Yuck factor grabs headlines; two Toronto high schools fingered for sort-of food safety issues

Food safety regulatory folks have been moving towards risk-based inspections for about the past 20 years. But often the risk-based infractions aren’t nearly as sexy as the yuck factor stuff. Parent Central, a section of the Toronto Star‘s website focuses on the not-so-risky stuff. I start to get concerned when I see stuff like poor handwashing, cross-contamination or foods held at incorrect temps. Old potato peelers, not so much.

According to Parent Central,

The DineSafe infractions include improper water temperature in the dishwasher, an old potato peeler that needed to be thrown out, butcher blocks that required refinishing and a dirty oven exhaust hood.

Toronto food safety Superman and barfblog friend, Sylvanus Thompson even makes an appearance,

But high school students shouldn’t be afraid of eating at the cafeterias, said Sylvanus Thompson of Toronto Public Health.

“If there is a health hazard, we would close the establishment,” Thompson said.

The violations at both schools happened under the watch of their culinary arts programs, said Toronto school board spokeswoman Zoya McGroarty. At Central Tech, this food is not served to students and only occasionally sold to staff, she said.

Both schools received a “conditional pass” grade from inspectors and the kitchens remained open. All infractions were either rectified immediately or are in the process of being fixed, McGroarty said, adding the board takes such matters very seriously.


More rats: rodents close Pennsylvania state capital cafeteria

The cafeteria in the Pennsylvania capital building where the governor and other state legislators hang out, form cliques and toss around tater tots, has not been inspected in four years – despite a state law requiring annual checks — and is now closed after an infestation of rodents was discovered.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner said Thursday he received assurances in 2005 that the state Agriculture Department would inspect the facility, and his auditors later received false assurances that it was being inspected regularly.

Last week, Agriculture Department inspectors finally arrived at the ground-floor cafeteria, a popular coffee and lunch spot. They found a "severe" rodent infestation, including an "excessive" amount of rodent droppings on food preparation equipment and in cabinets, utensil bins and elsewhere. The droppings indicate the presence of live mice and are considered an imminent health risk.

The ground-floor cafeteria is now closed and is not expected to reopen until January.

US: 26,500 school cafeterias lack required inspections

Ham and cheese on a bun. That was my 1979 high school staple whenever I needed to inject myself with calories. However, I usually brown bagged lunch, because I hated spending my hard-earned money on crap.

Today’s USA Today reports that data kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that norovirus caused at least one-third of the 23,000 food-borne illness cases reported in schools from 1998 through 2007. The toll: about 7,500 sick children, USA TODAY found. Those figures represent just a fraction of all cases. Investigators suspected but couldn’t confirm norovirus in nearly 2,000 additional illnesses in schools during that period, and the CDC says many more cases go unreported.

Although such outbreaks often begin in the cafeteria, more than 8,500 schools failed to have their kitchens inspected at all last year, and another 18,000 fell short of a requirement in the Child Nutrition Act that calls for cafeteria inspections at least twice a year, USA TODAY found. The mandate is part of the National School Lunch Program, which provides food for 31 million schoolchildren across the nation. Almost every school in the United States receives food as part of the program.

The purpose of the inspection requirement is to ensure that the facilities and workers comply with safety and sanitary requirements — from checking food temperatures to wearing gloves.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the school lunch program, acknowledges that the rule is almost impossible to enforce. It is supposed to be a requirement to receive food as part of the lunch program, but

"The predominant source of norovirus infections are food handlers," says Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. "If it’s a norovirus infection," he says, kitchen workers "are where I’d look first."

Trayless cafeterias are saving money and helping students eat less

Dining centers across the U.S. are finding new ways of saving money by ditching cafeteria trays.  Trayless policies have become trendy because of a win-win situation it creates, according to Joseph Spina, the executive director of the National Association of College and University Food Services in an LA Times article.

Cafeterias save money – cutting on food wastes, water and energy usages – and students avoid the freshman 15. The director Kramer Dining Center at K-State, Sheryll Klobasa, acknowledges these benefits, but going trayless would require a mayor rearrangement of cafeteria equipment.

“We’ve talked about it but we are not even close to making the decision despite the advantages,” Klobasa said. “Most of our operations are not set up for that to work well with us.”

The advantages include saving in water and energy bills, since trays don’t need to be washed. Food bills are also reduced because students usually take more food on their trays then what they are going to eat, Klobasa added. For this reason, going trayless could also help students stay away from overeating.

There are also negative aspects to the trayless trend, according to Klobasa. Aside from the inconvenience, they are worried that students would leave more plates and utensils on the tables, because they might need to make more than one trip to return all of them. That would add to the cafeteria’s labor costs.

“The physical arrangement is the biggest barrier for us,” said Mark Edwards, the director of Derby Dining Center at K-State. “We have to use the trays to get plates downstairs to the dishwashing room.” He also believes going trayless would benefit K-State cafeterias.

Regarding safety, trayless policies would probably not increase any already existing food safety risks for the students, according to Edwards. In a self service setting, where hundreds of students are handling the same utensils to help themselves with salads, desserts, and cereal, there is always a risk of contamination. This risk would exist with or without cafeteria trays, Edwards said.

Thinking of the benefits of going trayless, I would say to our cafeteria directors at K-State, just do it!

Guelph is no Oxford – but the food hygiene sucks at both

When I began university, staying in an on-campus residence, the occupants had to sign up to a meal plan. That was 1981, and you could buy five pitchers of beer on a $20 meal card in the local dining hall at the University of Guelph.

The food was gross, but we always ate in our rooms, saving the meal cards for beer.

And maybe we were on to something. Because 18 years later, the uppity Oxford University has been outted as having horrible food prep standards.

At New College a mouse was found eating food from a wheelie bin and dirty work tops were identified.

Rats were discovered scurrying around the rear yard outside kitchens at Mansfield and Pembroke Colleges.

Council workers were appalled by the dilapidated state of kitchens at many of the old buildings and said they were badly in need of a re-fit.

At Worcester College part of the ceiling collapsed in the area where plates are washed but staff continued to carry on working around it.

And in the typical leadership fashion of most higher institutes of learning,

A spokesman for Oxford University said it was a matter for individual colleges and they would not be commenting.

Colleges dumping cafeteria trays – what about cross-contamination?

The New York Times reports that scores of colleges and universities across the country are shelving cafeteria trays in hopes of conserving water, cutting food waste, softening the ambience and saving money.

The story has lots of the usual fuzzy stuff about sustainability but mentions nothing about sanitation. In the absence of trays, the silverware better stay on the plate because the accumulated microbiological mess on the cafeteria tables would cross-contaminate any forks, knives and spoons that were placed on the table.

Philippine cafeteria workers dishing up disease

Is your school cafeteria gross? How does it match up with the Philippines, where PNA reports that a Department of Health (DOH) study found six out of 10 food handlers at canteens have infections that might be passed on to students.

Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, director of the DOH National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said that study showed that food handlers usually introduce biological hazards to students.

"These problems usually arise if the food handlers suffer from specified diseases; or from organisms/eggs on the food handler’s skin; or in their intestines/feces; or by cross contamination after handling raw materials.”

Oliveros said that they had recommended that food handlers wear protection such as gloves and must adhere to safety standards such as washing their hands regularly.

Enjoy lunch.

27 ill with E. coli at Michigan State; links with another 8 cases in MI

One of the advantages of DNA fingerprinting of bugs that make people sick is that previously hidden patterns emerge.

If Canadians stopped using stagecoaches to transport samples – or developed any kind of urgency around the listeria outbreak – maybe links would have emerged earlier and lives saved.

The outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 at Michigan State University took a new twist Tuesday when state health officials announced that the same strain of O157 has been linked to at least eight other cases throughout the state, including one at the University of Michigan and five at the Lenawee County Jail.

The findings have led investigators to believe that the patients all got ill from ingesting the same contaminated food source.

The Detroit News reports that,

“Within the last two weeks, 27 students at MSU fell ill with bloody diarrhea, including seven who needed to be hospitalized. Stool samples in eight of the patients showed that E. coli O157:H7 was the culprit. …

“Lab test results, called DNA fingerprinting, for three MSU students matched those of patients who became sick from E. coli in Washtenaw, St. Clair, Wayne and Lenawee counties since Sept. 8.”

DNA fingerprinting is a wonderful tool – when used in a timely fashion.

Cockroach sandwich? Calls to name and shame dirty school canteens

The Australians are really getting into restaurant inspection disclosure — via the name and shame route.

Sydneysiders are now saying school canteens should be held to the same standards.

Australia.com reports that,

Gastro outbreaks, cockroaches in sandwiches and mice droppings in pie ovens are among a number of complaints that have seen 38 Sydney schools targeted by the food safety authority since 2004.

Shadow Education Minister Andrew Stoner said,

“We don’t allow other businesses – takeaways and restaurants – to get away with this. We can’t allow school canteens to do it. … name and shame the schools where canteens are not up to scratch.”

Go for it.