sauce he had found in the restaurant after police left. It had been served with the fish of the day.

"The sauce had subsequently been analysed by the Division of Analytical Laboratories and had been found to contain the pathogen Bacillus cereus at a level of 9.8 million parts … Mr Biffin informed me that the toxic level of this pathogen is 1 million parts … Biffin further stated that in his experience this pathogen thrives in an environment where the food is heated and cooled over a period of time. During the course of the investigation I came to the opinion that the deceased William Hodgins had eaten the asparagus sauce. The sauce at the time of consumption was contaminated by the pathogen Bacillus cereus after having been repeatedly subjected to temperature abuse in that it was heated and cooled a number of times over 48 hours by restaurant staff."

The restaurant co-owner and principal chef Kim de Laive told the court he had been holidaying on the South Coast that day and that his fellow chef, Douglas Gunn, had prepared the sauce dishes, including the cream asparagus, the night before for use that Friday.

He said it was the restaurant’s practice to dispose of asparagus sauce if it was exposed to room temperature for more than four hours, and was unaware that the Australian food standards required it to be disposed after two hours. Mr de Laive said he could only assume that one of the apprentices had put the sauce back into the fridge after its use earlier in the day and it had been taken out again that night but he had not asked any of the apprentices about it.

Way to blame the underlings, chef, especially since you apparently didn’t know the basics.

When the restaurant’s co-owner, Daniel Brukark, entered the witness box counsel for the Food Authority counsel, Patrick Saidi, revealed the authority was prosecuting Mr Brukark’s company, Dan Brook Investments, for failing to place labels with dates on its sauce containers, an offence which carries a two-year prison term if a director or chef is convicted.

Canada’s “asparagus baron” passes at 93

I never called him gramps, or grandpa.

It was always Homer.

Homer Curless McMann. You don’t see names like that anymore.

Amy and I are in Alliston, Ontario, today for the funeral of my 93-year-old grandfather, Homer.

Homer spent the winter in Florida for as long as I can remember. And when I was a kid, my family would vacation there in the summer. On one of our last family vacations, 14-year-old me — feeling fairly hot cause I’d just had my braces removed — made friends with a girl who was also vacationing with her family. Since all I could think or talk about was this girl, my parents had the outstanding sense to go out with my younger sister and leave me along at Homer’s trailer with the girl.

As I made out with the girl, I thought, this is a truly wonderful grandparent.

Courtlynn, you won’t remember this, but when you were 6 days old, in 1995, we all drove to Florida and got to stay at a swanky place on the beach in Naples. Homer and Gladys drove down for dinner, and as we watched the sun set over the Gulf, we all felt blessed and thankful.

Homer loved his six grandkids and 17 great-grandkids.

Homer had the gift of the gab. He had to; for almost 20 years he sold most of his 100 acres of asparagus at the door — today he’d be called an original champion of local food.

In April 1995, I gave a talk at a livestock conference here in Alliston, and brought Homer along for the dinner and entertainment.. As we drove back to the farm, Homer said, to me, "I think you may have the gift of the gab too."

Beyond introducing me to Red Cap Ale — a beer I drank in university because no one else would touch it and my supply was safe — Homer had a warmth, especially with strangers.

In 2003, my friend Denton Hoffman was named general manager of the Ontario Asparagus Growers Marketing Board, and I said, "you’ve gotta meet Homer" (that’s Homer on the left and Denton on the right).

So, one summer day we drove up to Barrie, Ontario, and took Homer and Noreen out for lunch. His eyes sparkled as he recounted how he paid kids from (nearby Canadian Forces Base) Borden with beer to pull weeds, and how he entertained visitors to the farm, about an hour northwest of Toronto, who would buy asparagus 100 pounds at a time and freeze it.

Homer, here’s to you.