Killer dishcloths cycling through media spin

Press release before publication. Again.

And it seems to plague stories about dishrags or dishcloths or sponges or whatever they’re called; those things used to wipe up stuff in the kitchen.

In 1995, the front-page of Toronto’s Globe and Mail screeched, “Warning: your kitchen dishrag is a killer. … you probably handle an unimaginably dangerous collection of harmful bacteria" while going about your kitchenly chores, and that "90 per cent of food-related illness in the home could be prevented by using paper towels when preparing foods, especially meats."

That was Dec. 1995. The paper describing the research was eventually published in 1997.

Today, Safefood Ireland sent out a strinkingly similar press release with strikingly similar flaws.

And the Irish Examiner went with a similar lede.

A total of 27% of household dishcloths were found to contain the raw meat bacterium E. Coli, in a recent study.

According to research from Safefood, listeria was also present on 14% of cloths analyzed by scientists.

The research shows that although one-third of consumers who re-use dishcloths clean them in bleach and almost one in four wash them by hand, neither method is effective at removing the germs that cause food poisoning.

Safefood is reminding people that cloths must be cleaned in a washing machine on a temperature of least 30 degrees or else boiled for 15 minutes to effectively kill germs.

I’m not sure of the validity of those statements: Safefood cites some research, but it doesn’t appear to have been published anywhere; and if it has, PR 101 would be to include the reference on the press release.

Instead the PR contained this:

1. ‘Assessment of the ability of dishcloths to spread harmful bacteria to other kitchen surfaces and determination of the effectiveness of various dishcloth cleaning regimes’. safefood/Prof David McDowell; University of Ulster; Jordanstown
2. ‘The microbiological status or household dishcloths and associated consumer hygiene practices’. safefood/ Eolas International, 2011

There’s lots of research out there, but the information presented in this press release is difficult to assess. What is the quantitative difference between rinsing a cloth or sponge before use, and the dishwasher? Were the numbers derived from self-reported responses or actual observation (people lie)? Can the actual risk of cross-contamination from such cloths be modeled in a risk assessment?

When I use a sponge or dishcloth, I habitually rinse it first, which does not eliminate but may reduce bacterial loads. Dish clothes and towels get swapped out 1-2 times a day, and sponges go in the dishwasher about every third day. When dealing with raw meat, the sponges or clothes are swapped out immediately. Pete Snyder makes similar recommendations.

The 1995 killer-dishrag story met the primary goal of its creators: to sell more sponges. Specifically, anti-bacterial sponges manufactured by 3M Co. of Minneapolis, Minn.

Dr. Charles P. Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, was contracted by 3M to perform tests of household dishrags and sponges in five U.S. cities and compare the results to the 3M sponge. Dr. Gerba found about 100 times more bacteria in dishrags retrieved from households.

Then the public relations firm hired by 3M peddled the results, taking Dr. Gerba on a five-city tour to release the results. That was in Aug. 1995. Several stories appeared on the U.S. wire services. Why the Globe decided to run the story at the end of Dec. 1995 remains a mystery.

Some may argue the end justifies the means, that any message promoting the safe handling of food in the kitchen is good. Except that stories which overstate a risk have been shown to do more harm than good. It’s called the boomerang effect. If a message is oversold or overstated, people stop believing. With killer sponges, the message is more harmful than the bacteria; unless properly validated.

Cyclist Contador says clenbuterol came from contaminated meat, not doping

Blame it on the steak.

Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador went to sport’s highest court on Monday to argue his case that contaminated meat caused his positive drug test at the 2010 Tour de France.

Contador did not speak to reporters as he arrived at the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a four-day hearing into one of the most scrutinized doping cases of recent years.

Contador’s legal team will argue that a contaminated steak he ate on a rest day in the Pyrenees caused his positive test for clenbuterol, a banned anabolic agent.

If found guilty of doping, Contador can expect to receive a two-year ban and be stripped of his 2010 Tour title and his 2011 Giro d’Italia victory.

About 20 witnesses are expected to appear at the hearing, including the Spanish butcher who sold the steak, a polygraph expert and anti-doping scientists.

The three-man arbitration panel, composed of Israeli chairman Efraim Barak, German law professor Ulrich Haas and Geneva-based lawyer Quentin Byrne-Sutton, is likely to issue its verdict in January.

FDA details hazards at sprout producer; who was the auditor

Why are these problems always found after the outbreak?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows up after the outbreak, which is why retailers like Jimmy John’s hire third-party auditors to verify the safety of their suppliers. Someone may want to ask Jimmy John’s, how does someone become eligible to supply ingredients for the sandwich artists? Any food safety criteria?

Can’t wait to find out who the third-party auditor of this sprout outfit was – and yet another reason company’s with their names on product, like Jimmy John’s, should be using their own people who may actually care about the brand. Or making people barf.

According to CIDRAP, FDA says it found a variety of possible contamination sources responsible for the salmonella-in-sprouts outbreak that has sickened 125 people, primarily in Indiana and primarily related to eating sandwiches from Jimmy John’s.

The FDA findings are detailed in a Form 483 report the the agency released following its inspection at Tiny Greens Organic Farm of Urbana, Ill. In December the firm recalled alfalfa sprouts and Spicy Sprouts (a mixture of alfalfa, radish, and clover sprouts) after they were implicated in an investigation of Salmonella cases in people who got sick after eating at Jimmy John’s restaurants.

The latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Jan 14, put the size of the outbreak at 125 cases in 22 states and Washington, DC. The FDA found a Salmonella isolate matching the outbreak strain, known as I 4,[5],12:i:-, in a sample of runoff water from the company.

The FDA’s 6-page inspection report says the company grew sprouts in "soil from the organic material decomposed outside" without using any monitored "kill step" on it.

These were among the other FDA findings:

* An "amphibian/reptile" was kept in the reception room of the firm, which adjoined the production area.
* The firm couldn’t show that its antimicrobial treatment for seeds, which was not specifically described in the report, was equivalent to the recommended treatment with a bleach solution.
* Employees stored their lunches, including such items as raw bacon, in the same cooler where finished sprouts were stored.
* Organic matter was seen on a table where sprouts were packaged, and a "biofilm-like buildup" was seen on sprouting trays after they were cleaned.
* What looked like mold was seen on walls and ceiling in a mung-bean sprouting room.
* Condensation dripped from the ceiling in production areas throughout the inspection period, which lasted close to a month.
* An outside lab that the firm used to test its water and sprouts used a method that was not validated for detecting Salmonella in those items.


Rodents and roaches and urine, oh my; contaminated chile ordered destroyed

A New Mexico company was ordered to destroy $171,000 worth of red chile after federal authorities say it was contaminated by rodent droppings and urine, insect larvae and roaches, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Deputy U.S. marshals seized 25 tons of Mexican-imported chile from the Duran and Sons warehouse in Derry, N.M. on Dec. 13, 2010. The imported pods are alleged to have contaminated 50 tons of New Mexican red chile that was also kept in the warehouse.

The company was ordered Monday by U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo to pay for destroying the produce under the supervision of the Food and Drug Administration, by no later than March 17.

Inspectors in November allegedly found rodent nests and evidence that mice had gnawed, defecated and urinated on the chile pods, ground chile and crushed chile after they had been shipped to the Duran & Sons Chile Products warehouse, about eight miles north of Hatch.

Apart from the chile, however, Duran’s warehouse was also allegedly home to "a live cat, live birds, apparent bird nesting, bird droppings, rodent nesting, rodent excreta pellets, animal feces, animal urine, lice and dead insects and insect larvae and moth-like insects," according to court documents.

Cooking with Pooh

Last night while Doug was cooking dinner and we were feeding Sorenne some rice cereal and squash, I noticed we still had a tube of Pillsbury Cookie Dough in the refrigerator leftover from last week’s cookie experiment. We decided to make some cookies and free up more space in the fridge.

Doug reminded me, as I got ready for the extremely complicated process of slicing the dough to put on a cookie sheet, that I needed to treat the product as though it were contaminated. I said, “But this isn’t the recalled dough.” To which Doug responded, “Just because it wasn’t recalled doesn’t mean that it isn’t contaminated.” True that. So we were careful not to cross-contaminate. We put the tube on a cutting board. I used a pair of scissors to open it up and immediately put them in the dishwasher. I sliced up the dough, put it on the cookie sheet, washed my hands thoroughly, and Doug took care of the actual baking.

The cookies were not nearly as delicious as the ones Katie and I used to make during her 5 month stay in Manhattan, and I’m sure they contained some dairy, but we ate all of the cookies anyway.

This week Tom sent us a book advertisement from, “Cooking with Pooh: Yummy Yummy Cookie Cutter Treats.” If you’re potentially cooking with poo, be careful not to cross-contaminate and do not eat uncooked dough.


Contaminated food for resale found during Michigan traffic stop

Driving the long stretches of big sky country in Kansas, the mind can wander. I wonder what’s in that rental truck up there, the one I may pass in the next hour. Maybe it’s a load of fresh produce in a truck that was moving chickens the week before; maybe it’s a widely popular Canadian band tyring to break into the U.S. where they are unknown; maybe it’s a crystal meth lab.

The Grand Rapid Press reports that during a routine traffic stop at the eastbound Int. 96 weigh station near Ionia this week, motor carrier officers discovered a large quantity of perishable food being transported in a nonrefrigerated rental truck.

Inspectors discovered a case of Biofeel, a yogurt drink included in a nationwide import alert on dairy products originating from Asia because of the melamine contamination of baby food and milk products in some Asian countries.

Inspectors seized and destroyed more than 2,000 pounds of food products, including tofu, dairy, meat, seafood and noodles. They also seized 200 pounds of beef that had not passed USDA inspection.

And since that video of the Canadian band I like is no longer available on youtube, here’s a different version, circa 1999.

Keep poop out of ice — wash your damn hands

An investigation commissioned by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) Wales found that one in five samples of ice tested from hotels and pubs in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan were contaminated with fecal matter — probably because staff are not washing their hands before serving customers ice in their drinks.

Julie Barratt, director of the CIEH in Wales, said,

“The results of the survey give us cause for concern. Although realistically there is little likelihood of food poisoning from the levels of bacteria that were found, the presence of fecal bacteria shows that the people handing the ice have very poor standards of personal hygiene. While the ice may pose little risk the same may not be true for other foodstuffs that they may also handle. Food business operators and food handlers need to recognise that ice is a food product and treat it in the same way as all other foods prepared for sale to the public.”

The Chartered Institute for Environment Health in Wales has put together these tips for when asking for ice in a drink:

• if the ice is in a bucket on the bar where anyone can lean over it or cough or sneeze on it, don’t have it;

• if the bar tender takes the ice out of the bucket with their hands, don’t have it;

• if the bar tender pushes a glass down into the ice and their hands come into contact with it, don’t have it;

• if the scoop or tongs for handling the ice are not stored properly, don’t have the ice – you wouldn’t chose to have meat cut with a dirty knife;

• if you can see the ice machine, and it looks grubby, don’t have the ice that comes from it; and,

• if the ice bucket looks dirty, don’t have the ice that comes out of it.