Australia’s bromance with Heston may be losing its sheen

It only took a decade.

In late February 2009, complaints from customers who suffered vomiting, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms began pouring into celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s UK restaurant, the Fat Duck.

A report by the UK Health Protection Agency concluded that 529 patrons paying a ridiculous amount of money for food-porn styled dishes were sickened with Norovirus – this at a restaurant that only seats 40 patrons per night — introduced through contaminated shellfish, including oysters that were served raw and razor clams that may not have been appropriately handled or cooked.

Investigators identified several weaknesses in procedures at the restaurant that may have contributed to ongoing transmission including: delayed response to the incident, the use of inappropriate environmental cleaning products, and staff working when ill. Up to 16 of the restaurant’s food handlers were reportedly working with Norovirus symptoms before it was voluntarily closed.

Last week it was announced that Heston Blumenthal’s scandal-plagued Australian restaurant appears doomed after its landlord and financial backer, Crown Casino, said it had moved to terminate its lease.

The company behind the Dinner by Heston restaurant appointed provisional liquidators just before Christmas. It came just days after it missed a deadline with the Fair Work Ombudsman to pay back staff the millions it owed them for underpayment.

In a statement Crown said due to the appointment of the provisional liquidator “it has taken action” to terminate the lease of restaurant owner Tipsy Cake Pty Limited.

“While this is disappointing, Crown is working to provide assistance to Tipsy Cake employees looking for employment within Crown,” a Crown spokeswoman said. “The provisional liquidator of Tipsy Cake, however, will need to deal with employee matters at the first instance.”

In December 2018, a Sunday Age investigation revealed that Dinner by Heston was dramatically underpaying staff and Tipsy Cake, the company that owned the restaurant, was based in a notorious tax haven.

The investigation revealed chefs at the Southbank eatery regularly worked 25 hours of unpaid overtime a week. That pushed pay down to as little as $15 to $17 an hour, well below the minimum rates of the award, the wages safety net.

The Fair Work Ombudsman soon after launched an investigation.

The spokeswoman said Crown would allow customers who purchased Dinner by Heston gift cards to exchange them for Crown gift cards. No timeframe was provided by Crown on when the lease of one of its high-profile tenants would end.

The move to terminate the lease creates further uncertainty for employees who had hoped that Crown may financially support the restaurant to keep it open.

Crown had provided the business – one of its marquee tenants – with a $750,000 interest free loan. Industry sources said the interest free loan could have been used as a way to lure such a high profile business to the casino, boosting its appeal to visitors

Before Christmas Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said it was disappointing that Tipsy Cake had not resolved the underpayment issue before it went into provisional liquidation.

Accounts for the Dinner by Heston restaurant show it has reported persistent losses since opening in Melbourne in 2015.

The accounts disclosed it was dependent on interest free loans from a related company run through a Caribbean tax haven and Crown Melbourne ‘’to continue operating’’.

But its opaque structure – restaurant owner Tipsy Cake is based on the volcanic Caribbean island of Nevis – made it hard to determine the true health of the business.

The ownership of companies incorporated in Nevis is never disclosed so there is no way to know who is behind companies created there.

But the company has said Blumenthal sold his shareholding more than a decade ago but remained its chef patron and “integral’’ to its operation.

Once a hack, always a hack.

RIP Neil.

Predatory journals: A rant by Scott Weese of Worms and Germs Blog

I’m proud of the 70 peer-reviewed journals and book chapters my group published over the years, and none in a predatory journal.

Scott Weese seems to spend his mornings like I dowaking up every day to a variety of invitations to submit to journals.

No good journal does that. They have lots of submissions.

The spam emails highlight the wild west of predatory journals, often with names that try to imitate real journals. Today’s was the “New American Journal of Medicine”, a not-so-subtle variation of the New England Journal of Medicine or the American Journal of Medicine. It looks like that journal has published a total of 8 papers in 2019. I looked at one of them and ‘crap’ is my generous assessment. It’s a paper that recommends a treatment for pregnant women and it’s one page long, does not disclose the funding source, fails to fulfill pretty much every standard reporting requirement for a clinical trial and reports essentially no specific data or analysis. But, it’s ‘published data’ and on someone’s CV.

The state of the scientific literature is pretty messed up. “Show me the study” has been a common refrain, but it’s not as useful these days because anything can get published.

Why?

Too many journals.

Predatory journals.

Profit.

Good journals screen out the weak articles. High impact journals publish a minority (5-25% of submissions…and most often people only send their best papers to those journals). Some journals are still good quality and take lower impact papers that are still good science. Some journals take whatever they can get, trying to screen out the bad science.

Others…they take whatever they can get, as long as the authors can pay. Sadly, there are literally thousands of those.

Some people don’t realize we don’t get paid to write scientific papers. Some journals publish at no cost, but increasingly, there are publication fees that may range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. That, itself, isn’t necessarily the problem. Some journals charge fees so that the papers can be open access (available to anyone, without a need for a subscription). However, some journal charge a couple thousand dollars, make a nice profit and don’t particularly care about the science.

As someone who’s an associate editor, editorial board member and frequent reviewer for many journals, I see the good and bad.

I see papers that should be published accepted.

I see good quality papers rejected by good journals, knowing they’ll still end up in another good journal.

I see bad papers rejected.

However, I also see…

Horrible quality papers rejected that I know will end up published somewhere.

It’s frustrating to be reviewing a paper that’s complete crap, knowing it will find a home in a journal eventually. Yes, it will most likely be in a bottom feeder journal that many of it of us in the scientific community know is dodgy. However, not everyone will realize that and there will still be ‘published data’ to refer back to. Sometimes, that’s just frustrating, because poor quality science shouldn’t be published. However, when it deals with clinical matters (e.g. diagnosis, treatment…) it can be harmful, since poor quality or invalid data shouldn’t form the basis of decisions. Yet, it happens.

There have been a couple ‘stings’, where fake (and clearly garbage) papers have been submitted to journals. The highest profile was one that was published in Science (Bohannon, 2013).  The author submitted a paper to various journals, with the following set-up “Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s short-comings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.” More than 50% of open access journals accepted it.

There are many reasons these dodgy journals are used.

“Publish or perish” isn’t quite true but it’s pretty close. Junior faculty need to show productivity to keep their positions or move into the increasingly elusive tenured positions. Scientific papers is a key metric, because it’s easy to count.

Some people get taken advantage of, not realizing the journal is predatory (or that fees are so high, until after the paper is accepted).

Commercial profit. Companies want to say their products are supported by published data. If the data aren’t any good, the amount of money that it takes to get something published is inconsequential for most companies.

Open access isn’t inherently bad. There are excellent open access journals that charge a couple thousand dollars per paper but have high standards. Open access is ideal as it means the science is available to everyone. It just has to be acceptable science, and that’s where things start to fall apart.

Anyway…enough ranting. I always like to say “don’t talk about a problem without talking about a solution” but I don’t have an easy solution. More awareness is the key, which is why sites that track predatory journals, such as Beall’s List, are important. It’s a good update on a sad state of affairs.

Developing official control in Finnish slaughterhouses, 2018

From a PhD dissertation by Jenni Luukkanen of the University of Helsinki. Here’s hoping the defence last week went well.

Official control in slaughterhouses, consisting of meat inspection and food safety inspection, has an important role in ensuring meat safety, animal health and welfare, and prevention of transmissible animal diseases. Meat inspection in the European Union (EU) includes the inspection of food chain information, live animals (ante-mortem inspection), and carcasses and offal (post-mortem inspection).

Food safety inspections are performed to verify slaughterhouses’ compliance with food safety legislation and are of the utmost importance, especially if slaughterhouses’ self-checking systems (SCSs) fail.

The aim of this study was to investigate the prerequisites for official control such as the functionality of the task distribution in meat inspection and certain meat inspection personnel-related factors. In addition, needs for improvement in slaughterhouses’ SCSs, meat inspection, and food safety inspections, including control measures used by the official veterinarians (OVs) and their efficacy, were examined. In the EU, competent authorities must ensure the quality of official control in slaughterhouses through internal or external audits, and the functionality of these audits was also studied.

Based on our results, meat inspection personnel (OVs and official auxiliaries [OAs]), slaughterhouse representatives, and officials in the central authority were mainly satisfied with the functionality of the present task distribution in meat inspection, although redistributing ante-mortem inspection from the OVs to the OAs was supported by some slaughterhouse representatives due to perceived economic benefit.

Ante-mortem inspection was assessed as the most important meat inspection task as a whole for meat safety, animal welfare, and prevention of transmissible animal diseases, and most of the respondents considered it important that the OVs perform antemortem inspection and whole-carcass condemnation in red meat slaughterhouses.

In a considerable number of slaughterhouses, OA or OV resources were not always sufficient and the lack of meat inspection personnel decreased the time used for food safety inspections according to the OVs, also affecting some of the red meat OAs’ post-mortem inspection tasks. The frequency with which OVs observed post-mortem inspection performed by the OAs varied markedly in red meat slaughterhouses. In addition, roughly one-third of the red meat OAs did not consider the guidance and support from the OVs to be adequate in post-mortem inspection.

According to our results, the most common non-compliance in slaughterhouses concerned hygiene such as cleanliness of premises and equipment, hygienic working methods, and maintenance of surfaces and equipment. Chief OVs in a few smaller slaughterhouses reported more frequent and severe non-compliances than other slaughterhouses, and in these slaughterhouses the usage of written time limits and enforcement measures by the OVs was more infrequent than in other slaughterhouses.

Deficiencies in documentation of food safety inspections and in systematic follow-up of corrections of slaughterhouses’ non-compliance had been observed in a considerable number of slaughterhouses. In meat inspection, deficiencies in inspection of the gastrointestinal tract and adjacent lymph nodes were most common and observed in numerous red meat slaughterhouses. Internal audits performed to evaluate the official control in slaughterhouses were considered necessary, and they induced correction of observed non-conformities. However, a majority of the interviewed OVs considered that the meat inspection should be more thoroughly audited, including differences in the rejections and their reasons between OAs. Auditors, for their part, raised a need for improved follow-up of the audits.

Our results do not give any strong incentive to redistribute meat inspection tasks between OVs, OAs, and slaughterhouse employees, although especially from the red meat slaughterhouse representatives’ point of view the cost efficiency ought to be improved. Sufficient meat inspection resources should be safeguarded in all slaughterhouses, and meat inspection personnel’s guidance and support must be emphasized when developing official control in slaughterhouses. OVs ought to focus on performing follow-up inspections of correction of slaughterhouses’ non-compliance systematically, and also the documentation of the food safety inspections should be developed.

Hygiene in slaughterhouses should receive more attention; especially in slaughterhouses with frequent and severe non-compliance, OVs should re-evaluate and intensify their enforcement.

The results attest to the importance of internal audits in slaughterhouses, but they could be developed by including auditing of the rejections and their underlying reasons and uniformity in meat inspection.

Make it mandatory: More evidence that restaurant inspection disclosure matters

This work describes the relationship between compliance with food hygiene law as reflected in food hygiene scores; measures of microbiological contamination of food samples taken from consumer-facing food businesses in England, Northern Ireland and Wales; and outbreaks of foodborne illness.

This paper demonstrates an association between the results of food hygiene inspections done by trained inspectors, using a rigorous and consistent procedure, with microbiological contamination of actual food samples from those premises. A proposed theoretical model further demonstrates the reduction in foodborne illness that would result if there were increased compliance with food hygiene law.

As clean as they look? Food hygiene inspection scores, microbiological contamination, and foodborne illness

Fleetwood, Janet, Shamim Rahman, Darren Holland, David Millson, Laura, Thomson, Guy Poppy. 2019.

Food Control. 96: 76-86

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2018.08.034

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713518304432

Turkish military under spotlight as food poisoning and accidental deaths increase

Supplying a safe, nutritious, and increasing local food supply to any military outfit is a challenge.

I was privileged for a few years to provide my thoughts to U.S. military food safety types once or twice a year while at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

I made some lasting friendships, and deeply respect the challenges they faced.

Zulfikar Dogan of Ahval News writes that when the Turkish government issued a series of decrees reshaping the country’s institutions in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, none of the bodies it set its eye on were more significant than the Turkish Armed Forces.

The radical changes implemented in the military came under the spotlight last week when 21 commando trainees in the western province of Manisa were hospitalised with food poisoning. This followed mass outbreaks of food poisoning in May and June last year, again in training facilities in Manisa, where more than 1,000 soldiers became ill and one died.

Similar cases of mass food poisoning took place in other barracks across the country around the same time. Several government-linked catering companies have already lost their contracts, and the defence minister at the time, Nurettin Canikli, resolved to review catering tenders and introduce a new procurement procedure.

Now, spurred by this month’s poisonings, Özgür Özel, a member of parliament for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), directed a series of questions in the assembly to Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

He asked whether the new procurement system described by Canikli last year had been put in place, and for information on the food supply at the Manisa barracks and on the companies involved in catering. He also demanded answers on the last date of inspection at the barracks and on the truth of claims that detachments tasked with checking food had been shut down.

But the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rejected opposition proposals to create a special investigation commission and convene the Committee on National Defence in response to the cases of food poisoning.

After the cases of food poisoning, the Turkish Medical Association released a statement drawing attention to the vacuum left when the military medical institutions were turned over to the Ministry of Health. The association called for these institutions to be reopened and returned to the Turkish Armed Forces.

The Turkish Retired Non-Commissioned Officers Association gave its own statement on the matter, stressing that military doctors were soldiers as well as doctors and that the decrees had made the Turkish Armed Forces the only military in the world that did not have dedicated hospitals and doctors. The association also demanded to know whether private companies would be responsible for catering to Turkey’s troops in wartime.

The points Başbuğ and these associations raise are well illustrated by the response to the cases of mass food poisoning in May and June of last year. Since there was not adequate space in Health Ministry facilities to treat the thousands of poisoned troops, hundreds were forced to receive treatment on stretchers outside hospitals.

Similar scenes were replayed after the food poisoning this month. Handing military decision making to the civilian bureaucracy and dissolving military education and medical institutions has resulted in increased casualties.

Surveys still suck: Restaurant inspection disclosure in Singapore

The aim of this study was to examine the consumer use of Singapore’s letter-based grading information disclosure system and its influence on dining establishment choice.

We used data from a national survey of 1533 households collected from 2012 to 2013 in Singapore to assess (i) the proportion of adults who refer to the letter grade before dining and (ii) the impact of the letter grade on their willingness to dine at an establishment. We used multivariable logistic regression to account for the independent effects of socio-demographic factors. The proportion of respondents who referred to a letter grade before dining was 64.5% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 62.1%, 66.9%). Propensity for referral differed by dining frequency, ethnicity and employment.

Fewer respondents were willing to dine at a ‘C’ (lower) graded establishment [10.3% (95% CI = 8.8%, 11.8%)] compared to a ‘B’ graded establishment [85.3% (95% CI = 83.5%, 87.0%)]. Willingness to dine at a ‘C’ graded establishment differed by dining frequency, housing type and citizenship. The letter-based grading information disclosure system in Singapore is commonly used among Singaporeans and influences establishment choice.

Our findings suggest that information disclosure systems can be an effective tool in influencing consumer establishment choice and may be useful to help improve food safety in retail food establishments. The implementation of such information disclosure systems should be considered in other countries where it has yet to be introduced and be periodically assessed for its effectiveness and to identify areas requiring improvements.

Use of the letter-based grading information disclosure system and its influence on dining establishment choice in Singapore: A cross-sectional study

Food Control, Volume 90, August 2018, Pages 105-112, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2018.02.038

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713518300847

 

A foodborne illness outbreak could cost a restaurant millions, study suggests

A single foodborne outbreak could cost a restaurant millions of dollars in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining, a new study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests.

The findings, which will be published online on Apr. 16 in the journal Public Health Reports, are based on computer simulations that suggest a foodborne illness outbreak can have large, reverberating consequences regardless of the size of the restaurant and outbreak. According to the model, a fast food restaurant could incur anywhere from $4,000 for a single outbreak in which 5 people get sick (when there is no loss in revenue and no lawsuits, legal fees, or fines are incurred) to $1.9 million for a single outbreak in which 250 people get sick (when restaurants loose revenue and incur lawsuits, legal fees, and fines).

Americans eat out approximately five times per week, according to the National Restaurant Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year due to food-related illnesses, which are often referred to as food poisoning.

For the study, the researchers developed a computational simulation model to represent a single outbreak of a particular pathogen occurring at a restaurant. The model broke down results for four restaurant types: fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining under various parameters (e.g., outbreak size, pathogen, and scenarios).

The model estimated costs of 15 foodborne pathogens that caused outbreaks in restaurants from 2010 – 2015 as reported by the CDC. Examples of the pathogens incorporated in the model were listeria, norovirus, hepatitis A, E. coli and salmonella. The model ran several different scenarios to determine the impact level ranging from smaller outbreaks that may incur few costs (i.e., no lawsuits and legal fees or fines) to larger outbreaks that incur a high amount of lawsuits and legal fees.

“Many restaurants may not realize how much even just a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost them and affect their bottom line,” says Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at the Bloomberg School. “Paying for and implementing proper infection control measures should be viewed as an investment to avoid these costs which can top a million dollars. Knowing these costs can help restaurants know how much to invest in such safety measures.”

The research team found that a single outbreak of listeria in fast food and casual style restaurants could cost upwards of $2.5 million in meals lost per illness, lawsuits, legal fees, fines and higher insurance premiums for a 250-person outbreak. When looking at the same circumstances for fine dining restaurants, $2.6 million in costs were incurred. The subsequent costs of outbreaks can be major setbacks for restaurants and are sometime irreversible. For example, Chi-Chi’s restaurant went bankrupt and closed their doors in the U.S. and Canada permanently due to a hepatitis A outbreak in 2003. In the past decade, several national restaurant chains have lost significant business due to food-illness outbreaks.

“Even a small outbreak involving five to 10 people can have large ramifications for a restaurant,” says Sarah M. Bartsch, research associate at the Global Obesity Prevention Center and lead author of the study. “Many prevention measures can be simple, like implement adequate food safety staff training for all restaurant employees and apply sufficient sick leave policies, and can potentially avoid substantial costs in the event of an outbreak.”

Pest-infested, filthy eateries going years without inspections in Canberra

A pest-infested and filthy chicken shop is just one of several Canberra eateries found to pose a serious public health risk that have not been inspected in more than a year.

Meanwhile, stretched resources are causing inspectors to audit Canberra restaurants an average of every three years — sometimes as rarely as every five.

Clare Sibthorpe of ABC reports that documents obtained under freedom of information laws outlined a June 2016 inspection report of a chicken takeaway store, revealing pests inside raw ingredients, chicken festering in unsafe temperatures in the heated display, and the storeroom floor covered in exposed food and rubbish.

A build-up of dried meat, juice and scraps were found throughout the store, including on the preparation equipment.

The venue, which was previously investigated for a public food safety complaint, was forced to close while it fixed the critical food-handling and hygiene breaches.

It has not been inspected since re-opening in November 2016 and it is not an isolated case.

Seven of the 19 businesses handed prohibition orders for serious food safety breaches in the past three years have not been reinspected — four of these have closed since their orders were revoked and the remaining three are scheduled for their first check-up in 2018, two years after committing the breaches.

The ACT Government Health Protection Service’s (HPS) executive director, Conrad Barr, said the need to follow up on businesses with poor records depended on individual circumstances.

He said the chicken store was not followed up because it underwent a major refit and no customers had since complained.

As for random inspections, Mr Barr said the HPS aimed to “about every three years, get around to inspect a food business in the territory”.

The HPS’s compliance strategy, dated 2012, said high-risk businesses, including those with poor records, should be inspected annually, which is the same policy in several other parts of Australia.

But Mr Barr said even Canberra’s three-yearly inspection target was “not always achieved”.

“I’m certainly aware of it can be up to five years for [us to inspect] a business … if it is new,” he said.

“We have a small, dedicated pool and if people are unwell or on leave then that decreases the number of people we have to undertake inspections.

“Sometimes we have a lot of complaints that take us away from our programming.”

But he said he was confident the team could effectively respond to any critical issues.

Last year ACT Health received 377 complaints relating to the territory’s 3,126 registered food businesses — down 20 per cent on 2016, but up 45 per cent from 2015.

Lauren Kish will never fully recover from the salmonella poisoning she and her husband caught from a cronut at a Canberra cafe last year.

The infection, which landed Ms Kish in hospital for 10 days, reversed the effect of a critical stem-cell transplant that had halted the progress of her multiple sclerosis, bringing back symptoms such as severe fatigue and disability.

“To know it could have a detrimental effect on my long-term health was really scary,” she said.

“I don’t feel safe going out and venturing out and having a social life like we used to because I’m scared I’m going to get sick again … which my body just can’t afford.”

Public Health Association Australia chief executive Michael Moore called for more resources for the HPS to prevent food illness.

“People would like to know food businesses are inspected much more regularly, particularly if there is a cloud hanging over them,” Mr Moore said.

“Of course we would like to see more staff dedicated specifically to this area.

“While majority of restaurants do the right thing, we can’t be complacent because what will happen is there will be an outbreak.”

Mr Moore, a former ACT health minister and Canberra cafe owner, called for the reintroduction of a “scores on doors” program, where businesses publicly display hygiene ratings based on inspection results.

Restaurant liable in 2011 E. coli outbreak with 5 dead: Food safety disasters nothing new in Japan

In June 1996, initial reports of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Japan surfaced in national media.

By July 1996, focus had centered on specific school cafeterias and two vendors of box lunches, as the number of illnesses approached 4,000. Lunches of sea eel sushi and soup distributed on July 5 from Sakai’s central school lunch depot were identified by health authorities as a possible source of one outbreak. The next day, the number of illnesses had increased to 7,400 even as reports of Japanese fastidiousness intensified. By July 23, 1996, 8,500 were listed as ill.

Even though radish sprouts were ultimately implicated — and then publicly cleared in a fall-on-sword ceremony, but not by the U.S. — the Health and Welfare Ministry announced that Japan’s 333 slaughterhouses must adopt a quality control program modeled on U.S. safety procedures, requiring companies to keep records so the source of any tainted food could be quickly identified. Kunio Morita, chief of the ministry’s veterinary sanitation division was quoted as saying “It’s high time for Japan to follow the international trend in sanitation management standards.”

Japanese health authorities were terribly slow to respond to the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, a standard facilitated by a journalistic culture of aversion rather than adversarial. In all, over 9,500 Japanese, largely schoolchildren, were stricken with E. coli O157:H7 and 12 were killed over the summer of 1996, raising questions of political accountability.

The national Mainichi newspaper demanded in an editorial on July 31, 1996, “Why can’t the government learn from past experience? Why were they slow to react to the outbreak? Why can’t they take broader measures?” The answer, it said, was a “chronic ailment” — the absence of anyone in the government to take charge in a crisis and ensure a coordinated response. An editorial cartoon in the daily Asahi Evening News showed a health worker wearing the label “government emergency response” riding to the rescue on a snail. Some of the victims have filed lawsuits against Japanese authorities, a move previously unheard of in the Japanese culture of deference.

Fifteen years later, with at least four dead and 100 sick from E. coli O111 served in raw beef at the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu barbecue restaurant chain, Japanese corporate, political and media leaders are still struggling.

Anrakutei Co., a Saitama-based yakiniku barbecue chain, stopped serving yukke at its 250 outlets, mainly in the Kanto region, on Tuesday.

“We’ve been providing the dish to customers based on strict quality control, but customers’ concerns make it difficult to continue to serve it,” a public relations official of the company said.

Anrakutei said the company conducts bacteria tests on the Australian beef it uses for yukke three times–first before it is purchased, again before it is sent to the company’s meat processing plant and finally before it is shipped to outlets. At the plant, the meat is processed separately from other food materials to prevent it from coming into contact with bacteria, the company explained.

There is no discussion of what is being tested, and how valid those tests are at picking up a non-O157 shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O111 There is no verification that anyone is testing anything.

In the absence of meat goggles that can magically detect dangerous bacteria, eating raw hamburger remains a risk.

Today, the Tokyo District Court ordered restaurant chain operator Foods Forus Co. to pay ¥169 million ($1.58 million) to the families of three victims who died from food poisoning after eating raw meat at one of its barbecue restaurants in 2011.

While the court awarded damages to the plaintiffs, it ruled that the former president of Foods Forus, which is filing for special liquidation, was not guilty of gross negligence. The plaintiffs had sought around ¥209 million in damages and medical treatment expenses from the company and the former president.

Around 180 customers developed symptoms of food poisoning after dining at six Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu restaurants in four prefectures — Kanagawa, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui — in April 2011. A strain of E. coli, O-111, was found in many of the victims.

Five died due to illness. Nine plaintiffs, including the families of three who died after eating at the outlet in Tonami, Toyama Prefecture, sued the company and the former president in October 2014.

In February 2016, police investigated the former president on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death or injury and sent the case to prosecutors. But the prosecutors decided not to indict him.

The families of the victims are considering filing a petition with a prosecution inquest panel in a bid to overturn the decision.

Restaurant inspection disclosure: Should apply to supermarkers, cafeterias, anywhere food is served

John Cropley of the Daily Gazette writes that state regulators have rolled out a new letter-based grading system for food safety at hundreds of stores across New York state.

Supermarkets and other food retailers must prominently display the rating given to them by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets after inspections by the department’s Division of Food Safety and Inspection. The ratings, and their meanings, are:

A — No critical deficiencies found, store is in substantial compliance with rules. 

B — Critical deficiencies (those creating a risk of foodborne illness) were found but were corrected at time of inspection. 

C — Critical deficiencies were found but were not or could not be corrected. 

The new rule took effect Jan 1. The department requires that the notice of inspection be posted in plain sight near each public entrance to a store; retailer face a $600 fine if they fail to comply. 

Customers can also request their own copies of the inspection notice.

The department said the grades will help customers better understand the sanitary conditions in stores and provide store owners with an educational opportunity.

Agriculture and Markets made the change after meeting with stakeholders, including the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, which has 800 corporate members ranging from supermarkets and convenience stores to wholesalers and cooperatives.

Three major Capital Region food retailers: Price Chopper/Market 32, Hannaford and Stewart’s Shops, all support the new requirements.

Mona Golub, spokeswoman for Price Chopper and Market 32 parent Golub Corp., said it’s a small expansion of existing rules. Supermarkets already were inspected and already were posting the cover page of the inspection reports — behind the customer service counter, in Golub’s case.

The only change is the letter rating, she said, and Golub Corp. endorses it because it will increase customers’ understanding of sanitary conditions in stores.

“We fully support ratings and designations that inform customers of our high food-safety standards,” Golub said.