E. coli backlash as UK health type apologies for delay in closing farm

With 13 kids in hospital and 37 sick after visiting a UK farm, Health Protection Agency chief executive Justin McCracken has phoned parents of the children most seriously affected to apologise to them.

"If this information had been taken into account on 27 August, then the advice given and the steps taken on 3 September would have been introduced earlier and the farm might have been closed earlier.

"I wanted to speak personally to the parents of those children who are most seriously ill in hospital to explain what has happened and, however inadequate under the circumstances, to apologise.

"The position they find themselves in is unbearable and it is of course worse that what has happened might have been avoidable."

The farm was closed on Saturday – although the first E.coli case was reported on 27 August.

A pair of two-year-old twins, from Paddock Wood in Kent, have suffered acute kidney failure.

Initially, the HPA said the first case came to light on 27 August.

It later emerged that the agency had received a report of two cases in the previous week.

UK petting zoo E. coli O157 outbreak: 36 confirmed sick; 12 in hospital all under age of 10; four in serious condition; this won’t turn out well

It’s like people in the U.K. had never heard of E. coli O157. Despite outbreak after outbreak – often involving children at nurseries — public inquiries and a single food safety agency, the Brits just seem oblivious when it comes to dangerous pathogens that send kids to the hospital.

This morning, the
London Times reported that

“Thousands of children across the South of England may be at risk from the E. coli bug in what looks to be the largest UK outbreak linked to transmission from farm animals."

Godstone Farm in Surrey, a popular family attraction where children are encouraged to stroke and touch animals, is closed while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) conducts tests to find out the cause of the outbreak which has left 12 children in hospital, four of them in a serious condition.

About 1,000 children, mainly from South London, Surrey, Kent and Sussex, visit the farm every day during the school holidays and at weekends. It is feared that 30,000 children could be at risk of infection.

It has emerged health officials knew about the outbreak among people who visited the farm days before it was closed to the public.

The Health Protection Agency became aware of the outbreak in late August after cases were traced to the farm.

One parent has expressed her anger, saying the decision for the farm to remain open was an "absolute disgrace".

But farm manager Richard Oatway said the farm had acted responsibly and was co-operating with the investigation.

Richard, please share with us your knowledge of natural reservoirs of E. coli O157, and the steps you’ve taken to control such dangerous pathogens from infecting children who visit your farm. Handwashing isn’t enough.

Faith-based food safety

Michael Batz sent me a link to a story that took me on a magic carpet ride to the past (Batz also says he coined the term, ‘faith-based food safety’ but maybe he’s on his own magic carpet).

As an undergraduate university student some 25 years ago, I would read the N.Y. Times and Harper’s magazine, and marvel at the sentence structure and the issues that were exposed by hard-hitting journalists.

But over time, my own knowledge increased, and I realized that several of these exposes were really just literary clichés, citing a few sources here and there, usually to validate a pre-existing ideal.

The initial realization was sorta gross (and yes, Michael Pollan was an editor of Harper’s back then, developing the skill set of a committed demagogue rather than investigative journalist).

The same techniques are on full display at the Atlantic Food Channel in a piece by Josh Viertel entitled, Why small farms are safer.

The author offers absolutely no evidence why small farms are safer, but does drop that he studied philosophy, his educated customers may be dumb, rides barefoot in buses and that Subway subs smell of industrial food.

If wannabe farmer Josh wanted to convince anyone that small farms were safer, he would present outbreak data, and rather than saying what his farm isn’t – sorta like organics isn’t GE, isn’t synthetic pesticides, isn’t whatever – he’d state what his farm did to ensure food safety, specifically water quality and testing, soil amendments and employee sanitation.

The author even whines that in 2006, he had trouble moving his spinach crop “all because Cargill’s cows pooped in Dole’s lettuce. It didn’t seem right then. It doesn’t now.”

Except it was poop from a grass-fed cow-calf operation that contaminated the transitional organic spinach in 2006 that sickened over 200 and killed 5.

Data often interferes with demagogues.

William Shatner speaks out on salmon

Montreal-native William Shatner – Captain Kirk, Boston Legal dude, Priceline negotiator and spoken-word enthusiast — has written Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking that salmon farms be removed from wild-salmon migration routes in the Broughton and Discovery islands area of British Columbia.

Shatner, who filmed an episode of the Boston Legal series in the Broughton Archipelago off northern Vancouver Island, says in his letter that salmon farms are having a disastrous impact on "one of Earth’s most precious assets, the wild salmon and steelhead of B.C."

Mary Ellen Walling, executive director, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, responded that while Shatner’s acting credentials are solid (really?) — his understanding of fisheries research is less stellar.

Activist groups should, at least, be able to meet the same standards of scrutiny applied to industry. And for journalists who often see themselves as the guardians of the public interest, it seems prudent to be wary of being manipulated, even by those who appear to walk on the side of the public good rather than the side of corporate self-interest. Beam me up, Scotty.

That didn’t go over too well with the locals. Several letter writers pointed out that T.J. Hooker was entitled to his views, didn’t represent industry, and there were lots of ways to do research. Aquaculture folks – facts are important, but are never enough.

UK family farm closes after 8 get E. coli O157

Another reminder to play safe on the farm.

An open farm in West Lancashire has been temporarily closed after eight people, including three children, were struck down with E.coli O157.

One of the children affected is currently in hospital and is described as ‘poorly but stable’.

The eight people are from two families that both recently visited Windmill Animal Farm, on Red Cat Lane, in Burscough.

The farm is being considered as one possible source of the infection and the farmer is co-operating fully with the investigations.

Sure kids can visit the farm, but should they be hugging the cows?

Yesterday I wrote about a bunch of schoolkids in Carlisle , U.K. that have been stricken with cryptosporidium, apparently related to so called-educational visits to nearby farms.

Teachers and school leaders said there were lots of precautions and lots of handwashing. So Shane Morris sent me a picture from the May 1, 2009 edition of the Cumberland News, (right) which documented the trip that apparently sickened the kids and included this charming picture, right, of cow-kid cuddling. Did she sanitize her cheek? And who knows what else went on.

Scott Weese of the Worms and Germs Blog wrote this morning that a recent study by Pritchard et al in the Veterinary Record reports that in samples collected from various animals on 31 different farms in U.K., verotoxigenic E. coli, like O157, was found on 61% of premises. Presence of young cattle and, surprisingly, adult pigs were identified as risk factors for finding verotoxigenic E. coli at a location. Verotoxigenic E. coli were most commonly identified in cattle (29%). It wasn’t surprising that cattle, especially young cattle, were the most common carriers based on what we know about the bacterium, but there were impressively high rates of carriage by other species, including sheep (24%), donkeys (15%), pigs (14%), horses (12%) and goats (10%).

On most farms where verotoxigenic E. coli was found, the same strain was identified in different animal species, indicating that this bacterium can spread widely on such premises. This may be because different animal species in petting zoos are mixed together, as opposed to the situation on conventional farms.

(Weese notes: the premises were evaluated following suspicion that they could have been the source of infection of people, so it’s possible that the numbers reported are higher than for the overall population of such farms.)

Weese writes,

“The risk of people acquiring an infection from animals depends more on the degree of contact and the precautions adopted than the prevalence of infection in a particular species.”

Where does cow hugging and possible face-licking rank on the risk scale?

UK schoolkids sickened after farm visit; ‘an absolutely fantastic visit’ says teacher

Cumbrian health chiefs have issued urgent advice about farm visits after confirming that four children were stricken by cryptosporidium, carried by cattle and lambs, and were investigating an unspecified number of other possible cases.

The infections came after a number of recent farm visits, health officials say.

Pauline Little, an assistant head at the school, which sent 59 children on the visit, said,

“It was an absolutely fantastic visit. The farm was immaculate. Children were given the chance to milk a cow and stroke baby goats. They were given hand gel to clean their hands afterwards. And when we got back to school, we did more about washing hands than we would normally.”

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West yesterday advised parents and children how best to reduce the risk of infection during and following farm visits.

* Parents and teachers should check the hygiene facilities at the farm to ensure there are good hand-washing facilities with hot water, soap and paper towels.

* Children and their supervisors should always wash hands carefully after touching animals and other farm objects, especially before eating or drinking.

*Children must not eat or drink or put their fingers in their mouths whilst close to animals and before washing their hands.

Prof. Hugh Pennington of the U.K. has gone so far as to say that children under five (who are more vulnerable because of their still-developing immune systems) should be banned from visiting livestock farms because of the serious risk of acquiring E. coli O157:H7 infection from farm animals. Such a ban already exists in Sweden.

There is much to learn from interacting with animals, farms, and the world
. The challenge is to do so in a microbiologically safe manner.

Disconnect between warnings & consumption – Raw milk

Despite numerous warnings from public health officials during the month of April about raw milk from various farms across the U.S. testing positive for the likes of Campylobacter (New York ), Listeria (Vermont), and Salmonella (Pennsylvania), people continue to believe that raw, unpasteurized milk does a body good.

***Warning on raw milk from Genoa farm***
The Post Standard (New York) http://blog.syracuse.com/news/2007/04/warning_on_raw_milk_from_genoa.html
The New York state Department of Agriculture and Markets.was cited as saying Saturday that residents of Cayuga County and surrounding counties are being warned not to drink or use unpasteurized raw milk sold from a Genoa farm because of possible bacteria contamination.
Raw milk sold by the Phil Stauderman Farm, 3128 Blakely Road, Genoa, may be contaminated with Campylobacter, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain in children and young adults.
 The story says that the Stauderman farm has a department permit to legally sell raw milk at the farm, according to the news release.
A routine sample taken April 16 was found to be contaminated with Campylobacter and the farm was notified of the test on April 19, the department said. The farm voluntarily suspended sales of raw milk on that date, the department said. The tests were confirmed on Friday, the department said.