McDonald’s tries fresh beef ‘An E. coli outbreak waiting to happen’

In 1982, E. coli O157:H7, was found to be responsible for outbreaks of human illness in Oregon and Michigan after customers at McDonald’s outlets ate contaminated hamburgers, the first outbreaks linked to Shiga-toxin producing E. coli.

mclovin1-300x140McDonald’s changed the way it cooked burgers to largely eliminate the human element and instituted E. coli O157 testing of its suppliers and demanded continuous improvement.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, or so the saying goes.

Robert Galbraith of Reuters reports that McDonald’s has been testing fresh, never-frozen beef patties at restaurants in Dallas.

Wall Street analysts have applauded the change, but some McDonald’s franchisees say it’s a food-safety disaster waiting to happen.

In a recent survey by Nomura, two dozen franchisees warned that introducing fresh beef patties nationwide would slow down service and expose the chain to new food contamination risks.

“I have major concerns over food safety and our lack of ability to serve a large number of customers quickly,” one franchisee wrote.

Another wrote, “If we do not handle the meat perfectly there is the opportunity for bacterial invasion of our product.”

One operator brought up the E. coli outbreak that affected 14 Chipotle restaurants across the country last fall, sending the chain’s sales plunging by as much as 30%.

“An uncaring employee [could end up] doing something that puts the entire system at risk,” the franchisee wrote. “We are the lightning rod. Chipotle will be a walk in the park if we have an incident.”

McDonald’s has long relied on an extensive network of suppliers who make, freeze, and ship beef patties to its more than 14,000 restaurants in the US.

mcdonalds-600x800Expanding the fresh beef test — which is currently limited to 14 restaurants in Dallas — would require big changes to its supply chain. The potential for foodborne illnesses is higher when uncooked meat is kept at a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA.

At the restaurant level, it would be a “massive learning curve for our managers and crew,” one franchisee wrote. “No doubt the biggest change in McDonald’s history. Would be a huge distraction from our ‘turnaround.'”

In the same survey, many McDonald’s franchisees also acknowledged that fresh beef would help improve the fast-food chain’s public image.

“Faster cook times, juicier product, seared product versus stewed meat,” one franchisee wrote.

Another said, “Many customers perceive unfrozen to be better for you. Perception is everything.”

Twenty-seven domestic franchisees with approximately 199 stores participated in the Nomura survey, representing a small fraction of McDonald’s 14,000 stores in the US. 

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said last month that there isn’t currently a large enough supply of fresh beef to expand the test nationally but that the company could start expanding it gradually region by region.

 Easterbrook said a larger rollout wouldn’t require any major new equipment or expenses for franchisees.

The company just has a few small issues to work out through the test, such as finding the best system for storage and handling of the beef to avoid any cross-contamination of the fresh, uncooked meat with other food items.

“We are trying to figure out the best way to segregate equipment like spatulas and scrapers for the grill,” he said.

Scared by the apple recall? These 5 fruits and veggies are even bigger risks

I’m still somewhat bemused that anyone has no trouble contacting me – this time while goofing around in Hawaii – yet university admin types were baffled so much they fired me for bad attendance.

Excellence in education.

lettuce.skull.noroAmy Rushlow of Yahoo! Health reports that a bacterial outbreak in apples has killed seven people and hospitalized 31, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently confirmed that strains of listeria bacteria were discovered at the Bidart Bros. apple-packing plant in California. A majority of the cases have been linked to prepackaged caramel apples. Last week, Bidart Bros. voluntarily recalled all Granny Smith and Gala apples following the results of the tests.

Apples are the second most popular fruit in America, according the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. But apple contamination is actually rare because they have a hard surface, which prevents bacteria from entering the fruit, says Doug Powell, PhD, a former professor of food safety in the U.S. and Canada who publishes barfblog.com.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are probably the biggest source of foodborne illness today in North America, and that’s because they’re fresh — we don’t cook them — so anything that comes into contact has the potential to contaminate,” Powell tells Yahoo Health.

Powell is especially careful with the following five fruits and vegetables, which have been linked to a significant number of foodborne illness outbreaks over the past years. (And no, apples didn’t make the list.)

1. Sprouts

This is the one food that Powell simply refuses to eat. “There are outbreaks all the time around the world.” You might recall the 2011 outbreak in Germany, which killed more than 50 people and sickened more than 4,000. In late 2014, more than 100 Americans became ill after eating sprouts tainted with E. coli.

Sprouts are particularly prone to bacteria because they germinate in a high-temperature, high-moisture environment — the same environment where germs thrive. “They’ve shown in many of these cases, it’s the seed that’s contaminated on the inside, so then when you get it germinated, you only need one cell and it’s going to grow,” he adds.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weak immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts. Cooking sprouts destroys harmful bacteria.

cantaloupe.salmonella2. Cantaloupe

Unlike honeydew melons or watermelon, cantaloupes have porous rinds that allow bacteria to enter the fruit. In addition, the fields where cantaloupes are grown often flood, Powell explains, “So they’re sitting in water, and that water may have come downstream from a livestock operation.”

3. Leafy greens

Bacteria becomes trapped on the inner leaves as the head is forming, Powell explains. Plus, leafy greens are especially difficult to wash effectively. Over the past several years in the U.S., bags of romaine lettuce, prepackaged salad mix, spinach, and spring mix have all been linked to E. coli outbreaks.

4. Tomatoes

There are several ways for germs to enter the fruit of the tomato, including via groundwater or through the water tomatoes are plunged into to give them a little shine, Powell says. “The dunk tank water has to be within five degrees of the interior of the tomato or else a vacuum is formed and water rushes in, so whatever is in dunk tank water is now inside of the tomato.” An easy fix is for tomato companies to monitor the dunk tank water, but unfortunately there isn’t a simple way for consumers to know if their grower does this.

5. Garnishes, such as green onions, cilantro, and parsley

Green onions and other herbs and vegetables used as garnishes are at high risk for outbreaks because we don’t cook them, Powell explains. He recommends leaving them off the plate if they’re simply for decoration.

Don’t let all of this scare you away from eating fresh fruits and vegetables, Powell stresses. While there is no one measure that will keep you completely safe, a few small steps can add up. For one, Powell himself shops for produce at the largest store he can find. “They have the resources to demand that their supply has to go through some basic food safety standards that they’re going to apply internally,” he says. He also recommends giving fresh produce a rinse, which removes surface debris and some (but not all) bacteria.

And while Powell doesn’t suggest always cooking fruits and vegetables to kill bacteria, since there are nutritional benefits to eating them raw, it’s a step you can take if you’re especially concerned. The FDA website offers additional everyday food safety tips.

Beware those berries: Three simultaneous, foodborne, multi-country outbreaks of hepatitis A in 2013

I love the berries fresh, so I moved to a sub-tropical climate where we have a steady supply.

I love the berries frozen, because of convenience and continual availability.

Frankenface.berryBut there’s been a lot of outbreaks on berries of late – on the frozen kind. Many of the frozen kind are originating in areas like Egypt and shipped around the world.

Many countries in the European Union advise cooking frozen berries to reduce the risk of Hepatitis A.

Where’s the smoothie fun in that?

According to Gossner and Severi, writing in Eurosurveillance, between March and May 2013, three multi-country outbreaks of hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection were reported through the Epidemic Intelligence Information System for Food- and Water-borne diseases (EPIS-FWD) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The aim of this work is to put these outbreaks into a European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) perspective and highlight opportunities for improving detection and investigation of such outbreaks. Although HAV outbreaks are not unusual in the EU/EEA, having three large food-borne multi-country outbreaks declared within three months is an unexpected event, particularly when at least two of these outbreaks are associated with frozen berries. Factors influencing the occurrence of these events include the increased number of susceptible Europeans, the limited coverage of HAV vaccination, the global trade of potentially contaminated products introduced in the EU/EEA, and the ‘awareness chain effect’ leading to a wave of notifications. Further studies should be conducted to understand the risk posed by frozen berries.

Laboratory capacity and surveillance of viral infections in the EU/EEA, as well as HAV vaccination recommendations to travellers to endemic countries should be strengthened. Finally, timely reporting food-borne events through EPIS-FWD, to ensure timely response.

Eurosurveillance, Volume 19, Issue 43, 30 October 2014

Gossner CM, Severi E.

http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20941

Nottinghamshire fruit growers hit back at health scare as crops are given all-clear

From the I’ve-been-doings-things-this-way-all-my-life files comes word that strawberry growers across Nottinghamshire, UK, say their product is “perfectly safe” in light of a report from  the European Food Safety Agency which described frozen strawberries, along with raspberries, as an “emerging public health risk” after being linked to cases of the potentially fatal norovirus in Europe.

strawberryIIn 2012, almost 11,000 people in Germany were struck down by Norovirus.

The Food Safety Agency report warned that fruits could be contaminated by dirty water used in irrigation or to dilute fertiliser, or a lack of hygiene in the packing and freezing processes.

However, there have not been any confirmed outbreaks in Britain.

Maybe theirs some confusion between frozen and fresh.

Suzannah Starkey, of Starkey’s Fruit in Southwell, said, “We don’t want the British people to fall out of love with strawberries – you can’t get better anywhere else. They are at their very best at the moment.

“All the Starkey family have eaten the strawberries all their lives, straight from the bush, and have never had a single problem.” Our strawberries are subject to very stringent hygiene standards. The pickers always wash their hands before picking and are subject to spot checks by health inspectors. The punnets are heat-sealed and rapidly chilled, and are maintained at that level until they are taken off the shelf by the customer.”

Responding to the European Food Safety Agency report, Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, the UK body dedicated to the promotion of British-grown soft and stone fruits, said: “The UK fresh fruit crop does not pose a public health risk.

“This report is based on out-of-date references relating to a very specific issue with frozen berries from developing countries, imported into other parts of Europe in 2012.”

Should dogs prance around produce?

 While America’s farmers of fresh produce try to figure out what is a good agricultural practice (GAP) and how best to limit animal incursions, the first dog gets a portrait in the midst of the presidential garden.

Retailers expect farmers to have some control over deer crapping on strawberries or apples and killing people, so maybe it’s not a bright idea to promote pooches in the garden.

I look forward to a full discussion of microbial food safety risks and fresh produce in Michelle Obama’s upcoming book, Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities, announced today by the Crown Publishing Group. Beleaguered cantaloupe farmers may also appreciate some First guidance on allowable animal incursions.

Runs from the border: Taco Bell is mystery Mexican-style restaurant chain ‘A’ 155 sick across US since April

"I’m about to have the worst case of taco sh**s."?

That prophetic line offered by Clarissa before engaging in a good-natured game of "Battlesh**s" with Christy in the movie, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, has been experienced by some of the 155 sick with salmonella who ate at a Taco Bell since April.

Earlier today, Phyllis Entis of eFoodAlert.com received independent confirmation that Mystery Mexican-style restaurant A was indeed Taco Bell.

In Dec. 2006, in the wake of the E. coli O157:H7 in spinach mess that killed four and sickened 200, Taco Bell became the butt of endless haranguing by David Letterman after the same bug in lettuce sickened over 100 people (“Their old slogan used to be ‘think outside the bun.. The new slogan is, ‘look outside for the ambulance.’” See the video clip, below).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said yesterday that no specific food item have been fingered but fresh produce was suspected.

The spinach outbreak of Sept. 2006 was supposed to be the tipping point (although I have argued the tipping point for fresh produce should have been the 1996 E. coli O157:H7 in Odwalla juice outbreak): for farmers dealing with collapsed markets; for retailers who say they were now going to get serious about questioning their suppliers; and, for consumers who now realize that fresh produce is a significant source of foodborne illness and are voting with their wallets and their forks how can they know if the fresh stuff is safe??

The way this information trickles out does nothing to instill confidence, just like the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recalls in Fresh Express lettuce earlier this year. It’s nice that Taco Bell fully co-operated with CDC and other health types, but they can do better: brag about food safety requirements and back it up by making test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more, even at Taco Bell. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — faith in the growers, distributors, processors, retailers and our own hands.?

Some in the farm-to-fork food safety system want more of the same: stronger checks of good agricultural practices on the farm (which have been available but not necessarily followed or enforced since 1998); more research on how dangerous bugs get on or in healthy produce; more vague press releases.?

The American economy is driven by competition and the produce sector should compete for the food dollar in grocery stores and restaurants across the country, using safety as a selling point. The farmers or company that uses the best science to keep poop off the plate matched with employee commitment through a strong food safety culture, will capture the imagination of a hungry public..

May the best food safety system win.? The diarrhea twins from Harold and Kumar will be first in line.
 

Hamburgers: fresh is not the same as safe

‘Our restaurant’s burgers are safe to eat undercooked: The meat is fresh and ground in-house.’

This is wrong, dangerous, and nothing more than food porn, the wishful thinking that bacteria will avoid certain products if prepared with enough manual labor and love.

Bacteria don’t care about love.

Shamona Harnett of the Winnipeg Free Press reported the all-too-common chat with her server as she tried to order a burger – she went with well-done. And she urged cooks to use a food thermometer to ensure the burger has reached 160 F, which is also an effective way to ensure the cook doesn’t overcook the burger. Thermometers make people better cooks.

Harnett then goes on to say that “experts say consumers should wash lettuce — even if it’s labelled pre-washed.”

No they don’t. An expert panel concluded,

"Leafy green salad in sealed bags labeled ‘washed’ or ‘ready-to-eat’ that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under cGMPs, does not need additional washing at the time of use unless specifically directed on the label. The panel also advised that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety. The risk of cross contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may confer."

Food safety is not simple.
 

Foodborne illness connected to Iowa farmer’s market?

Something’s going at a farmers’ market in east-central Iowa, with reports surfacing that more than 10 people are sick with foodborne illness, possibly related to a freshly prepared fruit and vegetable product sold at the market.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reminded people visiting a farmer’s market to only buy from vendors who keep freshly prepared fruit and vegetable products cold.

Once you buy the food make sure you store them in a cold place, and eat them within a few days.
 

Don’t eat poop — salad edition

The Codex Alimentarius Commission decided at its meeting in Geneva that animal manure should not be used to fertilize lettuce and other fresh vegetables sold "ready to eat" to avoid dangerous diseases.

Contaminated water must also be kept away from bagged produce that is not heat-treated, the Codex experts said, fixing new benchmarks that could change production and harvesting norms across the world.

We’ve been saying that for 12 years and advocating such practices with fresh fruit and vegetable growers.

Jorgen Schlundt, director of food safety and zoonoses at the World Health Organization, said,

"It makes sense in a number of different production systems but when you are producing fresh salads that will be treated without heat treatment there is a problem.”
 

Blame the consumer – Health Canada style

I don’t know who writes these press releases, but stating, “Health Canada would like to remind Canadians of the importance of safe handling of fresh produce to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” gives the organization, Health Canada, a level of creepiness that could be easily replaced by quoting individual humans, not bureaucratic organizations.

Health Canada (is that a she or a he?) then recites the messages of separate, clean and chill, which is fine, but says nothing about what is done in the fields and facilities before fresh produce reaches consumers.

There’s probably an outbreak going on that no one wants to talk about.