84 raspberry pickers stricken with leptospirosis in Australia, 2018

In 2018, an outbreak of leptospirosis was identified among raspberry workers from a mixed‐berry farm in New South Wales, Australia. Initial testing had not revealed a cause, but eventually leptospirosis was detected via polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Further serological testing detected Leptospira borgpetersenii serovar Arborea, of which rodents are the predominant reservoir. Leptospirosis is rare in Australia, with outbreaks usually related to flooding. We conducted an investigation to identify risk factors for infection, to inform control measures.

Cases were detected through laboratory notifications, hospital‐based syndromic surveillance, awareness‐raising among farm employees and clinician alerts. Confirmed cases had a four‐fold rise in antibody titre or single titre ≥400 on microscopic agglutination test, and a positive IgM. Probable cases had a positive Leptospira PCR or IgM, and possible cases had a clinically compatible illness. We conducted a case–control study among raspberry workers on the farm and compared reported exposures between cases and seronegative controls. We assessed environmental risks on‐site and tested rodents for leptospirosis.

We identified 84 cases over a 5‐month period (50 confirmed, 19 probable and 15 possible). Compared with controls, cases were less likely to wear gloves and more recently employed. Cases also more commonly reported always having scratched hands, likely from the thorns on raspberry plants. We observed evidence of rodent activity around raspberry plants and three of thirteen trapped mice tested positive for Leptospira Arborea. Control measures included enhanced glove use, doxycycline prophylaxis and rodent control.

This is the largest known outbreak of leptospirosis in Australia. Workers were likely exposed through scratches inflicted during harvesting, which became contaminated with environmental leptospires from mice. Leptospirosis should be considered an occupational risk for raspberry workers, requiring protective measures. Chemoprophylaxis may assist in controlling outbreaks. PCR assists in the early diagnosis and detection of leptospirosis and should be included in surveillance case definitions.

Investigation and response to an outbreak of leptospirosis among raspberry workers in Australia, 2018

Zoonoses and Public Health

Anthea L. Katelaris, Keira Glasgow, Kerryn Lawrence, Paul Corben, Anthony Zheng, Suhasini Sumithra, John Turahui, Janet Terry, Debra van den Berg, Daneeta Hennessy, Stacey Kane, Scott B. Craig, Ellena Heading, Mary‐Anne Burns, Hanisah L. Corner, Vicky Sheppeard, Jeremy McAnulty



What are gloves protecting? The food or the handler?

This one time, in graduate school, a harvester told me that he loved wearing gloves when he picked tomatoes because it kept his hands from getting dirty.

Another time, in graduate school, a greenhouse manager told me he had convinced his boss that food safety was really important and the company invested in installing full restrooms in the greenhouse — and fully stocked a closet with latex gloves.

The manager trained all the employees on why clean hands and gloves were important.

A week after the training session he saw an employee urinating on the outside wall of the restroom.

With his gloves on.

Or maybe gloves are there to protect the food handlers from the food (thanks to Carl Custer for the cartoon).


They said loads: reducing cross-contamination via hands

Hand washing and glove use are the main methods for reducing bacterial cross-contamination from hands to ready-to-eat food in a food service setting. However, bacterial transfer from hands to gloves is poorly understood, as is the effect of different durations of soap rubbing on bacterial reduction.

handwashing.loadsTo assess bacterial transfer from hands to gloves and to compare bacterial transfer rates to food after different soap washing times and glove use, participants’ hands were artificially contaminated with Enterobacter aerogenes B199A at ∼9 log CFU. Different soap rubbing times (0, 3, and 20 s), glove use, and tomato dicing activities followed. The bacterial counts in diced tomatoes and on participants’ hands and gloves were then analyzed.

Different soap rubbing times did not significantly change the amount of bacteria recovered from participants’ hands. Dicing tomatoes with bare hands after 20 s of soap rubbing transferred significantly less bacteria (P < 0.01) to tomatoes than did dicing with bare hands after 0 s of soap rubbing. Wearing gloves while dicing greatly reduced the incidence of contaminated tomato samples compared with dicing with bare hands. Increasing soap washing time decreased the incidence of bacteria recovered from outside glove surfaces (P < 0.05).

These results highlight that both glove use and adequate hand washing are necessary to reduce bacterial cross-contamination in food service environments.

Adequate hand washing and glove use are necessary to reduce cross-contamination from hands with high bacterial loads

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 2, February 2016, pp. 184-344, pp. 304-308(5)

Robinson, Andrew L.; Lee, Hyun Jung; Kwon, Junehee; Todd, Ewen; Rodriguez, Fernando Perez; Ryu, Dojin


I’m no Yogi Berra, but this Taco Bell worker caught with hands down his pants

There’s an old food safety saying: gloves give a false sense of security, and it doesn’t matter whether wearing gloves or not, you scratch your ass, bacteria are going to move.

taco.bell.2OK, it’s my saying.

Been making people cringe for 20 years.

But now, because everyone has a camera, there’s photographic proof.

A customer at an Ohio Taco Bell noticed one of the employees behind the counter had his skillful taco-making hands inside his pants, brushing up against his backside.

The customer posted the picture to Taco Bell through Facebook, and according to Fox 8, the employee was identified, then fired.

Taco Bell said:

“This is completely unacceptable and has no place in our restaurants. Our franchisee took immediate action, and has terminated the employee and retraining the entire staff. We want customers to know that the person in the photo was never in contact with the food, and that the Health Department inspected the restaurant and approved its operations.”

They couldn’t fire the guy fast enough, though, as the memes quickly started pouring into Taco Bell’s site.

If someone tried ordering a Choco Taco, this guy was definitely delivering.

But instead of the corporate apologetics, Taco Bell could have found a more fitting use for its PR thingies.

RIP Yogi. King of the soundbite

yogi.bera.sep.115Before athletes were required to have a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in addition to their busy schedule of pre-, post- and mid-game interviews, Berra’s prowess with a funny quip and quick soundbite rivaled his skill on the field.

Lines like “It’s déjà all over again” have bcome so ubiquitous that they simply seem to have sprung, fully formed, from the American vernacular.

1, When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

  1. Ninety percent of the game is half mental.
  2. You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.
  3. Make a game plan and stick to it. Unless it’s not working.
  4. We made too many wrong mistakes.
  5. Why buy good luggage, you only use it when you travel.
  6. All pitchers are liars or crybabies.
  7. Even Napoleon had his Watergate.
  8. If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.
  9. Take it with a grin of salt.

Entire publications have said less with many more words.



False sense of security? Study finds NYC food vendors don’t change gloves enough

The majority of New York City mobile food vendors don’t change their gloves after exchanging money and before serving the next customer, as required by law, found a new study.

California-Glove-LawResearchers from William Paterson University in New Jersey studied 10 food carts within 10 densely populated areas of Manhattan — 100 carts total. They found that 56.9% of 1,804 customer transactions they saw did not involve the vendor changing gloves in between handling money and the next person’s order.

The results were “eye-opening from a public health perspective” because of foodborne illness risk, said study author Corey Basch.

“Being observant to the glove-changing behaviors of the vendors as well as overall hygiene is prudent and can reveal a great deal in a short time,” she said.

The New York City Health Code 81.13 requires that food vendors change gloves “after handling raw foods, performing tasks that do not involve food preparation or processing, handling garbage, or any other work where the gloves may have become soiled or contaminated.”

No glove, no love: California edition part 2

AP’s Fenit Nirappil weighs in on the polarization of California’s no barehand contact rule and reports that while McDonalds and other chain restaurants have picked the I’m glovin’ it policy, others are voicing opposition. The arguments have been well established on both sides of the so-called glove rule with common themes revolving around enforcement issues; reducing the quality of the food output; and, as friend of the blog Don Schaffner points out, improper use.549810-300x300

Eating requires a lot of trust. Whether processed on by a foreign company, raised on a local farm or made in a neighborhood coffee shop, I’m trusting in someone to make good food safety decisions. While a company’s food safety program might be set up by a head chef or microbiologist, the folks on the front lines are the real decision makers – they choose whether to show up to work ill or follow correct hand washing behaviors.

No barehand contact may get in the way of food production but if used safely, utensils, paper barriers and gloves become an extra hurdle between dirty hands and food. The law isn’t a guarantee of safe food – the responsibility for safe food lies with the industry.

Nirappil quotes a Sacramento restaurateur, Randall Selland, who says the law is an unnecessary infringement on highly regarded establishments, “If people get sick at my restaurant, they are going to stop coming. You have got to give restaurants some trust.”

I’m not fond of blind trust – I want to buy food from, and eat at, places that have preventative risk-based food safety systems that focus on behavior. I don’t want food from somewhere that relies on not being linked to illnesses as verification that their system works.

According to Nirappil, Ravin Patel, executive chef at Ella near the Capitol, said he didn’t notice much difference in kitchen procedures after moving in 2009 to California from New York, which has prohibited bare-hand contact since 1992. But that doesn’t mean the kitchen staffs in New York restaurants are always wearing gloves. “It just becomes common practice that you don’t touch food as much,” said Patel, adding that New York restaurateurs found ways around the requirement. “When the health inspector comes, you slap on a bunch of gloves.”

Similarly, many New York bartenders still work barehanded, dropping limes into gin-and-tonics but keeping a pair of tongs handy for visits by inspectors, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild. Smith also is managing director of the bar 15 Romolo in San Francisco. He says law-abiding employees cannot find an easy work-around for some mixology steps, such as fusing mints and herbs into his bar’s signature, pricey drinks. “They are trying to get expressive oil into the flavor and smell of the cocktail, and you are lacing that with the smell of latex and powder” using gloves, Smith said.

Even gloves can spread contamination if they are not changed regularly, said Don Schaffner, a food scientist at Rutgers University.

“The bigger picture is whether businesses know what the risk factors are and how to control them,” said Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University who has studied restaurant hygiene. “Having a policy doesn’t mean it actually works … Prove to a patron that your people wash their hands all the time and the right way.”

Water? We don’t need no stinkin’ water, we’ve got gloves; Subway in Maryland

Russ Ptacek of WUSA CBS Channel 9 reports that armed guards at Beltway Plaza Mall prevented our camera crew from recording video of restaurants cited and closed for operating without running water, but a producer managed to take iPhone photos before STINKINGBADGES-1ebeing escorted out.

In Greenbelt, citing operating without running water during a water main break, health inspectors temporarily closed: Subway, Beltway Plaza Mall, 6000 Greenbelt Road; Three Brothers, Beltway Plaza Mall, 6000 Greenbelt Road; Kalpena Dip-N-Depot, Beltway Plaza Mall, 6000 Greenbelt Road; and Heaven Bakery, Beltway Plaza Mall, 6000 Greenbelt Road.

All the restaurants passed re-inspection and are back in business.

At the Beltway Plaza Mall Subway, a manager told us he didn’t believe operating during the water outage was a problem because workers wear gloves.

Health experts say contaminated hands can contaminate clean gloves and workers should wash hands every time they change tasks, especially after using the restroom.

Why proper glove use is important: Norovirus transfers nicely from inoculated gloves to surfaces and fruit

No bare hand contact rules are often rebutted with "people do dumb things with gloves on."

One of my favorite glove use stories is something a greenhouse manager told me 10 years ago. It goes something like this: the guy had convinced the business owner that food safety was really important and he installed full restrooms in the greenhouse — and fully stocked a closet with latex gloves. The manager trained all the employees on why clean hands and gloves were important.  A week after the training session he saw an employee urinating on the outside of the restroom. With his gloves on.

In this month’s Journal of Food Protection, my friend Jen Cannon’s group has a paper that shows some great data to back up why proper glove use is important: Dirty gloves are pretty decent at transferring norovirus. After looking at multiple donor/recipient surfaces (stuff like dirty gloves to berries, or dirty gloves to food contact surfaces) Sharps and colleagues showed transfer rates from 20%-70% under wet conditions and although less, still showed transfer of up to 12% under dry conditions.

From the discussion, "After a restroom visit, a food worker, not respecting hygienic practices, may immediately or within a short period of time (<30 min) begin to handle foods, not allowing sufficient time for contaminated hands to dry." or take the gloves in to the restroom with them.

Abstract is below.

Human Norovirus transfer to stainless steel and small fruits during handling

Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 75, Number 8, August 2012 , pp. 1437-1446(10)

Sharps, Christopher P.; Kotwal, Grishma; Cannon, Jennifer L.

Human noroviruses (NoVs) cause an estimated 58% of foodborne illnesses in the United States annually. The majority of these outbreaks are due to contamination by food handlers. The objective of this study was to quantify the transfer rate and degree of contamination that occurs on small fruits (blueberries, grapes, and raspberries) and food contact surfaces (stainless steel) when manipulated with NoV-contaminated hands. Human NoVs (genogroups I and II [GI and GII]) and murine norovirus (MNV-1) were inoculated individually or as a three-virus cocktail onto donor surfaces (gloved fingertips or stainless steel) and either immediately interfaced with one or more recipient surfaces (fruit, gloves, or stainless steel) or allowed to dry before contact. Viruses on recipient surfaces were quantified by real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR. Transfer rates were 58 to 60% for GII NoV from fingertips to stainless steel, blueberries, and grapes and 4% for raspberries under wet conditions. Dry transfer occurred at a much lower rate (<1%) for all recipient surfaces. Transfer rates ranged from 20 to 70% from fingertips to stainless steel or fruits for the GI, GII, and MNV-1 virus cocktail under wet conditions and from 4 to 12% for all viruses under dry transfer conditions. Fomite transfer (from stainless steel to fingertip and then to fruit) was lower for all viruses, ranging from 1 to 50% for wet transfer and 2 to 11% for dry transfer. Viruses transferred at higher rates under wet conditions than under dry conditions. The inoculum matrix affected the rate of virus transfer, but the majority of experiments resulted in no difference in the transfer rates for the three viruses. While transfer rates were often low, the amount of virus transferred to recipient surfaces often exceeded 4- or 5-log genomic copy numbers, indicating a potential food safety hazard. Quantitative data such as these are needed to model scenarios of produce contamination by food handling and devise appropriate interventions to manage risk.

To glove or not to glove: the bare hand contact allegory

At one of the first food safety conferences I attended was organized debate on whether glove use should be mandatory or not. That was 2002.

The discussion, also known as the bare hand contact allegory, pops up a few times a year. Right now it is Oregon’s turn.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have evidence that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has used to support why keeping assumed-dirty hands off of food is a good idea. The simplified discourse is that food handlers are dirty; handwashing compliance is typically low; and, an easy way to take poor hygiene out of the mix is to legislate that hands can’t touch RTE foods — except this creates another compliance issue.

According to Eatocracy:

"Last year, when Oregon Health Authority officials announced they would adopt the 2009 FDA Retail Food Code, restaurateurs suddenly faced a piece of legislation that would prohibit foodservice workers to touch prepared food with their bare hands. The gloves came off.

Among the complaints raised by food experts: gloves give foodservice handlers a false sense of cleanliness, create more plastic waste (especially since plastic bags are banned in Oregon) and add a supplementary cost for restaurateurs.

"While the regulation is being put into place to prevent norovirus contamination, the bottom line is that gloves alone will not prevent the problem without being used in combination with hand washing," says Mindy Brashears, a professor of food safety at Texas Tech University.

Norovirus is what laymen more commonly refer to as food poisoning." (uh, sort of -ben)

The gloves or no gloves argument sometimes misses the point as Mindy Brashears alludes to- outbreak data shows that some food service operators and food handlers take short cuts, regardless of the local rules. It’s clear to me from the evidence that not touching food reduces risk. While many fast-food companies have figured out how to take hands out of the process (as well as food contact surfaces), what’s not clear is which of the paths (glove or no-glove) is easier to skip for all food businesses.

"Adam Sappington, the executive chef at The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland, regards the now-void ban as "crazy."  "I got a little philosophical about the whole idea. It takes away one of the senses of cooking," he says. "It’s more likely that you’re going to wash your hands less, and moving from hot to cold, hot to cold in gloves, things are just going to fester."

See, it’s all about what system is less likely to be cheated.

Some folks have shown that compliance is low because the tools aren’t there or there isn’t enough time. Others have shown that food handlers may not know consequences. The more interesting discussion to me is how regs can affect the values of operators and food handlers. Whether gloves/tongs are required or not it, how to make commercial and volunteer food handlers value minimizing pathogen transfer is a bigger question.


Sticky Fingers: Oregon dismisses glove requirement for restaurant workers

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all show up at our first day of a new job as a 20-year-old and help create rock greatness – Honky Tonk Women.

Instead, most are told to wear gloves while participating in sandwich greatness something.
But in Oregon, they’ve decided to rethink the gloves thing.

Eatocracy reports that the no-bare-hands rule was originally supposed to go into effect on July 1, but Oregon public health officials delayed the decision because of public debate that these new safety rules were not actually safe.

The rule would have prohibited food handlers from contacting “exposed, ready-to-eat food” with their bare hands. Instead, any contact would have to be made with “suitable utensils,” including deli tissue, spatulas, tongs and single-use gloves.

Wednesday, regulators of Oregon’s Foodborne Illness Prevention Program announced that “…at this time, the ‘No Bare Hand Contact’ section of new food safety rules will not be adopted.”

Among the complaints raised by food experts: gloves give foodservice handlers a false sense of cleanliness, create more plastic waste (especially since plastic bags are banned in Oregon) and add a supplementary cost for restaurateurs.

Happy 50th birthday, Rolling Stones, especially the Taylor years.