E. coli outbreak spreading in Germany; 80 sick, dozens hospitalized

Two victims of a potentially fatal strain of E. coli have been placed on artificial respiration machines, a Frankfurt hospital said Monday, while hospitals across Germany were reporting a surge in infections.

German media report that EHEC, or Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli, is a virulent strain of gut bacterium which can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, and can lead to anaemia and kidney damage.

The strain of E. coli is not specified in media reports, but the kidney failure bit makes it sound like a Shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

In Frankfurt, 10 people had been hospitalized, of whom four were in intensive care, while a further 50 people were ill with mild symptoms of EHEC.

A total of 40 people were being treated in Hamburg, most of whom were female, the city’s health authorities said.

Around 800 to 1,200 cases of EHEC are recorded in Germany each year, predominantly affecting children. The current outbreak is unusual for causing severe symptoms in adults, primarily women.

The bacterium is commonly transmitted through contaminated raw or undercooked ground meat products or milk, but disease experts said there was evidence that uncooked vegetables might have helped to spread the latest outbreak.

Gerard Krause of the Robert Koch health authority responsible for epidemiology, said,

“Women prepare food more often, and it is there they could have come into contact with it, possibly while cleaning vegetables or other foodstuffs.”

In a German version of blame-the-consumer, the Robert Koch Institute has recommended people improve kitchen hygiene, making sure in particular that cutting boards and knives are clean.

It’s doubtful that all 80 sick people practiced lousy kitchen cleanliness at the same time across Germany.

What’s in a name? DeFusco’s Bakery not DeLuise lnked to 47 salmonella cases

DeFusco’s Bakery in Johnston, Rhode Island, has now been linked with 47 cases of salmonellosis, with 23 lab-confirmed; of these, 24 people have been hospitalized and one died. Nine are still in the hospital.

The problem first came to light when 11 nursing-home residents got sick after eating zeppole, a custard-filled Italian pastry, made at DeFusco’s.

Sal DeLuise, owner of DeLuise Bakery in Providence, told The Providence Journal yesterday, “Some people were confusing my bakery with the bakery that caused the salmonella problem. They both begin with ‘De.’ ”

On Thursday, DeLuise took out an ad in The Providence Journal, assuring customers that his bakery “has never had an issue with the quality and integrity of the products we produce.”

“We’ve never had to place an ad like this before,” DeLuise said.

However, he thought he might have to in 2006 when there was an E. coli outbreak associated with spinach grown in California.

For three or four months, people didn’t want to buy spinach pies,” DeLuise said.

Voluntarily public: Consumers concerned Wales messing up food safety grades

Consumer Focus Wales says more than 60 schools, nursing homes and hospitals in Wales have sub-standard food hygiene and is calling for full inspection reports to be made available to the public in order to protect vulnerable groups.

BBC News reports the watchdog has published a map showing public institutions with ratings below the satisfactory score.

Maria Battle, senior director of Consumer Focus Wales, called for the assembly government to use its new direct powers to ensure food hygiene ratings were displayed at business premises.

"It is not acceptable that there are publicly-funded institutions, such as hospitals and schools, serving food to vulnerable people despite failing to meet statutory requirements for food hygiene. The greatest tool for improving food hygiene is openness to public scrutiny by making businesses display their food hygiene ratings on the premises. What greater incentive for food producers than knowing their rating will be public and their failings will no longer be hidden?"

A spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Agency said, "The idea behind the food hygiene rating system is to promote consumer choice and drive up standards in food businesses. A business with a poor rating is generally one that is found on inspection to need to improve standards. However, the reason for a low score could be that the business does not currently have a written procedure for food hygiene. Whilst the business premises could be spotless, without this written supporting document they could not be scored above a one-star rating. It is important to note that those premises with low ratings are most likely to be in the process of improving."

Food hygiene ratings can vary from zero (urgent improvement necessary) to five (very good).

Sharon Mills, the mother of Mason Jones, the schoolboy from Deri near Bargoed who died in the 2005 E. coli outbreak after eating infected meat, said it was "diabolical" that hygiene was not up to scratch at premises serving vulnerable people.

Gonzalo Erdozain: Immediate, clear response to food safety incident restores my trust

Two weeks ago I blogged about finding a staple in my pretzel M&M.

I dug some more into the issue after being contacted by Mars representatives and found out Mars has strict safety measures in all their factories. The use of any staple is forbidden at their factories just for this very reason. They also told me they have metal detectors throughout the manufacturing line to pick up any metal items that could have somehow made it into their product.

It was reassuring to hear from Mars time and again they take these matters seriously and that they will investigate the matter. They sent me a letter and 4 coupons for $5 each and things are golden. The take-home message is, when faced with a crisis, don’t run, hide or deny it (like Maple Leaf, Heston Blumenthal and the like), but face it, show consumers you are sorry and you are on top of it. That is the only way to regain their trust. And mine.

Recycling politically convenient foodborne illness myths

There are some recurring myths in the public discussion of foodborne illness and the reasons 76 million Americans barf every year from the food and water they consume, and the New York Times is recycling them all.

Author Eric Schlosser (“Unsafe at Any Meal,” New York Times, Op-Ed, July 25) overstates the protective role of government while casting aspersions against what he calls industrial agricultural and unchecked corporate power. His rant on the Colbert Report last year was legendary.

Henry Miller who used to do biotechnology work at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration writes in the Times this morning, “The vast majority of food poisoning is caused by individuals’ mishandling of food; common lapses include the mishandling or undercooking of poultry and the inadequate refrigeration of food. More expansive, expensive, onerous regulation is not the answer; better education of consumers is.”

Our review of the data found a complete mish-mash about where “the vast majority of food poisoning illness is caused” and that no conclusions could be drawn. Produce, pot pies, pet food and pizzas don’t have much to do with consumers. And how would this better education be conducted?

If someone wrote in and said Americans have the safest food supply in the world, all the big three mythologies would be represented.

Food safety is not simple and the public discussion – which affects individual behaviors from farm-to-fork – is a mess.

Blame the consumer, Hong Kong style

Public reminded to prevent E. coli O157:H7 infection.

That was the headline on a press release from Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection today.

Consumers are important. So is everyone else in the farm-to-fork food safety system. But CHP chooses to focus on people as the critical control point:

CHP today (July 20) reminded people to observe good personal, food and environmental hygiene to prevent intestinal infection caused by E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

The appeal followed the confirmation by laboratory test of a local case involving a 13-month-old girl living in Yuen Long. This is the fourth case of E. coli O157:H7 infection reported to the CHP this year.

A CHP spokesman said,

"People are advised to cook meat thoroughly. The core temperature of food should reach 75 degrees Celsius (that’s 167 F, guess they like hockey pucks for burgers) for at least two to three minutes, until the cooked meat is brown throughout and the juices run clear.”

Color is a lousy indicator. Use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and stick it in. And next time, remind everyone else of their responsibility to reduce the loads of dangerous pathogens entering any kitchen rather than placing all the blame on consumers. There’s lots of blame to go around.

Blame the consumer – Health Canada style

I don’t know who writes these press releases, but stating, “Health Canada would like to remind Canadians of the importance of safe handling of fresh produce to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” gives the organization, Health Canada, a level of creepiness that could be easily replaced by quoting individual humans, not bureaucratic organizations.

Health Canada (is that a she or a he?) then recites the messages of separate, clean and chill, which is fine, but says nothing about what is done in the fields and facilities before fresh produce reaches consumers.

There’s probably an outbreak going on that no one wants to talk about.

Protection against pot pies; blame the consumer – Ottawa style

There’s some sort of frozen chicken thingie outbreak going on in Ontario (that’s in Canada) but public health folks are dancing around the issue.

On June 22, 2010, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said there was an increase in Salmonella Enteritidis cases across the province, and that a contributing factor was believed to be improper handling of food in the home, including inadequate cooking of breaded, processed chicken products, such as chicken strips, burgers and nuggets.

A public health type is now repeating the message that consumers need to do more with frozen chicken thingies instead of asking, WTF is salmonella doing in frozen chicken thingies?

Yesterday, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) advised residents of an increase in the number of salmonellosis cases reported in the city and is reminding residents to protect themselves by using safe food handling and cooking practices

Dr. Vera Etches, Associate Medical Officer of Health with OPH, said, "A significant number of these cases appear to be related to undercooked or inappropriately stored processed chicken products."

OPH is reminding residents to use safe food handling and cooking practices when preparing all food, and specifically, processed chicken products such as chicken strips, nuggets and burgers. These products are often sold frozen and although they may appear to be partially or fully cooked, many have not been heat treated to destroy bacteria such as salmonella.

At some point Ontario public health may stop blaming consumers who get sick from a microwaved chicken nugget and represent the folks they work for and ask:

• what is salmonella doing in these things;

• are the cooking instructions scientifically verified and clear; and,

• why is the consumer the critical control point on a frozen-looks-cooked-but-may-be-raw chicken thingie?

Blame the consumer, U.S.-style; ConAgra says silly things about its pot pies

ConAgra is continuing with its blame-the-consumer strategy when crappy pot pies make people sick with salmonella – like the 30 confirmed ill with Salmonella Chester linked to Marie Callender‘s Cheesy Chicken & Rice frozen meal.

Teresa Paulsen, a spokeswoman for ConAgra, said the company is investigating the contamination, adding,

"At this point, we are looking at an ingredient as the cause since all tests from our production environment have been negative.”

Some of the ingredients, in particular the protein such as the chicken, are precooked before packaging. She said the package has explicit instructions on how to cook the entree in a microwave or oven.

"If it’s cooked according to package instructions, any pathogen would be killed," she said.

Explicit is not the same as practical. No matter how much the Marie Callender name is supposed to fancy things up, it’s still a pot pie tweens toss in the microwave.

How effective are explicit instructions to teenagers? And why are people the critical control point in the frozen chicken thingie food safety system?

Seattle lawyer Bill Marler, who is representing an Oregon man who was hospitalized four days in May after eating one of the implicated pies, said, "You can’t expect the customer to be the kill step.”

A table of frozen, not-ready-to-eat chicken thingy outbreaks is available at:

Consumer with a camera turns in mozzarellas turning blue

There aren’t a lot of blue foods.

There was blue string soup in that Bridget Jones movie.

Food safety police in northern Italy seized a batch of 70,000 mozzarella cheeses that turned blue once they were removed from their packaging.

The agriculture ministry announced emergency control measures on the cheese, which was made in Germany for an Italian company that sold it to discount supermarkets in the north of the country.

The cool part is that a consumer alerted authorities in Turin by sending images from her mobile phone of the soft, white cheese immediately turning blue once it came into contact with air.

Those mobile image devices are everywhere and some people know how to use them (not me). So use them when food appears shoddy.

The name of the discount chain that sold the cheese was not disclosed, because it had "managed the situation well" and immediately removed the cheese in question from its shelves, a police statement said.

Managed it well after their cheese was fingered by a consumer with a camera?