Salmonella in the sand: blame the bandicoots

Last weekend I had the chance to renew my friendship with Sam from Sydney.

She’s the communications manager for the New South Wales Food Authority (the state where Sydney is located in Australia), She booked an inexpensive room for me and Chapman and his only girlfriend one ANZAC day back in 2002.

This is our respective gangs last weekend at Bondi Beach in Sydney (right, exactly as shown; I wore shorts, the others were ridiculous). Amy now gets it when I say, Bondi is awesome.

A short boat ride north of Bondi is Manley beach, which has been plagued with Salmonella in the sand for years.

In May, 2008, children’s playgrounds were closed on Sydney’s Northern Beaches after a rare form of salmonella, paratyphi B var java, normally linked to tropical fish, sickened 23 toddlers. The sand was replaced at a cost of $140,000 but subsequent testing showed the same Salmonella had returned.

Over three years later, and once again, part of the popular children’s playground at Winnererremy Bay was closed after testing revealed the presence of Salmonella bacteria in the surface bark.

Three children were taken to hospital with severe diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain during the gastro outbreak on the northern beaches between 2007 and 2009. A further 72 people, mostly young children, became ill.

Health types reported today the cause was long-nosed bandicoots pooing in the sandpits.

At the time, health authorities could not determine the source of the salmonella. There were theories it came from dirty nappies, cockroaches or the feces of rats, ducks and ibis.

In a paper published last month in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, investigators from NSW Health said children ate the sand carrying the bacteria. The bacterium has been traditionally associated with imported ornamental fish.

The investigators found that one central depot that delivers sand to playgrounds was a ”common factor” in all contaminated playgrounds and that the depot was situated in a ”wild bushland setting.’

Most places in Australia are a wild bushland setting.

During tests of fecal and cloacal samples from 261 animals, the investigators found the salmonella strain in ducks, rats, possums and a dog, but by far ”the most were from a marsupial species native to the local area, the long-nosed bandicoot”, the paper said.

”Although sand from the central depot was a common factor in all contaminated playgrounds where case-patients contracted the illness, the infection source for this facility remains unknown,” the paper said. ”It was located in a wild bushland setting, and it is feasible that transmission of the bacterium from local wildlife occurred.”

The authors wrote that their study identified accidental sand ingestion as a ”previously unrecognised pathway for humans acquiring illness caused by S. enterica var. Java.”

Australian state hammers raw milk huckster

Sydney’s Bondi Beach is a lovely, groovy place.

But not so groovy for raw milk hucksters, as a man was found guilty of 43 charges relating to breaches of the Food Act and fined $53,000 for various offences relating to the sale of unpasteurised milk and unpasteurised dairy products.

The products were manufactured at the defendant’s Bondi Junction residence and sold over the Internet and at an organic food market in Sydney’s Bondi Junction.

Additional offences include the sale of other goods including chocolate, pumpkin seeds and cranberries that were labelled with health claims in contravention of the Food Standards Code.

Primary Industries minister Steve Whan said the court found that the defendant "in a display of deceptive and deceitful conduct, sold unpasteurised dairy products that were deliberately mislabelled and camouflaged as cosmetic products when the intention was they be used for human consumption."

"There is sound scientific evidence pointing to the risks associated with consuming raw milk. To ensure that cow’s milk and cow’s milk products sold in New South Wales are safe they go through the NSW Food Authority’s stringent food safety management programs, which includes pasteurisation."

Mr Whan said the issue of the sale of unpasteurised milk products in NSW was a divisive one amongst the some sectors of the dairy industry and advocate groups, but the NSW Government “made no apologies for giving paramount consideration to the public interest and the need to protect public health.”

In sentencing, Chief Industrial Magistrate GJT Hart said the evidence provided suggested the defendant had no scientific, medical or other qualification or expertise in the field.

"The Defendant appears to have a propensity for adopting, and then advocating with vigour, the teachings of the unqualified, whilst preferring to ignore the available literature produced by people with relevant scientific qualifications.”

Australian restaurants to have ‘score on the door’

I’ve been to Bondi beach in Sydney, Australia, a few times. That’s me and Chapman in 2002, (below left, not exactly as shown) while Dani waited on the beach. Age has not been kind.

The Australians were slow to adapt restaurant inspection disclosure, but a series of investigative reports in Sydney in early 2007 helped add some immediacy to the process. First they went to a ‘name and shame’ list.

Today, the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries, Steve Whan, trucked down to the ever-trendy Skinny Dip cafe in Bondi to announce that restaurants across the state will vie for an A grade or face the wooden spoon under a new `score on the door’ food safety and hygiene rating system.

Restaurants and cafes will be ranked A, B, C or P for pending.

Mr Whan told reporters,

"An A in Bondi is the same as an A at Bathurst. Here’s an opportunity for restaurants who are doing a good job to show that off and make that part of their marketing for customers.

"If (people) see an A on one restaurant, a B in another and a C on the one next door … I think the customers will drive this with their feet."

The state-wide program will be an Australian first, although a similar system has operated at local council level in Brisbane.

The rating system will be trialled for six months from July 1 in 12 Sydney council areas before a state-wide rollout from July 2011, and that appeal avenues will be in place for restaurants that dispute their rating.

Skinny Dip owner Reuven Savitte said his business had worked hard for its A grade and would be rewarded with customer loyalty.

"I’m proud to be the first one to have an A.”