8 sick; E. coli outbreak linked to Jimmy John’s in Denver

An outbreak linked to raw sprouts in the U.S. that sickened 140 people occurred between November 2010 into 2011, involving sandwich franchise, Jimmy John’s (CDC, 2011; Illinois Department of Public Health, 2010).

The owner of the Montana Jimmy John’s outlet, Dan Stevens, expressed confidence in his sprouts claiming that because the sprouts amy.sprouts.guelph.05were locally grown they would not be contaminated, although the source of the contaminated sprouts had not yet been identified (KRTV, 2010).

By the end of December 2010 a sprout supplier, Tiny Greens Farm, was implicated in the outbreak (Food and Drug Administration, 2010).

Jimmy John’s owner, John Liautaud, responded by stating the sandwich chain would replace alfalfa sprouts with clover sprouts since they were allegedly easier to clean (Associated Press, 2011c). However, a week earlier a separate outbreak had been identified in Washington and Oregon in which eight people were infected with salmonella after eating sandwiches containing clover sprouts from a Jimmy John’s restaurant (Oregon Department of Human Services, 2011; Terry, 2011). This retailer was apparently not aware of the risks associated with sprouts, or even outbreaks associated with his franchisees.

The FDA inspection of the Tiny Greens facility found numerous issues which may have led to pathogen contamination, including “the company grew sprouts in soil from the organic material decomposed outside without using any monitored kill step on it,” mold was found in the mung-bean sprouting room, and the antimicrobial treatment for seeds was not demonstrated to be equivalent to the recommended FDA treatment (Roos, 2011).

Months later, Bill Bagby Jr, owner of Tiny Greens, was quoted as saying “after the changes we made, it’s next to impossible for anything to happen,” hindering communication efforts by being defensive and overconfident (Des Garennes, 2011; Sandman & Lanard, 2011). Interestingly, Bagby also expressed confidence in sprouts following the German outbreak, commenting that for many like him, the nutritional jimmy.johns_.sprouts-300x225benefits outweigh the risk: “Sprouts are kind of a magical thing. That’s why I would advise people to only buy sprouts from someone who has a (food safety) program in place (that includes outside auditors). We did not have (independent auditors) for about one year, and that was the time the problems happened. The FDA determined that unsanitary conditions could have been a potential source of cross-contamination and so we have made a lot of changes since then.”

At a food safety meeting in Taiwan yesterday, attendees were, of course, served up a huge bowl of raw alfalfa sprouts.

Today, Fox 31 Denver learned exclusively, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDC and the FDA are all investigating an E. coli outbreak in the Denver metropolitan area.

In the second week of October three Jimmy John’s restaurants in the Denver Metro area reportedly served up sandwiches that sickened eight people with E. coli bacteria.

“We believe that their illness came from a produce item that was on those sandwiches that they ate,” said Alicia Cronquit, epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Cronquist said all eight cases were reported between October 18th and 22nd, and all of the people impacted ate at Jimmy John’s between October 7th and 15th.

The Department of Public Health has not closed down the three restaurants, and will not identify their locations because Cronquist says they do not believe the restaurants are at fault.

“Our leading hypothesis for what’s happened is that there was a contaminated produce item that was distributed to the stores,” Cronquist said. “We have not identified any food handling issues at the particular establishments that we think would contribute to illness.”

A local teenager is among those still hospitalized from the E. coli in Denver. Family friends reached out to Fox31 Denver looking for answers as to why the public had not been notified. We took that question to state health officials and they told us it’s because the tainted food no longer appears to be a threat.

When contacted by Fox 31 News a Jimmy John’s corporate representative declined to comment on the outbreak.


Go on a restaurant inspection ride-along with a Denver health-type

9news reports that “Restaurant Impossible,” “Bar Rescue” and “The Health Inspectors” are just a few of the shows that are on television right now that show rat-ridden, cockroach infested facilities and restaurants.

Because of that, the Denver EnvironmentalHealth Department wants consumers to know that’s not common place. They’re now offering a free, food-inspection ride-along program where people can go on a restaurant inspection and see what it’s really like.

To find more information about the ride-along program go to denvergov.org/phi.

You can also look for a favorite facility online by visiting www.denvergov.org/phi and searching by name, or even the approximately vicinity the facility is located in if you can’t remember.

Keeping tabs on Denver’s restaurant-inspection policy

The frictions between the Denver health types and the city’s restaurants are thoroughly covered in a feature by Lori Midson of Denver Westword News. Brief excerpts below:

On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, the first complaint came in. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment received a call from a diner who had recently eaten at Osteria Marco and claimed to have fallen ill because of that meal. The CDPHE reported the call to the Denver OsteriaDepartment of Environment and Health, the city agency that ensures Denver food-service establishments are in compliance with state and federal laws, as well as all city regulations.

The DEH sent investigator Thuy Vu and a rep of Denver Public Health to Osteria Marco; she initially noted that an “unknown pathogen” was the suspected culprit. But she would soon report that “based on interviews conducted by DPH, [the] suspected pathogen is norovirus or noro-like virus.”

Owner Frank Bonanno, one of Denver’s most successful restaurateurs, was out of town when the trouble started. Denver health officials were “demanding all of our OpenTable guest information, including phone numbers,” he says, and also requesting anal swabs from several Osteria employees. “DPH conducted interviews of two ill employees, both of whom refused the request from DEH and DPH to submit specimen samples from rectal swabs and bulk stool samples,” Vu noted.

In that same March 29 report, Vu detailed other critical violations she’d observed at Osteria Marco, including “bare hand contact on ready-to-eat foods, hands not washed as required, hand sinks used to dump customer water, use of unpasteurized raw shell eggs in cocktails, improper cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous foods, and evidence of pests (fruit flies/phorid flies).” Moreover, she noted, the “general manager also reported that nine employees (kitchen and waitstaff) called in sick within five days,” in addition to “another large party” that “called the facility directly to complain about a separate, unrelated incident of foodborne illness.”

A follow-up inspection of Osteria Marco on March 30 resulted in a cease-and-desist order for bare-hand contact on ready-to-eat foods, as well as a request for the name of every other Bonanno employee who worked not just at Osteria Marco, but Mizuna, Bones, Luca d’Italia, Lou’s Food Bar, Russell’s Smokehouse and Green Russell. “During the course of the March 29 visit to Osteria Marco to investigate the illness complaint, the investigator learned that there were a number of employees who worked at Osteria restaurant.inspectionMarco and other Bonanno Concepts facilities who had recently been ill,” explains Danica Lee, food program manager at DEH and an official with whom the outspoken Bonanno already had a rocky relationship. (“Yes, Danica, I’m mean” was the start of one of Bonanno’s blog posts in May.)

Bob McDonald, the city’s director of public-health inspections and a twenty-year veteran of the DEH, says his inspectors had every reason to look into Bonanno’s other establishments. “When Osteria’s outbreak came to my attention,” he adds, “I instructed inspectors to check out Frank’s other restaurants. With chains like that, it’s common that there are cross-employees.” …

In 2008, there were 9,003 food-service inspections conducted in the City and County of Denver, and the total fines collected amounted to $122,335; in 2009, the department inspected 7,811 food-service establishments, collecting $157,690. In 2010, the health department conducted 8,211 inspections, generating $118,995 in fines. But in 2011, when the Denver health department conducted 8,090 inspections, it managed to collect $731,900 in fines. And 677 restaurants were fined in 2011, compared to 315 in 2008. …

But as the fines increased, so did complaints from restaurants — particularly restaurants owned by Frank Bonanno. “Frank has a challenging personality,” McDonald says. “I would encourage him to spend as much energy focusing on correcting violations and keeping them corrected and less time on arguing and fighting with health inspectors, whose job it is to make food-service safety a priority.”…

While Bonanno, who regularly cooks at all of his restaurants, still gets cranky about some of the department’s policies, he and his staffs are doing everything they “possibly can to comply with the health department,” he says. “We have a checklist for every restaurant, and every day, the chef or the sous chef goes through the checklist and basically does an inspection of things that we used to get dinged for — making sure the hand sink is clean, making sure that gloves are available everywhere in the kitchen.

“If you stay on top of things, and if the health department is more understanding about what really makes people sick — none of us want to do that — then I think we can have a good relationship,” he adds. “I hope that 2013 is a better year for all of us.”

Denver restaurant safety violations plunge as inspection fines rise

Food safety is a mixture of carrots and sticks, but is the stick alone cleaning up Denver restaurants?

The Denver Post reports that food-safety violations at Denver restaurants have dropped sharply, and fines have soared under a controversial change in the way Denver regulates its dining establishments.

The number of critical violations that could lead to food poisoning has fallen 43 percent since the policy was implemented last year.

Restaurant owners are hopping mad over the fines they’re paying, even as Denver regulators laud the policy’s effectiveness.

"It looks like it’s working," said Doug Linkhart, manager of the Denver Department of Environmental Health. "We are very excited about that trend."

Since the new system took effect Jan. 1, 2011, critical violations have dropped from a peak of 3,267 in the second quarter of 2011 to 1,847 in the second quarter of 2012. Expressed in a different measure, the number of critical violations per inspection has fallen from 1.7 to 1.

However, the restaurant industry says the switch is a financial burden on owners and is unfairly enforced.

Owners initially supported the shift to higher fines in place of the unpopular previous policy that required restaurants to post notices of critical violations. Now their tone has changed after seeing that fine collections soared from $118,995 in 2010 to $731,900 in 2011.

"We don’t agree with the penalty system anymore," said Pete Meersman, president and chief executive of the Colorado Restaurant Association. "The fines are too high and too frequent, and there is rapidly growing animosity between restaurant operators and health inspectors."

Until last year, the health department used a system in which restaurants with a pattern of critical violations were required to post a notice of the violations for 30 days. Critical violations include leaving foods at temperatures that promote bacterial growth or poor hygienic practices by workers.

Restaurateurs hated the posting procedure because in most cases the violations were corrected before the notices were posted. The result was that patrons would be scared away by problems that no longer existed, industry officials said.

Restaurants called for a change. They negotiated for 18 months with Denver officials, eventually agreeing to the new system that allows the city to impose a fine of $250 if the same critical violation is found twice in a 12-month period. The fine rises to $500 for third or subsequent violations. Unchanged is the health department’s ability to issue a $2,000 fine or close an establishment for an imminent public health risk.

Dining in Denver: new safety rules served to restaurants

Denver is going forward with a lousy restaurant inspection disclosure system that is more protective of restaurant owners than consumers.

Bob McDonald, director of the city’s public health inspections division, told the Denver Business Journal the idea is to more quickly penalize and bring about correction of the most severe health violations, and to allow restaurants with less health-endangering issues to correct theirs with less public notice. McDonald worked with the Colorado Restaurant Association for 18 months to create the new rules.

Under the new rules, critical violations will leave restaurants subject to fines for a second citation but not public notices.

Pete Meersman, president/CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said his members have lobbied for changes to what they saw as an “unfair” system.

Under the new rules, the most-serious violators will be punished the most seriously, and the less-serious violators will be punished with fines but not the massive loss of business that can come with a public notice on their front doors.

“Owners … felt the adverse effect the postings had on their business was overly punitive for the issues involved.”

Raw milk sickens Colorado kids

The Denver Post reports this morning, at first, Mary Pierce (right, photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post) thought her 2-year-old couldn’t stop throwing up because she had a typical stomach bug. A few days later, she watched in terror as the lethargic little girl was rushed by helicopter to The Children’s Hospital, her little kidneys shutting down.

Then Nicole’s 5-year-old brother, Aaron, fell ill, following her into the hospital and onto a dialysis machine. The cause of their potentially deadly illness: drinking raw goat’s milk from a local dairy.

"I’m not a typical Boulder person," Pierce said. "We were just trying it because my son is allergic to dairy. We’re not going near it anymore. … It’s not worth it. You can’t understand until it’s your kid lying in the bed."

The outbreak in June that sent the Pierce children to the hospital for three weeks and sickened about 30 others has state health officials ramping up efforts to warn people against drinking unpasteurized milk.

There are lots of foods that make people sick, and people are free to pick their poisons. But if raw milk is about choice, then pasteurized milk is safer and more affordable. And it’s always the kids that suffer from their parents’ choices.

Undercooked eggs in rattlesnake cake linked to salmonella outbreak at fancy Colorado restaurant; dozens sick

I don’t know what rattlesnake cake is but like other cakes, it contains eggs – eggs that need to be cooked to reduce the risk of salmonella.

CBS4 in Denver reports more than two dozen people who ate at The Fort in Morrison, Colorado, last month got sick (there’s a photo gallery and it apparently involves patrons wearing hats).

Officials believe it was caused by undercooking eggs — in particular for one specialty of the house. So far there are eight confirmed cases of salmonella and 20 listed as probable.

The Fort is designed like, uh, a fort from the 1800s and its cuisine reflects the period. In 1997 at the Summit of the Eight, then President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin were among those who dined there.

According to the menu, the “Diamondback Rattlesnake Cake (similar to a crab cake) topped with a sweet and spicy avacodo relish and cilantro micro greens, served with Dixon chile aoli. $25 (subject to availability).”

Dr. Mark Johnson, Jefferson County Health executive director, said

"Testing did show that the batter that was used in preparation of one of the foods did have eggs in it that did test positive for the same type salmonella that the case had."

The restaurant quickly removed the item from its menu, but one person CBS4 spoke to who did not eat the rattlesnake cakes became ill with the salmonella bacteria and had to be hospitalized several days.

Through reservations the Jefferson County Health Department tracked down some 90 people who dined at the restaurant. It did not issue a public warning and the restaurant was not closed.

Holly Arnold Kinney, who describes herself as the Proprietress of The Fort Restaurant, said in a statement,

"Our deepest sympathy goes out to our customers who were affected by this illness. We hold the highest standards and consider each customer a guest in our home, The Fort. These were isolated confirmed cases of food borne illness. The one food item suspected was immediately removed from our menu. We are working closely with the Jefferson County Health Department adhering to all recommendations to make our preparation of food as safe as possible. There are no other concerns. I’m sorry we are not able to provide you with an on-air interview. Contact the Jefferson County Health Department for any other information."

The Proprietress scores well for a strong opening statement of empathy but low for the fluff about standards, especially if 27 people are barfing and especially if the cause is something as routine as eggs. The Proprietress demonstrates how the rattlesnake cakes are made on The Today show, below, in April.

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It’s 4:20 somewhere: dinner and a buzz at Denver’s Ganja Gourmet

The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the latest "Dinner Buzz Specials" at the Ganja Gourmet, was described as,

"Start with our ganjanade [ganja tapenade], bread and a fat dank joint! Then choose from a slice of pizza or LaGanja [lasagna]. Then top it off with a Ganja Gourmet dessert, your choice, $30."

Technically, the Ganja Gourmet is a medical marijuana dispensary, one of many that have sprung up this year throughout Colorado.

Nine years after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, state health officials decided in July to end a five-patient limit for marijuana suppliers. The numbers of both registered patients and dispensaries have exploded.

At least 15,000 people have applied to join the 15,800 already on the state registry of patients. Although no official tally exists of the number of new dispensaries, dozens have opened — so many that Westword, a Denver newspaper, hired two critics to review them.

Ganja Gourmet owner Steve Horwitz, a 51-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native who said he has used marijuana since his teens to cope with attention-deficit disorder, said,

"I already knew I loved to eat pot."

His chefs "medicate" the dishes by cooking them with butter or olive oil infused with marijuana. The infusion process can take several days of simmering an ounce of marijuana in one pound of butter or one cup of oil.

Horwitz remains convinced of a bright future; his pipe dream is to eventually ship his creations all over the country.

"I’ll be the Omaha Steaks of medical marijuana.”

E. coli at Denver Stock Show came from kids’ area; do people know the risks with petting zoos?

The Denver Post reports that exposure to animals at Denver’s National Western Stock Show was the likely cause of an E. coli outbreak that occurred in the Denver area in January and February, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said today.

Specifically, contact with animals in the "Feed the Animals" exhibit on the third floor children’s area of the exposition center was probably where the outbreak originated, according to the extensive 15-page report.

A total of 30 cases were identified.

Children were disproportionately affected in the outbreak, suggesting a source that children would likely have more contact with than adults.

The report noted that the third floor children’s area of the expo center had a variety of exhibits geared towards children, including pony rides, a playground area, cages housing rabbits and poultry, educational exhibits, and hands-on activities.

In addition, food vendors were also located on the floor.

One of the exhibits was the "Feed the Animals" exhibit, where calves, goats, lambs, pigs and other farm animals were brought in from private owners located throughout the region. …

There were opportunities throughout the day for the visitors to feed the animals.

While feeding the animals was not a risk for illness, touching them put the visitors at higher risk of developing E. coli infection.

The investigators said that while hand sanitizer dispensers were readily available in the "Feed the Animals" area, and there were numerous signs instructing visitors to practice hand hygiene, the use of the sanitizers "was not protective against the illness."

In addition, handwashing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels were not readily available in the area.

There were no signs that warned that animals could cause disease or any that specifically cautioned against sipping from cups or eating or drinking in the animal contact areas as well as the use of strollers in that area.

The investigators suggested that such signs be posted in the future.

Denver Bronco’s Tony Scheffler stricken with E. coli

Denver Broncos tight end Tony Scheffler went to the Pro Bowl to tag along with teammates Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler but was admitted to hospital upon returning.

Testing revealed he was suffering from E. coli, a bacteria that affected his lower intestine. The tight end might have picked up the bacteria during a visit to the Denver stock show, if not during his Hawaiian trek.

Scheffler was released after a three-day hospital stay and is returning to normal.