A poem for public health

I’m surprised whenever an outbreak of foodborne illness is picked up in the U.S., except the most egregious violations of sanitation and safety, where large numbers of people are sickened.

Those investigations with people scattered across states, like the current E. coli O145 outbreak that has sickened over 50, are a testament to the skill, dedication of training of public and environmental health types.

Yet across the U.S., public health is taking budgetary hits as the trickle down of housing and financial collapse makes its way to the local level — states and counties are looking everywhere to balance the books.

A public health type penned and posted the following poem at http://randomleaves.blogspot.com/.

FIRST THEY VOTED to eliminate child care inspections
And I didn’t speak up because I didn’t have children

THEN THEY VOTED to stop inspecting food service establishments
And I didn’t speak up because another agency did those inspections

THEN THEY VOTED to get rid of nursing home and hospital inspectors
And I didn’t speak up because I worked in the OSTDS program

THEN THEY VOTED to abolish Environmental Health
And there was no one left to speak up


Closed means closed: Alberta hotel, employees fined for ignoring closure order

The Delta Edmonton Centre Suite Hotel is a nice enough place. I stayed there a while ago, in February, and I’ve never been so cold in my life. Look at a map. Saskatoon was almost as cold but Edmonton is farther north.

Not so sure about the food safety culture, after the owner, the head chef, and the food and beverage director were hit with fines Friday totaling $15,000 for operating its kitchen despite a closure order.

The Edmonton Sun reports that provincial court Judge Paul Sully said,

“I recognize that food preparation is a very serious matter on the one hand and, on the other hand, I recognize this was a result of a fire and will not likely happen again.”

Court heard health inspectors closed the main kitchen at the downtown hotel in October after a fire in a transformer room led to the kitchen having no running water, however staff continued to prepare meals using a board room.

A health inspector discovered kitchen staff were cooking meat dishes in the fifth-floor boardroom using roasters and had crock pots containing prepared rice dishes.

Court heard the conditions were not sanitary, there were issues with food temperatures, there was no liquid soap or paper towels for hand washing and there was no equipment for cleaning or sanitizing utensils and other items.

Alberta Health Services prosecutor Rob O’Neill said,

“Closed means closed. When the health department shuts you down, you don’t go behind their back and operate somewhere else.”

New York restaurants turn to consultants for inspection help

Trying to navigate the ever-changing demands of local health codes, restaurants in New York City are increasingly seeking out consultants to improve hygiene standards before a city inspector shows up.

It’s not a new concept; the big chain restaurant and grocery stores have been using outside consultants or their own people to ensure their food offerings produced and sold in a safe and hygienic manner. Government inspection sets a minimal standard that the best places strive to exceed – and no one wants to be written up in the local paper or have to display a lousy inspection result because of mistakes that could have been prevented.

The New York Times reports this morning there is an almost entirely unregulated cottage industry that has evolved in New York to run interference with the health department, even pleading the restaurants’ cases at the administrative tribunal where violations can be reduced or dismissed.

Note the conspiratorial angle.

Though the number of consultants in New York appears to be rising, a precise figure is difficult to come by. The health department began requiring that consultants register their names and contact information only last year; as of March 16, the department listed 104. They typically represent about one-third of the restaurants appearing before the tribunal, and display varying degrees of competence in doing so.

Thomas Merrill, the department’s general counsel, said,

“There’s people we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Some of them I don’t know if we’d all hire if we had a restaurant.”

Just like with third-party food safety auditors.

The inspectors issue punitive points for infractions like food kept at the wrong temperature, cutting boards with potentially bacteria-harboring grooves or a lack of proof that the croissants were made without trans fats.

The number of points, and the severity of the penalties, vary with the offense; according to the department’s guide, a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line” is much less serious than a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line, man with mustache with a parrot on shoulder at the salad bar, a child with a rabbit at the dining table and a woman with a cat on a leash at coffee bar.”

Who writes this stuff?

Beer is good for you and your bones

John Prine famously sang in his 1973 song, Please Don’t Bury Me,

Give my stomach to Milwaukee
If they run out of beer

That could also apply to me. But at least my bones should last forever even if the rest of me doesn’t.

The UK Independent reports that a regular pint helps strengthen the bones and prevent fractures in old age (so long as you don’t drink too much of it and fall over).

Beer is a significant source of silicon, which is a key ingredient of the diet that helps to improve bone mineral density. The National Institute of Health in the United States says silicon may be important for the growth and development of bones, and beer "appears to be a major contributor" to the amount of silicon in the diet.

The best beers for silicon are the pale malted ales and lagers. Dark bitters and stouts contain lower levels because they are made with roasted barley, which has lower silicon content. Wheat contains less silicon than barley, so wheat beers are poorer sources of silicon.

And wheat beer tasts like crap.

Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, said: "Beer drinking is not really relevant in terms of bone health. Silica may well contribute to bone health but in a minor way: it is not significant compared with nutrients that we know are essential for bone health and are potentially deficient in the UK diet – such as calcium and vitamin D."

That’s no fun. I’d rather go with David Allan Coe’s, Beer is Good For You.

5 years later, Canada releases illness data; trends for Salmonella, Campylobacter, verotoxigenic E. coli and Shigella

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which was created to streamline various public health duties like providing meaningful data on foodborne illness and provide leadership on public health issues (totally useless during the 2008 listeria in deli meats outbreak that killed 22) has gotten around to releasing so-called integrated surveillance data for selected enteric diseases in Canada.

This report focuses on the years 2000 to 2004. The pathogens described are Salmonella, Campylobacter, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli and Shigella. From 2000 to 2004, a general decline in reported rates of all four pathogens was observed in all except a few provinces. When looking at more long-term trends from 1995 to 2004, a similar decline was seen in nationally reported rates for all four pathogens. S. Typhimurium was the most frequently reported Salmonella serovar during the five-year period described, followed by S. Heidelberg and S. Enteritidis. C. jejuni remained the most prevalent Campylobacter species reported between 2000 and 2004. E. coli O157 comprised the majority of verotoxigenic E.coli isolates over these five years. Shigella sonnei was the most frequently reported Shigella species.

Hospitalizations, deaths, outbreaks and case clusters, as well as unusual isolation sites and travel-acquired infections are also explored in this report. Pathogenic E. coli was associated with the highest hospitalization rates over the five-year period, although Salmonella infections resulted in the largest number of deaths overall. Data on outbreaks and case clusters is limited to those reported to the National Enteric Surveillance Program (NESP) and the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML).

Which means, not much. The data is exceedingly limited, and why it took at least 5 years to report is baffling. Canadians can comfortably go back to sleep.