Worsening mouse plague sees ‘thirsty’ rodents dying in Australian water tanks sparking health fears

As southeast Queensland experiences one of the wettest springs in years, rural residents are raising concerns about potentially contaminated drinking water after finding poisoned mice in their tanks, as the mouse plague continues to worsen.

Lucy Thackray of ABC reports frustrated landholders are continuing to try to reduce mice populations with rigorous baiting programs, but the problem isn’t showing any signs of slowing.

Louise Hennessy, from Elong Elong in Central West NSW, has issued a warning to other rural residents about potential health implications for humans and animals after finding baited mice in her drinking supply.

She made the discovery when she climbed up her house tank to check a blockage and was immediately overwhelmed by a revolting smell.

“It was so horrifying, I thought it would make a good picture to remind people to be vigilant about their water tanks,” Ms Hennessy said.

“We always filter the water going into our house from the tanks, so for us personally we feel we’ve covered our precautions so we didn’t notice anything with the taste. But the smell of the mice at the top of the tank was so disgusting.”

Dubbo Regional Council’s environment and health officer Simone Tenne said people often did not consider drinking water contamination.

“Rainwater tanks are perceived to be a clean source of drinking water, but they often have frogs in them, insects, a large amount of bird faeces which has come down off the roof,” Ms Tenne said.

“The public health sector recommends people do some form of treatment whether it be chlorination, a bit of acidification or some sort of filtration to avoid getting bacteria inadvertently through drinking contaminated water.”

Ms Tenne said health issues could be triggered by mice in drinking water.

31 children get Salmonella from contaminated cordial in Australia, 2014

I didn’t know what cordial was until I came to Australia, and started drinking it as manufactured, when it is supposed to be diluted about 4:1. I prefer fizzy water with the lime cordial.

An outbreak of salmonellosis occurred following attendance at a school camp between 5 and 8 August 2014 in a remote area of the Northern Territory, Australia. We conducted a retrospective cohort study via telephone interviews, using a structured questionnaire that recorded symptoms and exposures to foods and activities during the camp. A case was anyone with laboratory confirmed Salmonella Saintpaul infection or a clinically compatible illness after attending the camp.

Environmental health officers from the Environmental Health Branch undertook an investigation and collected water and environmental samples. We interviewed 65 (97%) of the 67 people who attended the camp. There were 60 students and 7 adults. Of the 65 people interviewed, 30 became ill (attack rate 46%); all were students; and 4 had laboratory confirmed S. Saintpaul infection. The most commonly reported symptoms were diarrhoea (100% 30/30), abdominal pain (93% 28/30), nausea (93% 28/30) and fever (70% 21/30). Thirteen people sought medical attention but none required hospitalisation. Illness was significantly associated with drinking cordial at lunch on 7 August (RR 3.8, 95% CI 1.3-11, P < 0.01), as well as drinking cordial at lunch on 8 August (RR 2.1, 95% CI 1.1-4.2, P=0.01). Salmonella spp. was not detected in water samples or wallaby faeces collected from the camp ground.

The epidemiological investigation suggests the outbreak was caused by environmental contamination of food or drink and could have occurred during ice preparation or storage, preparation of the cordial or from inadequate sanitising of the cooler from which the cordial was served. This outbreak highlights the risks of food or drink contamination with environmental Salmonella. Those preparing food and drink in campground settings should be vigilant with cleaning, handwashing and disinfection to prevent outbreaks of foodborne disease.

An outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul gastroenteritis after attending a school camp in the Northern Territory, Australia

Commun Dis Intell Q Rep 2017 Mar 31;41(1):E10-E15. Epub 2017 Mar 31. Anthony Dk Draper, Claire N Morton, Joshua Ni Heath, Justin A Lim


Be the bug, easy to figure out: Charges laid over NZ gastro outbreak

In August, 2016, 5,200 people were sickened with Campylobactor  after the Havelock North, NZ, water supply was contaminated.

vomit-dontLast week, the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s public health unit followed up reports of a gastro illness circulating in the community.

On Nov. 18, 2016 Hawke’s Bay Regional Council laid charges against a party for alleged offences uncovered in the course of its investigation into the contamination of Havelock North drinking water.

The charges were laid after the council investigated the source of the contamination that resulted in more than 5000 people getting sick, and the condition of water supply bores in the area.

The council said its investigations had found evidence of a breach of the maintenance conditions of the party’s resource consent. If a breach was proved, the resource consent no longer permitted the taking of water.

The council has commenced a prosecution against the party, alleging the unlawful taking of water from the aquifer arising from the alleged failure to meet well head maintenance conditions.

Council chief executive Andrew Newman said the drinking water contamination has had a devastating effect on the Havelock North community with wider regional impacts and the council was “very keen to see the cause of the contamination identified and to ensure it does not happen again”.  

He said his council had more than 15 people working on its investigations.

These included council scientists, and Environmental Science Research (ESR) with expertise in the environment, land use, water and climate, as well as dye tracing experts.

He said their investigations had included surface and groundwater quality, the bore infrastructure, water pathways in the local environment and livestock in nearby paddocks.

Michigan man charged with sprinkling poison on food at stores

The man suspected of sprinkling a combination of mouse poison, hand sanitizer and water on produce in grocery stores in Michigan was arraigned on Thursday in district court in Ann Arbor, Mich., on four felony counts of poisoning food and drink.

mouse.poison.ann_.arbor_Kyle Andrew Bessemer, 29, was arrested after he was identified by members of the public when images from surveillance video showing him in a grocery store with a red shopping basket were published online, the F.B.I. and the local police announced on Tuesday.

The authorities said Mr. Bessemer, of Ann Arbor, had intentionally contaminated food in open food bars and produce sections by spraying the items with the mixture at stores, including a Whole Foods Market, a Meijer and a Plum Market, over the last two weeks.

It was not clear if anyone had been sickened by the poison or how it had been detected. The authorities did not provide a motive.

The announcement that someone had randomly doused self-serve food sent a shudder of concern throughout the food industry, which is well aware of the unintentional contamination associated with people serving themselves from common bowls and trays, said Michael Doyle, the director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

Consumers lean in and heap their plates, some without utensils. People sneeze into the food. Some scoop up a little taste with their fingers. Strands of hair, from scalps or beards, can drift down into the serving bowls. Mr. Doyle said his wife once found a Band-Aid in a salad.

“I try to avoid them,” he said, referring to salad bars and buffets.

Contaminated Skittles sold at Indiana store; 2 treated for burning throats, diarrhea

I’ve always been a Smarties type, but for some of my kids, who maybe watched the South Park movie at an impressionable age, Skittles brings them to hysterical laughter.

Not so much fun for the two people who ate from a package of contaminated Skittles required hospital treatment for burning throats, cramping and diarrhea, Indiana authorities big_gay_als_big_gay_boat_ridesaid Wednesday night.

The Indiana State Department of Health said in a news release that preliminary tests showed that packages of Skittles sold at a Marathon Food Mart in Richmond had some kind of chemical substances, though what exactly those substances were has yet to be confirmed.

Investigators also don’t yet know if the package of candy was tampered with, but Indiana State Police, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have joined the investigation, Health Department spokesman Amy Reel said.

Authorities are advising people who purchased Skittles with the lot numbers 08JUL14 023 or 01DEC14 023 not to consume the candy but to place the package in an envelope, hold it in a secure location and contact Indiana State Police.

Tracking device found in NZ chocolate; ‘sounds like a lunatic friend with personal issues’

A high-tech tracking device embedded in a slab of chocolate is among hundreds of bizarre complaints about foreign objects found in food.

Among the most unsavoury items was a condom found in a KFC meal, worms and maggots on supermarket pork and a sticking plaster on pizza.

Information obtained by the Herald on Sunday revealed 201 complaints of food safety breaches had been investigated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) since January last year.

Paragon Investigations director Ron McQuilter said the tracking device would have been highly technical and expensive because devices that tiny were difficult to find.
"Something that small isn’t normal," said McQuilter. "I’m imagining it would be very high-tech which means it will be expensive."

He suggested it could have been taken from animal researchers or made at home then placed in the chocolate to trace the woman’s movements.

"It sounds like a lunatic friend with personal issues going on as opposed to someone at Whittaker’s doing it," said McQuilter.

A KFC customer claimed to have found a condom in their quarter pack meal from Hamilton’s Frankton store in February last year, Restaurant Brands spokeswoman Jo Bell said.

As a result, KFC has installed cameras in all of its stores’ kitchens, serving and customer areas.

Food Safety New Zealand consultant Suresh Din encouraged customers to inform authorities about foreign objects in their food, poisoning or a lack of hygiene.

Blame it on the rain

For the past decade fresh produce has consistently been at the top of the list of foods linked to outbreaks. Tomatoes, melons, leafy greens, fresh herbs and berries leading to illnesses all seem to make an appearance just about annually. Even though they aren’t really fresh produce, low moisture seeds and have also been in the game.

When it comes to production or minimally-processed linked outbreaks (like this, this and this) water is often fingered as a contamination factor. Either irrigation, wash or rain. barfblog friends and contributors Michelle Danyluk and Linda Harris co-authored some work pointing to wet orchards (from rain, a fairly uncommon event during almond harvest season) as a potential enabler for Salmonella migration through almond hulls and shells and into the kernel (the edible part).

In the most recent issue of Journal of Food Protection, rain enthusiast Michelle is at it again, coauthoring an investigation of the ability of rain to spread Salmonella Typhimurium from plastic mulch to a tomato plant.

Dispersal of Salmonella Typhimurium by rain splash onto tomato plants


Journal of Food Protection, Volume 75, Number 3, March 2012 , pp. 472-479(8)

Cevallos-Cevallos, Juan M.; Danyluk, Michelle D.; Gu, Ganyu; Vallad, Gary E.; van Bruggen, Ariena H.C.

Abstract: Outbreaks of Salmonella enterica have increasingly been associated with tomatoes and traced back to production areas, but the spread of Salmonella from a point source onto plants has not been described. Splash dispersal by rain could be one means of dissemination. Green fluorescent protein-labeled, kanamycin-resistant Salmonella enterica sv. Typhimurium dispensed on the surface of plastic mulch, organic mulch, or soil at 108 CFU/cm2 was used as the point source in the center of a rain simulator. Tomato plants in soil with and without plastic or organic mulch were placed around the point source, and rain intensities of 60 and 110 mm/h were applied for 5, 10, 20, and 30 min. Dispersal of Salmonella followed a negative exponential model with a half distance of 3 cm at 110 mm/h. Dispersed Salmonella survived for 3 days on tomato leaflets, with a total decline of 5 log and an initial decimal reduction time of 10 h. Recovery of dispersed Salmonella from plants at the maximum observed distance ranged from 3 CFU/g of leaflet after a rain episode of 110 mm/h for 10 min on soil to 117 CFU/g of leaflet on plastic mulch. Dispersal of Salmonella on plants with and without mulch was significantly enhanced by increasing rain duration from 0 to 10 min, but dispersal was reduced when rainfall duration increased from 10 to 30 min. Salmonella may be dispersed by rain to contaminate tomato plants in the field, especially during rain events of 10 min and when plastic mulch is used.

I don’t read this as "don’t eat tomatoes grown on plastic mulch that were rained on for 10 min" but info like this could be important to outbreak investigators trying to link an outbreak to a cadre of causative events.

Pins in packets; chip contamination scare

Police are investigating the suspected deliberate contamination of a number of snack food packets, believed to be potato chips, at a Melbourne supermarket last week.

A police spokeswoman confirmed officers were working with the Department of Health and the manufacturer to determine whether the contamination was deliberate.

A caller to 3AW’s rumor file today claimed that pins, needles and paper clips were found inside three packets of chips in the supermarket.

The police spokeswoman could not confirm the location of the supermarket or any further details about the investigation, however said the "safety of consumers is paramount."

No public health warning has been issued.

Bugs and band-aids, maggots and worms, all in Labor Day hot dogs

Maggots, worms, metal, plastic and even a razor were just a few of the objects that horrified callers said were in their hot dogs in complaints lodged with the U.S. Department of Agriculture between 2007 and 2009.

Stephen Rex Brown of The Local East Village filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009 asking USDA to give up its ‘dirty-dog logs.’ The 64 case files finally came in this week, just in time for the Labor Day holiday.

One report told of a “winged insect that resembled a dragonfly inside the package of hot dogs,” and noted that the insect’s “head, eyes, and wings are visible. Insect is black in color, over 1-inch long.”

In the vast majority of cases, U.S.D.A. investigators determined that the gross-out did not indicate a pattern of neglect at the packing plant, and simply notified the company that handled the hot dog.

But on at least one occasion, even the federal officials in charge of inspecting food became the subjects of an investigation. As one document from June 13, 2008 reveals, a Food Safety Inspection Service employee bit into a rogue hot dog at an “F.S.I.S. Unity Day” cookout in Maryland.

A spokesman for the Hot Dog and Sausage Council, speaking frankly about the matter, said foreign objects in hot dogs were a very rare occurrence, especially given the roughly 20 billion wieners made every year. According to the Council, between Memorial Day and Labor Day — known as “hot dog season” within the industry — roughly 818 hot dogs are consumed every second.

Washing with contaminated soap increases bacteria on hands

People who wash their hands with contaminated soap from bulk-soap-refillable dispensers can increase the number of disease-causing microbes on their hands and may play a role in transmission of bacteria in public settings according to research published in the May issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"Hand washing with soap and water is a universally accepted practice for reducing the transmission of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. However, liquid soap can become contaminated with bacteria and poses a recognized health risk in health care settings," says Carrie Zapka from GOJO Industries in Akron Ohio, the lead researcher on the study that also included scientists from BioScience Laboratories in Bozeman, Montana and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers, in which new soap is poured into a dispenser, are the predominant soap dispenser type in community settings, such as public restrooms. In contrast to sealed-soap dispensers, which are refilled by inserting a new bag or cartridge of soap, they are prone to bacterial contamination and several outbreaks linked to the use of contaminated soap have already been reported in healthcare settings.

In this study Zapka and her colleagues investigated the health risk associated with the use of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers in a community setting. They found an elementary school where all 14 of the soap dispensers were already contaminated and asked students and staff to wash their hands, measuring bacteria levels before and after handwashing. They found that Gram-negative bacteria on the hands of students and staff increased 26-fold after washing with the contaminated soap.

Zapka notes that all the participants’ hands were decontaminated after testing by washing with uncontaminated soap followed by hand sanitizer. At the conclusion of the study, all the contaminated soap dispensers were replaced with dispensers using sealed-soap refills. After one year of use, not one of them was found to be contaminated.

A copy of the research article can be found online at http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/full/77/9/2898.