Cupcakes and confections without infections

Guest barfblogger Michéle Samarya-Timm of the Franklin Township Health Department in Somerset, NJ, writes:

Amy Silverman of the Phoenix New Times recently wrote about the lack of handwashing at Sprinkles Bakery, as noted by the Maricopa County Restaurant Inspection Team. In her assessment, enforcement of handwashing at this establishment is “as ridiculous as the ban on bake sales at my kids’ school.”

Handwashing…ridiculous?? With all the recent media coverage of outbreaks and recalls, taking steps to prevent a potential outbreak should not be viewed as ridiculous, but a public health essential.

Outbreaks in cakes are not unusual. In 2005, an outbreak of norovirus gastroenteritis associated with cake affected up to 2700 persons in Massachusetts. According to the CDC, it is likely that one or more food workers at the source bakery contaminated the cakes through direct and indirect contact.

In Japan, nearly 100 schoolchildren and teachers suffered diarrhea late last year after allegedly being infected with norovirus from cake served in their school lunch.

And it could happen again. Cake icing, as innocent as it may look, has the potential to cause large gastrointestinal outbreaks, as it is usually evenly mixed, and not processed further. Most foodborne outbreaks of norovirus illness arise from direct contamination of food by a food handler, immediately before consumption. Icing, or cake, can very easily become contaminated with norovirus because the virus is so small and because it probably takes fewer than 100 norovirus particles to make a person sick.

Investigations support that a majority of norovirus outbreaks are from oral-fecal transmission. Prevention for norovirus, and many other foodborne illness is —you guessed it –no bare hand contact of ready to eat foods and following through on conscientious handwashing practices.

We don’t want a confection to become an infection – nor do we want a potential dose of diarrhea, norovirus, or other potential nasty in our food – or anyone else’s. If this shiny chain is “all about image” as reported, that image should include following through on good handwashing practices. Maricopa inspectors should be praised – not ridiculed – for working to prevent potential disease outbreaks.

Yes, I like my cupcakes with sprinkles, but I also want my cupcakes to be handled in a sanitary manner and accompanied by a chorus or two of Happy Birthday – while all involved are enthusiastically lathering at the handsink.