Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck continues to blame others for over 500 getting sick in his restaurant; manuals are not the basis of food safety

When naïve me and my students started out to improve the microbial safety of Ontario greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers back in 1997, the former of which still dominate the Manhattan (Kansas) marketplace, we thought, OK, we’ll make a food safety manual.

We had another idea, which was to actually go out and talk to people, and we found out the manual pretty much stayed on the shelves.

So when Heston Blumenthal, a UK chef who says that after 529 people barfed from norovirus at his famed Fat Duck restaurant,

“Our staff training manual very clearly lays out a 48-hour return to work policy – you don’t come back to work until 48 hours after you feel better – and I don’t know many restaurants that do that,”

I sorta wanna barf. People don’t read manuals and they don’t follow them. And why would anyone pay a couple hundred bucks to eat at this dude’s restaurant when he had no idea of food safety or sourcing food from safe supplies.

To me, Heston Blumenthal sounds like that rapper douche, Chris Brown, who keeps popping up to say he don’t know what happened when he beat his girlfriend at the time, Rihanna, but that people are still supposed to listen to him.

Heston, the famed chef of The Fat Duck, told This is London in a story published yesterday,

Legal constraints during the investigation by the Health Protection Agency, and again during further investigative work by insurers, effectively gagged him.

It’s clear that he found this enormously frustrating, and hated not being able to talk.

"The insurance company just put a big veil over everything too. For a while, I wasn’t allowed to go to Bray because the place was crawling with reporters."

The source was eventually traced to a specific strain of norovirus, or vomiting bug, found in oysters served in two dishes – "Jelly of Oyster and Passionfruit with Lavender", and the "Sound of the Sea".

"The report insinuated things that I find really frustrating," says Blumenthal. "For example, that people were back at work while they were physically ill.

"Now, our staff training manual very clearly lays out a 48-hour return to work policy – you don’t come back to work until 48 hours after you feel better – and I don’t know many restaurants that do that.

"I’d say there’s no other restaurant in the history of Britain that’s gone through such an investigation and then had the results released fully to the public in such detail."

"You have to ask the question: how is it that oysters are allowed to be harvested from waters containing sewage – at low levels, but sewage nevertheless – when this thing is so horrendously contagious?

"You only need one spore, and an oyster with a virus is still a glisteningly fresh clean oyster. It has no smell, and it’s very hard to test for."

It’s not a spore, it’s a virus. And since it’s so hard to test for, maybe you shouldn’t serve oysters raw if you don’t want your customers to barf.

Oh and Heston, I played with liquid nitrogen 25 years ago doing DNA sequencing; doesn’t make you a rock star; especially if over 500 people barf on your watch.

As the U.K. Health Protection Agency concluded earlier this year,

Delays in notification of illness may have affected the ability of the investigation to identify the exact reason for the norovirus contamination??????.

As I’ve said, it’s the chef’s responsibility to source food from safe sources. If the chef thinks raw shellfish is a smart thing to serve, and to have sick workers working, then customers get what they pay for.

The Fat Duck Cookbook has no suggestions on how to avoid norovirus and barfing on expensive food

A review of Heston Blumenthal’s, The Fat Duck Cookbook, appeared in this morning’s edition of the U.K. Independent newspaper.

Among the highlights:

“Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook is presumably intended as a souvenir for those who have laid out £130 on the Tasting Menu at Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Bray. At least it will give them a lasting memory of the meal. From several Fat Duck customers, I have heard complaints that they were far from replete after the experience. Though it is called a cookbook, scarcely anyone will ever cook from this volume. Many dishes call for specialist equipment and recondite ingredients. A dessert called Lime Grove requires liquid nitrogen, a Dewar flask, malic acid and high methoxyl confectioner’s pectin. Even the simpler dishes call for more time and application than anyone but an extreme culinary obsessive will want to spend. “

No mention in the review or the book about how to control the spread of norovirus in an upscale restaurant. Fortunately, the U.K. Health Protection Agency has published some suggestions.

Celebrity chef dumbass: Fat Duck felled by norovirus in raw oysters; ‘weaknesses in procedures – delayed response to incident’

Chapman occasionally comes up with a good line. Usually, I do all the work on a piece (at least in my mind), and he’ll put in one sentence, but it will be the one that is remembered.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Chapman described celebrity chef and molecular gastrologest Heston Blumenthal (below, right) as the love child of Alton Brown and longtime Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player Mats Sundin (right).

Why didn’t I think of that.

Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant – which is consistently rated as the best in the U.K. – was the source of over 500 illnesses in early 2009. At the time, Blumenthal said, “tests for viral infections and food poisoning have proved negative and there is speculation that the winter outbreak of norovirus could be the real reason why they became sick.”

Way to blame the consumer, those paying hundreds of pounds for the privilege of barfing.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency published a report on the outbreak today that concluded:

*       There was a large outbreak of food poisoning among diners at the Fat Duck Restaurant in January and February 2009, with more than 500 reporting illness – over 15% of those dining there during this period

*       The organism responsible was norovirus which was probably introduced via shellfish (more diners who ate shellfish dishes reported illness). Oysters were served raw; razor clams may not have been appropriately handled or cooked; tracing of shellfish to source showed evidence of contamination and there have been reports of illness in other establishments associated with oysters from the same source

*       The outbreak continued for at least six weeks (between January 6 and February 22) because of ongoing transmission at the restaurant – which may have occurred through continuous contamination of foods prepared in the restaurant or by person-to-person spread between staff and diners or a mixture of both

*       Several weaknesses in procedures at the restaurant may have contributed to ongoing transmission including: delayed response to the incident; staff working when they should have been off sick and using the wrong environmental cleaning products

*       Delays in notification of illness may have affected the ability of the investigation to identify the exact reason for the norovirus contamination

It’s the chef’s responsibility to source food from safe sources. And if the chef thinks raw shellfish is a smart thing to serve, and to have sick workers working, then, customers get what they pay for.


Take care of your patrons, especially at ??340

I’ve been following food porn backlash in the UK as a result of an outbreak of something at quasi-celebrity Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, the Fat Duck.  Today Cold Mud picked up a blog post from one of the walking wounded who experienced  “two weeks of serious unpleasantness”.

The poster writes:

“The only things that felt a bit dodgy on the way down were the oysters. Neither of us is a huge fan, but we both ate them because we were determined not to miss out on anything. Anyway, we were eating in one of the most famous restaurants in the world so we were confident that there wouldn’t be anything wrong with them."

I especially love this quote; it demonstrates the power of trust in food sources — this guy is famous, I have a personal connection, I don’t want to miss out, he wouldn’t make me sick.

At the end of the post, the author discusses the lack of communication between the Fat Duck and ill patrons, and here’s where it all goes really wrong for me:

“The next day I went onto the Fat Duck website and sent them an email. At that point the news bulletins were saying that 40 or so diners had been affected and I wrote something to the effect of: ‘This has happened to us as well. We loved the meal and we’re not angry but count us among the walking wounded and let us know what’s happening.’
“We received no reply so I wrote quite a long letter. I haven’t received a reply to that either. I’m appalled because I was so entranced by Heston Blumenthal and he comes across as being very decent and clever. We had been so ill and, at the very least, we expected some kind of acknowledgment.  We really thought they would be interested in what had happened to us."

Dude, Captain Food Porn Blumenthal, you need to respond to patrons who got sick at your restaurant. It doesn’t matter whether contamination occurred in your restaurant, or if it was something contaminated prior to its arrival (Those dodgy oysters? Fresh sprouts? Whatever).  You are the face and brand associated with that meal. You have folks reaching out to you for info, or just to let you know what happened to them, you need to acknowledge it.  Tell them what you are doing to find out what happened, and how you manage food safety in your organization — especially how you assess safe suppliers.

In last week’s food safety infosheet  (you can download it here) we focused on the fallout of a Staphylococcus aureus outbreak associated with baked hams in Kentucky — a 72-year-old man died and a wrongful death suit has been filed against the operator.  Outbreaks like this one, and the Fat Duck happen all the time. It is on operators to be proactively identify risks with their products, address them and prepare for when things go wrong.  And answer emails from ill patrons. And post something on your website about the outbreak — have that stuff ready to go, because it’s one of the first places people will be looking.

Cats eating better than their owners

I’ve just started my first year of veterinary school, and after only two days into the program, I’ve been contacted by at least five pet food companies touting their premium pet food that is healthy for pets and tasty as well.  I suppose that pets enjoy the variety of flavors, but a new study from Australia suggests it’s doing more harm than good.

Deakin University scientist Dr Giovanni Turchini
has discovered an estimated 2.48 million tonnes of forage fish – a limited biological resource – is consumed by the global cat food industry each year.

This puts cats ahead of people as far as consumption rates go; pet cats are eating an estimated 13.7 kilograms of fish a year, which far exceeds the Australian average (human) per capita fish and seafood consumption of around 11 kilograms.

Just as obesity has become a major epidemic among Americans, it is also an epidemic among pets.  These tasty canned foods with enticing flavors such as “shredded yellowfin tuna fare” only encourage pets to grow wider around the belly all while pet food companies continue to cook up new ideas for making cats want their food.

What happened to cats eating regular dry food?  Though, even the dry food goes overboard for Fancy Feast, which touts three different flavors for the finicky cat.  With the slogan of “A bowl full of ‘I love you,’” Fancy Feast has definitely gone overboard in pampering cats.  If you love your pet, then why are you feeding it a high-fat meal?

The luxury products containing fish unfortunately are contributing to the overfishing problem worldwide.