Boston eateries cited for serious violations

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause foodborne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Last year, the location with the highest total of the most serious types of violation was Best Barbecue Kitchen, a small butcher shop and takeout restaurant on Beach Street in Chinatown, which racked up 70 such violations, according to city records.

That restaurant also had the highest total of violations in all categories — at 219 — last year. As of last month, Best Barbecue Kitchen had accumulated the highest number of the most serious violations: 130, dating back to 2007, when the city began posting the data online. It also had the second-highest total of violations of any type: 614.

The restaurant that had the second-highest total of the most serious violations last year was Cosi, a cafe and sandwich chain inside South Station, where 50 were found. The restaurant with the third-highest total of the most serious violations last year could be found several feet away inside South Station: Master Wok, which had 45.

Staff members at all three restaurants declined to comment last week and requests to speak with managers went unanswered.

Bob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the safety of customers is the top priority for restaurant owners.

“Food safety is number one for every restaurateur in the state, and obviously it’s something we consider as incredibly important,” said Luz.


12 sick; good communication can’t cover lousy management; Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded Salmonella outbreak

When a city inspector went to the Clover restaurant in East Cambridge last Friday, she found spoiled cauliflower, hummus, and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.

That inspection, sparked by an outbreak of food poisoning among some of Clover’s customers, led the city to shut the restaurant indefinitely, according to a report provided to the Globe. Deborah Kotz writes the chief then decided to close the other three restaurants and 10 food trucks in the popular Clover Food Lab chain, which all are supplied by the East Cambridge kitchen.

Twelve cases of salmonella were reported in June and early this month among patrons of Clover’s various locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

While the state health department declined to comment, citing its ongoing investigation, Clover CEO Ayr Muir said in an interview that he has received details on half of the people. Those customers had eaten one of two dishes containing pita bread purchased from a supplier, as well as tahini, hummus, and a cucumber tomato salad made by Clover chefs.

Muir acknowledged there were food safety practices with which “we could do a lot better,” but added that he thinks food inspectors frequently note violations at many restaurants. “I think we operate some of the cleanest kitchens in the country,” he said.

Clover has become something of an institution among the health-food set. Its no-frills vegetarian fare attracted a devoted following after it began five years ago with a single food truck near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it grew rapidly. Its website promises locally grown and fresh food — so fresh that they have “no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.”

But Clover has racked up a string of safety lapses, ranging from minor violations such as greasy buildup on equipment, walls, and counters to major infractions such as a failure to provide handwashing facilities to employees in a food truck on Park Street off Boston Common.

Haven’t heard anything about how and where Clover sources its supposedly superior food.

Oh, What a Feeling, when bacteria cross-contaminate

I watch too much trashy TV in background while I work; I just saw back-to-back adverts of Rod Stewart flogging his new album, Merry Christmas, Baby, and Boston’s More Than a Feeling used to flog multivitamins.

Devo’s Whip It is being used to push baby clothing, Zip It, and Crowbar’s Oh, What a Feeling has been resurrected in an Australia Toyota advert.

Crowbar of Ancaster, Ont., 20 minutes from my hometown of Brantford, has been selling this song since it was penned back in 1970, so good on them if they get some Aussie money.

From 1969 to 1970, most of the members of the group had been a backup band for Ronnie Hawkins under the name “And Many Others”. However, in early 1970, he fired them, saying “You guys are so crazy that you could f**k up a crowbar in three seconds!” They recorded their first album in 1970, called “Official Music”, as “King Biscuit Boy and Crowbar.”

The other day on Good Morning America, which comes on at 3:30 a.m., there was a cooking bit so bad it’s faded into the mess of Love Boat, Kojak, and bad infomercials (which means I can’t remember it or find the video).

The recipe looked lovely but the cross-contamination was ridiculous, leading to yet another conversation between Sorenne and I about why she shouldn’t put her flip-flops or anything else into her mouth and about how bacteria move around.

She preferred this song.

Millbury boy likely died of E. coli O157

Health officials confirmed yesterday that they are investigating how a 6-year-old Millbury boy contracted E. coli O157:H7, but said his death appears to be an isolated case and is not linked to a recall of contaminated food.

“There are not any other reported cases at this time. We don’t consider this to be an active outbreak,” said Worcester Public Health Director Derek Brindisi, noting a public health nurse will retrace what foods the boy consumed, where he traveled and to what animals and water sources he had been exposed. “We will try to get a clear picture of how he became ill.”

The state Department of Public Health confirmed yesterday that little Owen Carrignan was exposed to E. coli. He died Saturday from complications of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, or kidney failure, a disease associated with E. coli infection.

The family, who buried Owen yesterday, said memorial contributions can be made to the Owen E. Carrignan Sports Scholarship for a deserving Millbury High School student, c/o Millbury Federal Credit Union, 50 Main St., Millbury, MA 0152

Boston-area boy dies from apparent E. coli

A 6-year-old boy has died from hemolytic uremic syndrome in Millbury, Mass., near Boston, and state health officials are investigating the possibility of foodborne illness.

“The symptoms reported may be indicative of a foodborne illness, and is currently under epidemiologic investigation,” according to an e-mail Wednesday evening from Anne Roach, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The Boston Globe reports the death certificate for the boy lists his name as Owen Carrignan. He died around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, according to Derek Brindisi, director of Worcester’s Public Health Department.

“All the signs pointed to E. coli,” said Shawn Carrignan, 37, Owen’s father, late Wednesday night. “Basically, he went over to a friend’s house Saturday night, we don’t know what he ate, but the next day he had a stomachache.”

Carrignan said Owen became continuously worse before he died on Saturday.

A wake for the boy was held in Millbury on Wednesday night, he said.

“He was the best at every sport,” Carrignan said. “You couldn’t slow him down. I’d play with him eight, nine hours and you couldn’t wear him down. He was my youngest. It was always about me and him. He was incredible.”

“The whole family has been devastated,” said Bob Carrignan, 69, Owen’s grandfather, Wednesday night. “It’s heartbreaking. He had everything going. He wasn’t just about sports. He was just a wonderful kid.”

Isn’t saltpetre bad enough? Expired school food sent to prisons in Mass

Potassium nitrate has a rich history, in mythology and as the primary component of tree stump remover.

Also known as saltpetre, any prisoner in Canada in the early 1980s would swear it was added to food to induce impotence and, according to wiki, is still falsely rumored to be in institutional food (such as military fare) as an anaphrodisiac. But there is no scientific evidence for such claims.

Who needs science, this is control of sex drive.

The Boston Globe reported today that the state Department of Education recently donated thousands of cases of out-of-date food from the school lunch program to state prisons and a county jail.

The food — more than 11,000 cases of cheese, blueberries, frozen chicken, and other goods — was offered free of charge to kitchens that serve inmates, as education officials removed old products from warehouses that serve schools across Massachusetts. The state had been reviewing its inventory after controversy erupted last month when expired food was discovered in Boston school cafeterias.

The donations to prison facilities, shown in documents obtained by the Globe under the state’s public records law, underscore the breadth of the problem with out-of-date food in the federal school lunch program.

Prison officials defended their cafeterias, while an inmate advocate shuddered at the notion that food unfit for children could be served in jail.

For those who want to know, saltpetre, a primary component of fertilizer, has been a common ingredient of salted meat since the Middle Ages, but its use has been mostly discontinued due to inconsistent results compared to more modern nitrate and nitrite compounds. Even so, saltpetre is still used in some food applications, such as charcuterie and the brine used to make corned beef.

I hate corned beef.

Snake on subway makes for costly salmonella cleanup

Don’t take your snake on the subway.

That’s what Melissa Moorhouse of Allston, Mass. discovered after her three-foot boa slithered away from under her scarf and around her neck on the Red Line between the Broadway and Andrew stations in Boston.

Penelope the snake was discovered two weeks later in a subway car at the JFK/UMass station.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority decided it had to do a special sanitizing of the car to reduce the risk of salmonella, and then sent Moorhouse a cleaning bill of $650.

Norovirus buffet sickens 13 of 19

Beth Jones plays homegrown epidemiologist and writes with certainty for in Boston:

Missy is cute, blond, sweet, and four-years-old. She doesn’t look like a vector. But she initiated such a path of norovirus destruction at our Christmas party that it will forever be remembered as: The Party Where (Almost) Everyone Got Sick.

Really, really, sick.

We had friends, a delicious buffet, mulled cider and spiced eggnog. Children ran through the house in dress-up costumes. The tree twinkled, conversations hummed. It was the lovely party we’d hoped for.

At the end of the day, Missy sat on the bottom of our staircase and complained that her stomach hurt. It was no surprise; the kids had been playing for hours, eating on occasion. Picking up food, tasting it, putting it down. If I were to make a guess, my very unscientific norovirus research would lead me to that act of picking up and putting down. I’d wager that an infected half eaten snickerdoodle or a slice of smoked ham nibbled and abandoned by Missy was the cause of everything that followed.

The party was on Saturday. The norovirus has a 48-hour incubation period. By Monday, Missy was in Children’s Hospital Boston receiving intravenous fluids; she couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. Her mother could barely get out of bed. Two friends mistakenly thought they had food poisoning. Another guest thought the mulled cider had caused her to throw up. Like dominos, nearly everyone was slammed by the virus, knocked down and lying flat in bed or crawling to the bathroom. Thirteen of the 19 people at our party were sick within two days of the holiday festivities.

I’d like to see the food items on the menu. Any raw oysters?

Boston area boil-water advisory affects two million plus; 10 years of food safety for me

I’m a sucker for the cliche of anniversaries and today is sort of a big one for me. Ten years ago today I started pulling news in the Powell lab, seeking out the raw stories that made up listserv postings for the precursor to bites, FSNet. Pulling news then meant scouring newspaper websites and manually searching news wires for anything food risk-related. Now, we’ve got google alerts, twitter and RSS feeds.

About three weeks in, I fell in love with the content and became hooked on food safety communication. That’s when an E.coli O157 outbreak linked to Walkerton Ontario’s town water system hit. I was already interested in disease (maybe it was because of Outbreak or the Hot Zone?), but the coverage and discussion within the Powell lab around Walkerton (how the outbreak was handled and communicated to the folks drinking the water) drew me in. The outbreak started with few reported illnesses and a boil-water advisory was issued. In the end, seven died, over 1300 were ill and many who have long-term health issues related to the outbreak will continue to feel the effects for years.

This weekend, a precautionary warning about the water supply in parts of Massachusetts reminded me of the Walkerton situation. Not so much the tragic aspects revolving around the illnesses, but issues like the best ways for public health officials to get information out to residents and how anyone making food deals with not having potable water.

According to, a major water pipe which supplies Boston and about 30 other communities sprung a leak yesterday prompting a boil-water advisory for over two million residents, businesses and institutions.

Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and issued a "boil-water" order for the Boston Area "The water is not suitable for drinking. … All residents in impacted communities should boil drinking water before consuming it," he said at a news conference this afternoon. Patrick said the state had asked bottled water companies to make more water available in the state and emergency drinking water supplies could also be made available to the affected communities through the National Guard.

People flocked to stores to buy bottled water when they heard the news. In Lexington, an hourlong run on water cleared a supermarket’s shelves. In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a state of emergency and took a number of steps to inform residents, including reverse 911 calls and sending officers into the streets with bullhorns. Downtown restaurateurs declared the boil order a major inconvenience.

Food fight: Massachusetts school cafeteria inspections suck

Sara Brown, Husna Haq, and Hannah McBride, journalism students at Boston University, got their feature on school cafeteria food safety inspections published in the Boston Globe this morning. They’d been working on it for much of last semester, and I spent some time on the phone with Sara and provided some background. Good for them; glad the Globe is still around to publish such features. Highlights below.

At an elementary school in Billerica, the sewage smell was so strong it forced a nauseated health inspector to leave after 15 minutes. During a five-week period in Framingham, 17 mice were caught in an elementary school’s kitchen storage area. And in a Foxborough middle school, a complaint of hair in the food prompted an inquiry by a local health inspector.

School cafeteria inspections in communities throughout Greater Boston last year found problems ranging from expired milk and rotting meat to disposable utensils and a meat slicer stored in employee bathrooms.

But, in many ways, that was the good news.

Those cafeterias were inspected, their problems identified for correction. Cafeterias in 7 percent of private and public elementary and secondary schools across Massachusetts were never inspected at all in the 2007-2008 school year, according to state records. And 38 percent were inspected just once, though federal law requires two health inspections annually.

The Massachusetts data gathered from school districts tell only part of the story.

A closer look at more than 1,000 schools in 157 communities in Greater Boston reveals a slipshod system of local enforcement with virtually no state or federal oversight. …

In Massachusetts, school cafeteria inspections fall under the jurisdiction of local boards of health, typically small groups that are either elected or appointed, depending on the community. There are no minimum education or experience requirements to be a health inspector; candidates need only pass a state-approved performance test and a written exam, which can be taken online through the Food and Drug Administration. The state also sets no minimum qualifications for directors of local boards of health.

"The guy who inspects your car has more training" than some health inspectors, said Michael Moore, food safety coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. …

In August, Lynn health inspector Frank McNulty was called to Lynn English High School to investigate a foul odor. When he opened the cafeteria freezer, a puff of steam reeking of rotting meat gushed out. "I nearly passed out," McNulty said. "I’ve never dealt with something like that before."

The freezer had shut down, but the condenser was still operating, drawing in hot summer air and cooking hundreds of pounds of meat for weeks. McNulty and food service employees called dozens of cleaning services, but none would take the job. Finally, he contacted a company that cleans up crime scenes.

"They must do dead bodies," he said, "so I figured they’d do this."