Food safety is more complex than a cupcake

William L. Hatfield, LEHP, PG, director of Environmental Health for the Boone County Department of Public Health in Rockford, Illinois, writes in this opinion piece that the intent of the public health codes is to prevent illness and injury to the public through preventative actions.

vanilla-cupcake-3The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Understandably, a large part of state and local codes involves the food industry.

In the food industry, inspections of food facilities, food production/storage and food personnel have been the preventative actions most beneficial to the public health. The inspections are intended to be conducted across the board whenever food is being offered to the general public regardless of age, income, intent of the operation or the political viewpoint of the operator.

There has been a lot of publicity recently involving a young person being required to comply with existing food codes to sell cupcakes. Rather than the focus being on the potential danger to the public of food products, the discussion became the age of the operator, entrepreneurship and government regulation.

– The age of the operator is irrelevant. The primary issue remains public health and safety; that is why the codes require a permit, which reimburses the taxpayer for inspection costs. If this young entrepreneur had wanted to operate a taxi service, no one would question the fact that a driver’s license would be necessary and that driving laws would have to be followed. That’s because everyone recognizes the potential danger to the public when it comes to traffic safety.

On the other hand, the general public is not as aware of the dangers involved in food production. Were these cupcakes prepared on a kitchen counter where the baby is changed, the cat is allowed to jump up and the parakeet flies overhead? Were eggs used in the recipe and were they candled grade “A” eggs or from the neighbors chickens? Were proper hygiene practices followed? Were proper techniques utilized to protect from cross-contamination of allergens, etc. Failure to ensure that these types of potential hazards are addressed can cause consumers to be exposed to foodborne illnesses, hospitalization and death.

– Entrepreneurship should be encouraged. However, part of being an entrepreneur is learning what the rules are concerning your selection of products or services. There are many, many products that can be sold with no potential danger to the public and would not require inspections and inspection-related permits. An individual could sell pencils, homemade craft products or offer a personal service such as lawn mowing, etc. Even with these products and services, it’s a good idea to check with local authorities to determine if there are rules to observe.

– Government regulation is not the issue. Most regulations are put into place because they have a decided impact upon public health or safety. The state food code, which came into effect in 1975, was determined to be necessary by our elected legislators to ensure that food being offered to the general public meets a minimum standard for wholesomeness and sanitation.

Regulatory exemptions are not the answer. Carving out exceptions to a long-standing law that was based upon recognized sanitation practices that protect the public from foodborne illnesses accomplishes nothing. In fact, each time an exemption is allowed, the overall protection intended by the original law is weakened. As a result, the code becomes unnecessarily convoluted and complex to the point that both the public and enforcement agencies are confused. Enforcement then is perceived to be selective, which is opposed to the intent of the original law.

The real solution to this type of issue is to remain focused upon the original intent of the legislation and only make those changes that are in harmony with that intent. If evidence and justification exists to deem cupcakes, for instance, to be nonhazardous and constitute no risk to the public, that product should be exempted so that anyone is able to produce and sell them anywhere at any time without regulatory oversight.

Illinois health department shuts down 11-year-old girl’s cupcake business (spoiler alert; there’s a reason)

Chloe Stirling, an 11-year old from Madison County, dreams of one day running her own bakery. Starting at such a young age, the sky is the limit for her baking dreams. And if state and local regulators have their way, that bakery will, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, not be in Illinois.

“Hey, Cupcake!” is Chloe’s first start at a business, and she did well enough to earn $80 a week. But Chloe has been shut down by county regulators for violating onerous rules that vanilla cupcake 3require an 11-year old baker to finance a brand new and dedicated kitchen.

According to Illinois state law, food business run from home can’t be run out of a home kitchen. For an 11-year-old to start toward her dream in Illinois, she needs to overcome piles of regulations. A completely separate kitchen must be set up and outfitted with mandated equipment and supplies. It must then be inspected and issued a permit. It’s not enough for the family’s home kitchen to be inspected and permitted; they must build another kitchen.

Cupcake crazy: flagship bakery shuttered for health violations

I don’t get the cupcake craze. Seems like the S&M variant of food porn.

Just don’t tell that to the patrons of a New York Village cupcake shop that was shut down on Valentines Day after city health inspectors discovered it was in cupcakeviolation of at least five “critical” infractions.

DNA info reports the flagship location of Magnolia Bakery, which has been credited with kicking off the last decade’s cupcake craze for cranking out the fluffy, old-school confections along with others — like icebox cakes and cream pies — was cited for having “evidence of mice or live mice” taking residence in the bakery, 1010 WINS News first reported on Saturday.

Other infractions at the Bleecker Street shop noted on the Health Department’s report, filed Feb. 14, state the presence of rats, “filth flies” or food refuse that would indicate the flies, as well as “food not protected from contamination” during preparation, transportation, storage or display.

The report also said raw or prepared food was cross-contaminated, contaminated, or not discarded properly, another critical offense.

The location, which opened in 1996, was the first of the company’s seven stores which now hawk the famous baked goods from New York to L.A. Last year, the company began shipping the delicious cupcakes, which gained fame with an appearance on “Sex and the City,” nationwide.

That would be the porn connection.

The problems with vermin began only after Hurricane Sandy flooding compromised the store and mice came in, a spokeswoman for the chain said.


I prefer the CAKE version of ‘I Will Survive’ over the E. coli O157 version

Best award for original song remake has to go to Cake’s 1996 version of the Gloria Gaynor disco classic, I Will Survive. Searing guitar solos, an infectious bass line, and the spoken word singing of John McCrea combine to make this an iPod workout favorite. And CAKE was the first concert Amy and I went to in Kansas City and was unexpectedly good.

Dr Karin Heurlier and colleagues at the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham in conjunction with Biolog Inc of California told the Society for General Microbiology’s meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, today that pathogenic strains of E. coli could survive in different conditions compared to the standard laboratory, non-pathogenic strain.

Contamination by foodborne E. coli occurs in processed foods such as ready prepared salads, fermented sausages (e.g. salami), dairy products and fruit juices as well as more usually in raw and partly cooked meat products, indicating that the bacteria are able to survive modern food processing techniques. The researchers found differences between strains in how they responded to antimicrobial compounds, and in their reactions to oxygen availability, acidity and chemical stresses. They could also use different constituents in foods for their nutrition compared to standard laboratory E. coli strains.

"The laboratory E. coli strain K-12 is one of the best understood organisms on Earth," said Dr Heurlier, "But because it has become so used to being grown in laboratory conditions, it may not react to stresses in the same way as pathogenic strains – such as E. coli O157:H7 can. Our research shows that there are definite growth and nutrition differences between E. coli strains and therefore results obtained with laboratory strains may not be typical of what happens in the ‘real’ world."

Army colonel tries old C-ration pound cake, doesn’t get botulism

Field rations for soldiers are designed with two primary motives: 1) providing lots of calories and 2) lasting in a combat zone.

For the most part, taste is greatly sacrificed. But retired Army colonel Henry A. Moak, Jr., thought his 40-year-old C-ration can of pound cake was "good."

Moak got the drab olive can as a Marine helicopter pilot off the Vietnamese coast in 1973. He vowed to hang on to it until the day he retired, storing it in a box with other mementos.

"It’s even a little moist," he said, wiping his mouth after downing a handful in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes following a formal retirement ceremony.

Retired Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, who was the U.S. Army Europe commander when Moak served overseas, took an even bigger piece. "Tastes just like it always did," Mikolashek mumbled with a mouthful of cake as Moak laughed and clapped.

The AP reports,

"Moak said he wasn’t worried about getting sick from any bacteria that may have gotten into the old can, because it looked sealed. But the military discourages eating from old rations.

"’Given the risks … we do everything possible to ensure that overly aged rations are not consumed,’ said Lawrence Levine, a spokesman for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

"Levine named the threats as mold and deadly botulism if the sealing on the food has been broken, which isn’t always visible."

Mold, maybe. Botulism, no; it arises from improper canning initially – or denting later – but not broken seals. (They only open the possibility of contamination to microbes that like air: B. cereus, Lavine…)

Poop-free cakes come from sanitary facilities, safety-minded bakers

I once watched a grandmotherly woman dipping her fingers in a big tub of donut icing and spreading them on fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, as she explained to me that her procedure was much quicker than the spatula-method I was using. That may have been so, but we were working in a retail donut shop where bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat products wouldn’t fly with the health inspectors.

You have the right to treat your own food in any manner you please. But when feeding others, you’re obligated to do all you can to make it safe.

A mom of three in Teaneck, New Jersey, wanted to bake and sell "mortgage apple cakes" to forestall the foreclosure on her home. When more than 500 orders for the $40 cakes came in, Angela Logan was ready to get baking.

But, according to the Associated Press, Teaneck’s health officer notified Logan that it was against state law to use her house as a commercial kitchen.

She would have to bake in a kitchen subject to food safety inspections.

The AP reports that, since the notification, "the Hilton Hasbrouck Heights has allowed Logan to cook in the hotel’s kitchen, where she can produce up to 10 cakes at a time."

That’s very generous of the hotel. I wonder if they gave Logan any food safety training, or just the use of inspected facilities? Both are important if Logan’s customers are going to have their cakes and eat them, too.

Nobody wants to eat poop.

Calif. pistachio plant knowingly shipped Salmonella-tainted nuts for 6 months

What is it with nut processors that they seemingly think they can ship out Salmonella-infested shit and no one will notice?

First it was Peanut Corporation of America, now Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. in California knowingly shipped Salmonella-positive nuts for six months.

In an inspection report released this week, FDA officials said Setton first got results in October showing some of its roasted nuts tested positive for salmonella. But, officials say, it didn’t make proper adjustments to its processing procedures and kept shipping out nuts.

Simpsons, safety, aquavit, Ben and barf

Television’s The Simpson’s on Sunday began with a nice riff about foodborne illness loosely based on the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella-fest, then quickly moved on to immigration and shared cultural values.

There was lots of aquavit.

I was first exposed to aquavit as a 16-year-old when I spent my first of five summers as a carpenter’s helper for two Danish homebuilders in Brantford, Ontario. I learned how to hammer nails efficiently using my 20-ounce Estwing, and I learned the Danish custom of drinking Aalborg aquavit – Danish schnapps, 45 per cent alcohol, I prefer the dill, above, right, over the caraway flavor – while eating pickled herring, and liver pate and beet open-face sandwiches.

Homer says, Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Amy and I still indulge occasionally, especially during losing Kansas State football games.

Ben Chapman first started working in my lab in the summer of 2000. I didn’t know he existed until I invited him and the other lab-types over to the house in September. I brought out the Danish schnapps, and Chapman, eager to make an impression, decided to go drink-for-drink with me. About an hour later, he vomited in my ex’s rose bush.

But, no shame. Homer got hammered by the Norwegians and their aquavit (see the second video below, reminds me of Ben), my friend John Kierkegaard, one of the Danish builders, could drink me under the table.

Don’t eat poop cupcakes and more

Things are winding down at Kansas State University for the year – at least on the teaching side. In the past, Amy and I have planned some exotic trip to France or Canada to get out of Kansas for the summer, but this year, we’re staying fairly put, with baby Sorenne. Maybe she’ll get acclimated to the heat.

On Friday, for the second year now, Amy hosted the Modern Languages departmental end-of-semester soiree, where all the language professors get together in a Tower of Babel sorta thing. Good fun, good food. And in a food porn moment, Katie made language-based cupcakes. What’s your favorite?

(Oh, and the A-Goo cupcake was in honor of baby Sorenne, cause she says that a lot.)

Save Lives: Clean Your Hands

Megan Hardigree, a research associate at Kansas State University working on hand hygiene, writes that this year, Cinco de Mayo wasn’t just a holiday to celebrate the Mexican army’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla (yesterday) or a song by the band, Cake. It was also a day to celebrate the launch of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) newest hand hygiene campaign: Save Lives: Clean Your Hands.

The aim of Save Lives: Clean Your Hands is to stop the spread of infection by increasing hand hygiene of healthcare workers. This is said to be the next step of the original, Clean Care is Safer Care, from 2005. The initiative persuades individuals to join the movement with gain-framed messages (they apparently encourage positive behavior) such as “Help stop hospital acquired infections in your country” and “Make patient safety your number one priority.”

To help support this initiative, WHO has accompanied the promotion with a variety of tools and resources to aid healthcare facilities in promoting and enforcing better hand hygiene. These tools include: tools for system change, tools for training and education, tools for evaluation and feedback, tools as reminders in the workplace, and tools for institutional safety climate. My personal favorite, mostly because of the fun diagram, is in the “tools as reminders in the workplace” which includes “My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene:”

• before touching a patient;
• before clean/aseptic procedures;
• after body fluid exposure/risk;
• after touching a patient; and,
• after touching patient surroundings.

 “Be a part of a global movement to improve hand hygiene, “ says WHO.

Now to evaluate whether any of these messages actually compel people to wash their hands.