413 sick with Salmonella after UK Street Spice festival

Herbs and spices seem particularly prone to contamination, especially with Salmonella.

This time, uncooked curry leaves in a chutney left more than 400 people who ate at a street food festival with diarrhea and vomiting or salmonella poisoning, health officials have found.

The leaves were contaminated with several different bacteria, experts found, which led to 29 confirmed cases of salmonella at the Street Spice Curry leavesfestival in Newcastle in February and March.

Why is the public only hearing about it now?

Oh, right, it’s the UK.

An investigation by Public Health England (PHE) and Newcastle city council found 25 of the 29 cases had developed a strain of salmonella never found in people or food in Britain before.

According to an official report, further laboratory analysis suggested other organisms may also have caused illness including E coli and shigella.

Some of the 413 affected were found to have more than one of these infections at the same time.

No one will face prosecution because there was seen to be a lack of clear advice about the dangers of using raw curry leaves in recipes, and in general hygiene levels at the three-day event were good.

Dr Kirsty Foster, chair of the outbreak control team and consultant in health protection with PHE, said, “However, herbs and spices are known to be potential sources of salmonella and other organisms, and have been reported in scientific literature as the source of infection in a number of outbreaks across the country.

“But it is unclear whether there is widespread understanding among food handlers and the public about the potential for infection when using these products raw.

“That is why we have reported our findings to the Food Standards Agency, recommending that advice is developed for the food industry and the public about the use of raw curry leaves.

“While this is being developed, our advice to the public is to cook curry leaves thoroughly if they are to be used in recipes and to be aware of the risk of infection if using them raw.”

Once again, HPA ignores the risk of cross contamination.

Listeria in sandwich cold-cuts killed 8, sickened 20 over past 10 years in UK hospitals

Who are these dieticians in hospitals or aged facilities that keep feeding cold-cuts to the vulnerable? Do they have any food safety training? Didn’t they hear about the 23 elderly who were killed by Maple Leaf cold-cuts in Canada in 2008? Are they like the rest of us and ignore bland messages that state, refrigerated ready-to-eat foods like cold-cuts shouldn’t be consumed by immunocompromised people like the elderly or pregnant? How hard is it to heat the meat?

The UK Sun reports hospital sandwiches were yesterday revealed to have killed eight patients.

Watchdogs yesterday demanded a crackdown on shoddy handling of food after the grim toll over the past ten years was disclosed by the Health Protection Agency.

Twenty others were also poisoned by listeria but survived.

Sarnies were found to account for almost three quarters of outbreaks in hospitals — with the bug found in ham salad, sliced sausage, tuna, cheese and prawn mayo varieties.

Almost all were pre-packed by commercial firms — but at some stage had not been kept below 5°C.

Half of those hit were cancer patients weakened by chemotherapy treatment — leaving them less able to fight off the deadly bug.

The HPA warned: “Vulnerable patients and pregnant women can develop severe illness after ingesting levels that would not have an effect on other individuals. This suggests catering and ward staff are not aware of the importance of temperature control, or that proper methods of refrigeration were not used.”

Piping hot is not a cooking recommendation; temperature is

 I like gray food. Sometimes.

Pot roast, gravy, mushy peas, mashed potatoes – it’s comfort food for the Brisbane winter (high 70F, low 48F).

It’s gray. And piping hot.

But I also like hamburgers that aren’t hockey pucks, pork that isn’t leather, poultry that melts rather than substitute as a rubber ball.

To cook many foods safely without overcooking requires a tip-sensitive digital meat thermometer.

But, the Brits are the Brits, and once again, the best government communications types can come up with is, cook food until it’s piping hot.

This time it’s the Health Protection Agency, which issued one of those completely ineffectual food safety reminders as part of the taxpayer-funded Food Safety Week – another way to blame consumers if they get sick.

Among the helpful tips:

“Ensure that you cook/BBQ meat until it is piping hot – particularly poultry, as this will kill off any bacteria.

Dr Bob Adak, an expert in gastrointestinal disease at the HPA, said: “Bacteria can survive in all kinds of environments and can grow and spread rapidly given the opportunity. But you can combat this by cooking meat correctly to kill any bacteria that may be present and using hot soap and water when washing up and wiping surfaces thoroughly to eliminate harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of infection.”

Where can I buy some of this hot soap?

Salad greens likely source of salmonella that sickened 136 in UK in 2010

From July to Oct. 2010, 136 people in London and east England were sickened by Salmonella Java phage type 3b variant 9. Gobin et al., from the U.K. Health Protection Agency, report in Eurosurveillance today that most cases were female with a median age of 39.5 years and lived in London. Results of epidemiological investigations are compatible with salad vegetables as the potential source, but no common suppliers of salad were identified and no organisms were isolated from environmental and food samples.

S. Java is present in poultry flocks in the European Union and is the most common serovar reported in poultry in the Netherlands. Outbreaks of S. Java have been reported in the past, associated with salad vegetables, goat’s milk cheese, poultry, reptiles and tropical fish aquariums. S. Java is an uncommon cause of salmonellosis in the United Kingdom (UK), with 151, 112 and 130 cases reported in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively according to the national database.

In 2007, a multi-country outbreak of S. Java phage type (PT) 3b variant 9 (var9) involved cases in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK and the U.S. Epidemiological evidence suggested an association with salad vegetables.

The results of the case–case study confirmed a significant association between symptomatic infection of S. Java PT 3b var9 and eating out at restaurants, eating pre-packaged mixed salad leaves at home, consumption of salad leaves from takeaway restaurants and eating any salad leaves either at home or purchased from commercial catering settings. Since salad is often used as a garnish in meals eaten in commercial catering settings, it is possible that the model underestimated the proportion of cases who consumed salad leaves away from home.

We cannot exclude the possibility that the study may have missed the right vehicle of the outbreak such as sprouted seeds which have been implicated in two recent outbreaks in Europe. It is likely that the consumption of smaller food items (seeds, sprouted seeds and herbs) in salads prepared by commercial caterers was not remembered or was not noticed by cases. None of the smaller salad items were found to be associated with cases during the hypothesis generation. It is possible that salad leaves were a confounding factor in this investigation and smaller, less memorable items should be considered in outbreaks where salad vegetables appear to be implicated.

Environmental investigations did not identify common suppliers of salad vegetables and the short shelf life of salad vegetables limited the ability to acquire any suspect foods for microbiological analysis.

The contamination of salad leaves and salad vegetables during their production and processing has been implicated in a number of geographically widespread outbreaks. High risk practices during production and processing include the use of contaminated water either to irrigate the crops, to apply pesticides or other dressings, or to wash the crop once harvested; the use of human or animal sewage as a crop fertilizer; and the transport of the harvested crop in a contaminated vehicle/storage system, e.g. trucks previously used for transporting waste. Crops growing in the field are also vulnerable to contamination from sources such as wild animals and birds

Gastrointestinal infection associated with salad vegetables may also be the result of cross-contamination from poultry, meat or meat products or contamination by the food handler during food preparation in the home or in catering establishments. A review of more than 2,000 general foodborne outbreaks from 1992 to 2006 undertaken by the HPA found that 4% of them were associated with prepared salads. The review found that most of the outbreaks linked to salads occurred in the catering sector and were associated with infected food handlers, cross-contamination and poor storage.

The increase in illness and outbreaks associated with the consumption of fresh ready to eat salad vegetables indicates the ongoing need to improve methods in the production and preparation of these foods to reduce the potential for contamination with Salmonella and other enteric pathogens.

The complete epidemiological write-up, with a full discussion of limitations, is available at http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20023.

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.

E. coli petting zoo delusion in the UK

This is how delusional some folks are about E. coli O157 in the U.K.

The Exmouth Herald reports that Nigel Lee, who runs the World of Country Life, has slammed the hype surrounding an E.coli scare as ridiculous after being told he can reopen all attractions following an investigation.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency recommended Lee close the animal portion of his attraction three weeks ago after three children who contracted the O157 strain of E. coli had potential links to the farm.

Of 30 samples collected from sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, pigs and an empty calf pen, E. coli was detected in eight representing a mixed group of sheep, goats, chickens and also contained a rabbit.

A further positive result was found in a sample from a pig pen. Following the examination, the HPA advised the attractions could be re-opened.

Mr Lee was pissed with the HPA after they issued an incorrect media statement three weeks ago which implied the site was completely closed, stating,

"All the hype just got ridiculous. It was just the petting farm and deer train ride that was closed.”

Apparently Lee thinks sick kids is hype, and what about the 8 out of 30 positive samples?

Below is a table of petting zoo outbreaks, largely adopted from a list Bill Marler collected.

UK girl ‘infected by E coli at farm six months before alert

Any time there’s an outbreak of foodborne illness, and someone says, “We’ve always done things this way and never had a problem,” there is an immediate cloud of suspicion hanging over that producer or retailer.

It’s probably the worst thing someone facing a food safety crisis can say.

The Brits are particularly pissed that Godstone Farm in Surrey, a petting zoo which appears to be the source of 87 E. coli O157 illnesses, including 12 kids in hospital, stayed open as long as it did.

It’s going to get worse.

According to the Times this morning, a five-year-old girl who suffered kidney failure in March is thought to have been made ill by E coli contracted at the same farm.

Holly Nethercoat (right) was kept in an isolation unit at Great Ormond Street hospital, London for two weeks after a visit to Godstone farm in Surrey.

The story says that despite the likelihood Holly contracted the bug at the farm, it was not informed. It is not mandatory to report E coli cases to the Health Protection Agency.

The agency refused to say whether it had been told of Holly’s case. However, Jackie Flaherty, owner of Godstone farm, said:

“We absolutely haven’t heard of any cases before August.”

Great Ormond Street said “good public health practice” meant the case should have been reported to the local health protection unit but it refused to say whether it had done so in Holly’s case because of patient confidentiality.

Mark Nethercoat, Holly’s father, said,

“My daughter went to hell and back, and I can only conclude it was because something was grossly wrong with both the farm and the Health Protection Agency.”

Fat Duck criticizes health types at chef conference

From the this-guy-just-can’t-shut up file, Heston Blumenthal whined, err, told a conference in London yesterday that the Health Protection Agency (HPA) should do more to support the industry, stating,

“There is a real lack of support to restaurants from the HPA when it comes to handling something like a norovirus outbreak and it is only because of the status of the Fat Duck that we survived this. If we were a small independent restaurant, we would have been forced to close as a result of this. Our industry is so fragile and there is so little support.”

The HPA released a report on its investigation into the norovirus outbreak at the Fat Duck, which affected more than 500 diners, earlier this month stating the official cause was contaminated shellfish. Among the findings:

• oysters were served raw;

• razor clams may not have been appropriately handled or cooked;

• 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??????; and,

• 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???

Blumenthal went on to tell the conference that both the experts appointed by the Fat Duck and those by its insurers believed that there were a number of flaws in the HPA report, including its criticism of the restaurant’s staff sickness policy and its use of anti-bacterial cleaning agents.

“Some of the elements in the report were supposition,” he said.

Blumenthal also criticized HPA for the way it released the report, arguing he and his team of insurers and legal experts were given no time to analyse its findings before it was released to the public.

“We were told we would be given 24 hours to analyse the report before it would be released to the public but in fact we were only given three hours,” he said.

That’s more warning than the 529 people who were barfing on widely expensive food porn received.

And Heston, there’s nothing that builds consumer confidence more than have a government agency in tight with the industry it regulates. It’s the Health Protection Agency, not the Boost Restaurant Revenues Agency. HPA is to protect human health, and encourage places like restaurants to do the same. Making 529 customers sick is bad for business, but not the fault of the HPA.

This guy provides so much material I don’t have to resort to calling him the love child of Alton Brown and longtime Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player Mats Sundin.

UK boy, 3, catches swine flu and E.coli; father disgusted kids’ lives put at risk at petting zoo

Harry Dolby, three (right, photo from Telegraph) has become the latest victim of E.coli at a petting farm after being recetly hospitalised with swine flu.

He visited Godstone Farm with his mother Louise and friends on September 4, after the initial E. coli cases came to light.

Speaking from his bedside at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, Harry’s father, Lee Dolby, said he was ”disgusted” at the failure of the farm and the HPA to act promptly.

Mr Dolby spoke of his anger at the actions taken over Godstone Farm.

”As soon as the first case came to light, the place should’ve been closed until it had been given the all-clear. ‘These are kids’ lives being put at risk here. I’m just disgusted at both the farm and the HPA, which is meant to be protecting us. Both are in the wrong for keeping the farm open. They realised it would be one of the last times for the kids to be able to visit and have a treat before the school holidays finished and they returned to classes."

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.