How a frozen meringue led Australian investigators to the source of a potent Salmonella outbreak

Jess Davis of ABC News reports a frozen meringue was key to identifying and outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis (SE), a bacteria that until last year was not found in Australia, that sickened almost 200 people.

People first started getting sick in May 2018 and by July a cluster of cases had appeared in New South Wales. That was when health authorities started investigating.

“Health, through their investigations, were able to look at a number of isolates of Salmonella enteritidis that came from humans, who unfortunately had been ill, and use a technology called whole genome sequencing,” said NSW Food Authority CEO Lisa Szabo.

“So it’s a genetic-based technology that helps us join the dots, shall I say. And this was the first time they could see a group of people with the same whole genome sequence.”

Anyone with a confirmed case of SE was interviewed by investigators and asked for a detailed account of what they’d eaten — to try to find what the different cases had in common.

A few weeks after being interviewed, one of those people remembered they had a frozen meringue cake in their freezer, leftover from a birthday party, around the time they got sick.

Officers went to that person’s home, collected the cake and had it tested.

“We were able to isolate the Salmonella enteritidis and it had that same whole genome sequence. At the same time we could see who manufactured that cake,” Ms Szabo said.

“We could go back to the manufacturer, have a look at their environment, look at how they handle food and where they get their ingredients from, and that’s where we saw the connection to the egg farm.”

It wasn’t until September that the frozen meringue led investigators to a farm on the outskirts of Sydney, but by then the bacteria had slowly started spreading across the industry.

“Once we detected salmonella enteritidis on this particular farm, we then commenced another round of investigations … more from the biosecurity and then the farm side of trying to understand … [whether the] farm had other connections to other properties around the state” Ms Szabo said.

But how the bacteria made its way into Australian eggs in the first place is likely to remain a mystery.

One property in Victoria and 13 in NSW have been affected so far and more than half-a-million birds have been culled at a cost of $10 million.

The spread of SE has been blamed largely on the interconnected nature of the egg industry, with all the infected farms connected in some way.

Egg farmers often trade produce with each other, and equipment and workers also regularly move from farm to farm.

Veterinarian Rod Jenner said SE was difficult to contain because it could survive and multiply without a host and could live in the environment for up to two years.

“It can survive in dust and dirt, in vehicles, and can travel in the wind. Rodents, wild birds, that sort of thing, can carry it on their skin or in their bodies as well,” he said.

“So it has actually been demonstrated to travel vast distances and be contaminated, be deposited on other farms that have previously been free.”

A farmer’s worst nightmareBede Burke’s egg farm at Tamworth in NSW was the 11th property to be infected, with a notification it had tested positive to SE during a routine check just over three months ago.

“Your whole world crashes down around you, you know,” Mr Burke said.

“We just didn’t sleep for a week and that first seven or eight days was really traumatic. We had to learn how to both decontaminate and disinfect the premises.”

When the notification came through on the eve of the federal election, Mr Burke had to withhold his eggs from sale and was faced with the prospect of culling entire flocks.

“But then you’ve got heap of eggs on your premises, you can’t not stop packing eggs, we were still going to pack 90,000 eggs a day,” he said.

“It’s just stress beyond all belief and then start planning for the worst.”

But he was lucky the contamination was picked up early and while a swab of dirt and dust had tested positive, it hadn’t yet spread to his egg or birds.

There have been no confirmed cases of SE since June and the industry hopes that will be the end of it.

But the outbreak has raised serious questions about how biosecurity is managed. Despite the disease becoming a national problem, its enforcement and regulation is state-based.

Philip Szepe, who runs an egg farm at Kinglake in Victoria, tests for all strains of salmonella every three months.

But he’s concerned that not all farmers are as diligent and said biosecurity was too reliant on self-regulation.

“Government’s really good at responding to crisis. It’d be great if the Government had a bit more engagement with the industry around monitoring, surveillance and compliance,” he said.

Better to burn out than to fade away: Australia is an evolutionary gold mine including these marsupials who drop dead after mating

Annie Roth of the New York Times writes kalutas live fast and die young — or, at least, the males do. Male kalutas, small mouselike marsupials found in the arid regions of Northwestern Australia, are semelparous, meaning that shortly after they mate, they drop dead.

This extreme reproductive strategy is rare in the animal kingdom. Only a few dozen species are known to reproduce in this fashion, and most of them are invertebrates. Kalutas are dasyurids, the only group of mammals known to contain semelparous species. Only around a fifth of the species in this group of carnivorous marsupials — which includes Tasmanian devils, quolls and pouched mice — are semelparous and, until recently, scientists were not sure if kalutas were among them.

Now there is no doubt that, for male kalutas, sex is suicide.

In a study, published in April in the Journal of Zoology, researchers from the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland confirmed that kalutas exhibit what is known as obligate male semelparity.

“We found that males only mate during one highly synchronized breeding season and then they all die,” said Genevieve Hayes, a vertebrate ecologist and the lead author of the study.

Dr. Hayes and her colleagues monitored the breeding habits of a population of kalutas in Millstream Chichester National Park in Western Australia during the 2013 and 2014 breeding seasons. In both seasons, the researchers observed a complete die-off of males. Although male kalutas have exhibited semelparity in captivity, this was the first time it had been seen in the wild.

Kalutas evolved independently of other semelparous dasyurids, so the confirmation that male kalutas die after mating suggests that this unorthodox reproductive strategy has evolved not once, but twice in dasyurids.

“It’s really interesting that it would evolve twice in dasyurids because it’s such an extreme mating system,” Dr. Hayes said.

 

Piping hot in Australia

I guess people think I don’t exist, but I am here, just not in the corporate-academic-producer group-government meeting mode.

I hang out at supermarkets and talk with people.

I went to my Commons this morning, and saw these ribs and bought a pack, not because I wanted ribs but because of the labelling.

 

Perfect poo and good health connect in teaching tool for children

A central Queensland professor is taking the taboo out of poo to teach children about the link between eating well and making healthy poo.

The ‘Poop it’ kit uses illustrated stories and rewards to educate four to eight-year-olds about what a healthy poo looks like.

It was developed by Professor Kerry Reid-Searl from CQUniversity, who partnered with paediatric nurses, academics, and undergraduate students.

The inspiration behind the project comes from the professor’s desire to take the embarrassment out of talking about what we flush down the toilet.

“Many people are ashamed or reluctant to talk about poo, yet there is such an important link between good health and poo,” she said.

“As a nurse I have encountered many children with bowel problems, and my understanding from the anecdotal responses from parents of these children is that the psychosocial impact can be significant.

“So this project is very much about giving children an awareness of a topic that probably fascinates them, but more importantly provides them with information that can influence their everyday being.”

What does a healthy poo look like?

It’s already a topic that gets kids giggling. But to make learning about what goes into making good and bad poo fun, the professor and her team created characters that illustrate the meaning behind the shape of the poo we make.

“There are seven different types of poos, from rabbit droppings right through to gravy-type poos, but the best healthy poo is a sausage-shaped poo where it’s like a sausage — smooth and brown.”

Personally, my family has no taboos when talking about poo or farts or burps – expected from someone who’s idea of community service is writing on barfblog.com – at least until Sorenne reaches puberty, which is soon, and then I’ll just be an embarrassment until she needs money, about 10 years later. If the 4 Canadian daughters are anything to go by (right, with my father, Jan. 2019 in Brantford) it’s a set pattern.

And it may be arriving sooner than expected. I just facetimed daughter S in Arizona where she is staying with her maternal grandmother for the night, and she blew me off after a couple of minutes to go chat with a friend in Brisbane.

Technology. Kids. Life.

Money: Cost of Salmonella infections in Australia, 2015

Gastroenteritis caused from infections with Salmonella enterica (salmonellosis) causes significant morbidity in Australia. In addition to acute gastroenteritis, approximately 8.8% of people develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and 8.5% of people develop reactive arthritis (ReA). We estimated the economic cost of salmonellosis and associated sequel illnesses in Australia in a typical year circa 2015.

We estimated incidence, hospitalizations, other health care usage, absenteeism, and premature mortality for four age groups using a variety of complementary data sets. We calculated direct costs (health care) and indirect costs (lost productivity and premature mortality) by using Monte Carlo simulation to estimate 90% credible intervals (CrI) around our point estimates.

We estimated that 90,833 cases, 4,312 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths occurred from salmonellosis in Australia circa 2015 at a direct cost of AUD 23.8 million (90% CrI, 19.3 to 28.9 million) and a total cost of AUD 124.4 million (90% CrI, 107.4 to 143.1 million). When IBS and ReA were included, the estimated direct cost was 35.7 million (90% CrI, 29.9 to 42.7 million) and the total cost was AUD 146.8 million (90% CrI, 127.8 to 167.9 million).

Foodborne infections were responsible for AUD 88.9 million (90% CrI, 63.9 to 112.4 million) from acute salmonellosis and AUD 104.8 million (90% CrI, 75.5 to 132.3 million) when IBS and ReA were included. Targeted interventions to prevent illness could considerably reduce costs and societal impact from Salmonella infections and sequel illnesses in Australia.

Cost of salmonella infections in Australia, 2015

September 2019

Journal of Food Protection vol. 82 no. 9

LAURA FORD,1 PHILIP HAYWOOD,2 MARTYN D. KIRK,1 EMILY LANCSAR,3 DEBORAH A. WILLIAMSON,4 and KATHRYN GLASS1*

 

Norovirus and Hepatitis A risk in Australian greens and berries

The apparent international rise in foodborne virus outbreaks attributed to fresh produce and the increasing importance of fresh produce in the Australian diet has led to the requirement to gather information to inform the development of risk management strategies.

A prevalence survey for norovirus (NoV) and hepatitis A virus (HAV) in fresh Australian produce (leafy greens, strawberries and blueberries) at retail was undertaken during 2013–2014 and data used to develop a risk profile. The prevalence of HAV in berries and leafy greens was estimated to be <2%, with no virus detected in produce during the yearlong survey. The prevalence of NoV in fresh strawberries and blueberries was also estimated to be <2% with no virus detected in berries, whilst for leafy greens the NoV prevalence was 2.2%.

Prevalence of a bacterial hygiene indicator, Escherichia coli, was also investigated and found to range from <1% in berries to 10.7% in leafy greens. None of the NoV positive leafy green samples tested positive for E. coli, indicating it is a poor indicator for viral risk.

The risk was evaluated using standard codex procedures and the Risk Ranger tool. Taking all data into account, including the hazard dose and severity, probability of exposure, probability of infective dose and available epidemiological data, the risk of HAV and NoV foodborne illness associated with fresh Australian berries (strawberries and blueberries) sold as packaged product was deemed to be low. The risk of foodborne illness from HAV associated with leafy greens was also deemed to be low, but higher than that for fresh berries, due mainly to the potential for recontamination post-processing if sold loose. The risk of foodborne illness from NoV associated with leafy greens was deemed to be low/moderate. Despite the prevalence of NoV in leafy greens being low and the inability to discriminate between infective and non-infective virus using PCR based methodologies, the fact that NoV was detected resulted in a higher risk associated with this pathogen-product pairing; compounded by the higher prevalence of NoV within the community compared to HAV, and the potential for leafy greens to become contaminated following processing if sold loose.

Estimating risk associated with human norovirus and hepatitis A virus in fresh Australian leafy greens and berries at retail 26 August 2019

International Journal of Food Microbiology

Valeria A.Torok, Kate R.Hodgson, Jessica Jolley, Alison Turnbull, Catherine McLeod

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2019.108327

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168160518306974

Everyone’s got a camera, cat edition: Australian man captures CCTV footage of cat suffocating him in his sleep

For a year in 1986-87  I wrote in the University of Guelph weekly newspaper a science column about cats.

(These are the current two, right) I was fascinated.

The next year, I became editor-in-chief.

They were the first warm-blooded pets I’d ever had that my first wife the vet student – who wrote years later she didn’t love me those 18 years but I threw off 4 good-looking daughters so she kept me around – and I named them Clark and Kent.

An Australian man said he “couldn’t breathe” while sleeping, so set up a camera to figure out what was going on.

Luis Navarro posted a series of photos on Twitter detailing the mystery he had to solve.

Using a unique Australian invention – sure your cats are fine when you’re awake but as soon as you go to sleep hell breaks loose in the kitchen, outside with the possums, anywhere

“I couldn’t breath when I slept so I installed a camera”, he tweeted.

A set of photos, still images from the camera, show Navarro’s cat staring at him in his sleep before crawling onto his face to lie down, blocking his nose and mouth in the process.

Some Twitter users responded with photos and stories of their cats doing the same thing, making it difficult for them to breathe while they slept — with others claiming Navarro’s cat was actually trying to kill him.

Doctor Rachael Stratton, a veterinary behaviourist, told 10 daily she has heard anecdotally of cats sleeping in various inconvenient places on top of people. It is often not harmful — although it can pose a problem when they try and sleep on babies in the same way

Food safety is not simple

If food safety is simple, why do so many get sick?

Because it’s not simple: it’s complex, constant, requires commitment and information must be compelling.

Government, industry and academics continue to flog the food safety is simple line, despite outbreaks becoming increasingly complex and in the complete absence of any data that the message works.

We’ve shown that food safety stories can work. And I’m not embarrassed to wear the Leafs hoodie, because they are at least watchable now, unlike the last 52 years.

Every summer (sure it’s winter here in Australia, but that’s an equator thing, and I still wear shorts 365 days of the year), tucked away in the back pages of every newspaper, it’s the same thing: bland pronouncements about how food safety is easy if consumers follow some simple steps, while the front page usually has another story about another outbreak of foodborne illness.
What’s so simple about outbreaks in produce, pet food and peanut butter? Once the products were home, there was nothing individuals could have done to prevent the subsequent illnesses and deaths. Are consumers really expected to cook all their fresh tomatoes and leafy greens to 165F to kill salmonella? Fry up peanut butter? Bake the cat food?
 Yet there are a multitude of well-meaning groups who preach to the masses that food safety begins at home.
Whether it’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture official saying in 2005 that, “Foodborne illness is very serious but easily prevented if foods are handled, prepared and cooked properly,” or a Canadian retail association saying in 2006 that “E. coli can be prevented through simple in home food safety practices such as washing thoroughly fresh produce in clean water for several minutes before consuming,” the it’s-simple message is pervasive, condescending and wrong.
 Food safety is complex, constant and requires commitment.
Produce, peanut butter and pet food demonstrate that messages focused solely on consumers are woefully incomplete. The World Health Organization recognized this back in 2001 and included a fifth key to safer food: use safe water and raw materials, or, source food from safe sources (http://www.who.int/foodsafety/consumer/5keys/en/index.html).
Consumers must recognize — and demand — that the first line of defense be the farm. Every mouthful of fresh produce, processed food or pet food is a consumer’s act of faith. Every grower, packer, distributor, retailer and restaurant must stop blaming consumers and work instead on developing their own culture that values and promotes microbiologically safe food.

Australia still has an egg problem: Egg recall due to possible Salmonella

The NSW Food Authority advises that the following eggs are being voluntarily recalled by The Egg Basket Pty Ltd because they may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis (SE):

Country Fresh Eggs Just Eggs, 600g, cardboard box

Chefs Choice Free Range, 700g, 30 pack tray

Chefs Choice Cage Free, 800g, 30 pack tray

The Use By dates are 14 June 2019, 20 June 2019, 24 June 2019, 29 June 2019, 5 July 2019, 9 July 2019 or you may identify the individual eggs through the stamp eb24449 on the shell.

The eggs were sold directly from The Egg Basket business in Kemps Creek, and at the Flemington Markets.

Consumers who may have purchased the eggs are advised they should not eat the eggs and to dispose of them in the garbage or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Proof of purchase is not required for recalled products.

CEO of the NSW Food Authority Dr Lisa Szabo said consumers may be aware of a higher number of SE related egg recalls in recent months due to a cluster of interconnected egg farms across the state.

“This recall is related to the detection of this particular organism”, Dr Szabo said.

As part of its response NSW DPI has increased surveillance and monitoring at poultry farms and where necessary has issued biosecurity directions to individual properties, including the quarantine of premises to stop movement of eggs into the marketplace.

Further information about how to reduce your food safety risk when consuming eggs can be found at www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/eggs

A table of Australian egg-related outbreaks is available at https://barfblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/raw-egg-related-outbreaks-australia-5-1-17.xlsx.

Should we be afraid of eating sprouts?

I don’t eat much lettuce either.

But I eat a lot of fruit and veg.

 I revealed last week I was nervous about doing a media interview, because I’ve been out of the game for a while, and my brain, just don’t work so well.

Fell again today and it hurt.

I have no balance.

But I still have a brain.

So when a U.S. reporter agrees to chat at 4 a.m. EST (6 p.m. EST) I say sure, because I’ve always been a media whore. How else to spread the message.

I particularily like the lede.

Kate Bernot of The Take Out wrote, “If you ask anyone in food safety, ‘What is the one food you will not eat?’ Raw sprouts tops the list, always.”

That’s one of the first sentences out of the mouth of Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog, a frequently updated site that publishes evidence-based opinions on food safety.

I’ve asked him whether food-safety fears about sprouts—those tiny, crunchy squiggles in your salad or sandwich—are well-founded. He tells me the public isn’t concerned enough about them.

“Risk is inherent in the nature of the product which is why Walmart and Costco got rid of them,” he says. (Kroger also stopped selling sprouts in 2012.) “This is not a new problem. It’s been going on for decades.”

According to a paper he and three colleagues published in the journal Food Control in 2012, sprouts have been responsible for at least 55 documented foodborne outbreaks affecting more than 15,000 people globally in the past two decades. The Food And Drug Administration tallies 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States linked to sprouts between 1996 and 2016, accounting for for 2,474 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations, and three deaths. In an effort to reduce these outbreaks, the FDA in 2017 collected 825 samples of sprouts from across the U.S.; 14 of those tested positive for E. coli, listeria, or salmonella.

The first reason sprouts—whether alfalfa or mung bean or radish or other varieties—can carry E. coli or salmonella bacteria has to do with how the sprouts are produced. The conditions that cause a seed to sprout are the same conditions that cause bacteria to breed: warm, moist air.

“The sprout is made from germinating seeds and the seeds themselves may be the source of the contamination. When you’re germinating a seed and growing a sprout, you’re providing conditions for the sprout growth that are ideal also for bacterial growth,” says Craig Hedberg, a professor in the School Of Public Health at University Of Minnesota. “This is a product that went through incubator-like circumstances.”

The second reason is related to how most of us consume sprouts: raw. Because we value sprouts’ crunch, we rarely cook them before adding them to a dish. Powell notes that people in many Southeast Asian countries do blanch their sprouts before cooking with them, but that the West tends to consume them raw.

The third reason sprouts can pose a risk is because even rinsing them won’t generally remove enough of the bacteria to keep an infected sprout from making a person sick. Hedberg says that even romaine lettuce, which has recently been associated with foodborne illness outbreaks, has a surface area that’s easier to wash than sprouts.

“The seeds can get contaminated as they’re growing, so the contamination can be internal,” Powell tells me. “So you’re never going to wash it off.”

Sprouts do have their defenders, though, who note higher levels of soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and mineral bioavailability compared to non-sprouted grains and vegetables. The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics statesthat “in general, the health benefits associated with savoring raw or lightly cooked sprouts outweigh risks for healthy individuals. However, be aware that there is risk of food poisoning if you plan to eat them.”

The FDA recommends cooking sprouts thoroughly to kill bacteria, and further advises that the elderly, children, people who are pregnant, and people with compromised immune systems should not eat sprouts at all. To further reduce your risk of sprout-related foodborne illness, the FDA says consumers can “request that raw sprouts not be added to your food.” So, bottom line, if you’re concerned—yeah, just don’t eat them. May we suggest beet slivers or carrot ribbons for crunch?