Ground beef recall linked to cluster of E. coli O157 illnesses in New England

USDA FSIS has announced a recall of 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and distributed in seven states. According to FSIS, the product has been linked to a cluster of illnesses in New England.

There are quite a few recalls going on most of the time; this one is notable because this product has been linked to an outbreak of illnesses at a camp in Massachusetts. It’s also notable because bulk amounts of the product were shipped down the East Coast for further processing. Retail outlets receiving some of this product include Shaw, Giant, Price Chopper,Trader Joe’s, BJs and others.

From the press release:
"Products for further processing:
     Each case bears the establishment number "EST. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection; has package dates of "09.14.09," "09.15.09," or "09.16.09;" and sell-by dates of "10.3.09," "10.4.09," or "10.5.09. These products were distributed to retail establishments in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia for further processing. However, these products at retail will likely not bear the package dates and sell-by dates listed above. Customers with concerns should contact their point of purchase."

It is unlikely that any of the product is still being sold fresh at retail stores (the best-if-sold-before dates range from mid-September to early October) but it’s likely that the affected beef is still around in freezers. The meat juices from thawing can provide a nice vehicle for pathogen transfer.

Stick it in with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer (in multiple spots) to ensure that ground beef has reached a safe temperature and be vigilant in containing meat juices when thawing frozen meats. Juicy is good, nasty meat juice spread around the kitchen isn’t.

Soft-serve safety redux

In part two of the Toronto Star’s investigation of soft-serve ice cream safety reporters have stumbled upon a snack bar with an extraordinary amount of coliform in the treats. The biggest offender found during the blitz was the Kew Gardens snack bar (with coliform above 1000000 cfu/gram). When I was growing up, I probably visited that snack bar 10-15 times a summer.

When asked about the 1000000 cfu/g measure, Rick Holley, microbiologist from U of Manitoba responded:

"Oh my God. This is not good," With results this high, "the product is hazardous," said Holley, adding the spectre of serious health implications is also magnified.

"The real concern here is listeria," he said. "And it’s going to happen."

 After learning of the result on Thursday, [Kew Gardens snack bar] manager Danny Foulidis ordered the machine shut down and sanitized.

"We’ve always been a clean establishment. We’ve never had an issue. If there’s something we need to change to make things better, it’s not a problem on our part."

During the past week, Gerry Lawrence, food safety manager at Toronto Public Health, has fielded calls from worried residents asking how to tell if soft ice cream is safe.

His advice: "If I’m buying ice cream for a youngster, I don’t think I want to buy it from somebody that has greasy hands or isn’t wearing a clean smock or even a baseball cap."

 Holley, a member of a federal advisory panel struck in response to the Maple Leaf Foods listeria crisis, chuckles at the suggestion that protection comes down to gauging the cleanliness of an operator. "That’s not the complete picture. You might have one person of that kind of appearance who plays a very minor role in handling products that are risky, such as these are.

Great quote by Holley after a poor suggestion from Lawrence. Visual cleanliness isn’t a good indicator of anything, especially whether someone is going to get sick. 

"It really does require that the folks who are responsible for making sure that all of the licence requirements of these people are met are conscientious in what they do and look at the whole picture. Whether or not they have time to do that is another issue."

The Star goes on to report on one of the factors that could lead to soft-serve contamination, the infamous O-ring.

Health inspectors generally do not check the inner mechanisms of machines, and experts warn that’s where the danger lies, particularly in a $1.85 rubber O-ring that seals an area around a drive shaft that spins the ice cream. Michael Minor, former president of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors, said a worn ring can cause contamination to seep into the ice cream.

"Product that leaks from the refrigerated mixing vat into the back of the machine because of a faulty O-ring can be pulled back in to the soft-serve mix through reverse flow," Minor said.

Manufacturers suggest the rings be replaced every three months.

Minor is concerned some operators lack the knowledge or will to maintain their machines, which is central to assuring a safe product.

"This is not rocket science. It’s not statistical analysis. This is a machine that needs attention and you need to understand it."

Holley and Minor both touch on one of the tenets of food safety culture: Operators need to know the risks associated with their products and how to manage them. Good operators know about sanitation, equipment maintenance and selecting good suppliers.

Oregon man calls 911 to protest missing juice box

In keeping with the storyline of idiots who think 911 is their babysitter, a  man who called 911 to complain that McDonald’s left a juice box out of his drive-through order was arrested on Monday, Portland television station KPTV reported.

Raibin Osman appeared before a Washington County judge Tuesday on a charge of misusing emergency services. He said he called emergency dispatchers after the drive-through employee wouldn’t come back to the window to give him a juice box.

Botulism Symptoms all the Days of Our Lives

On Days of Our Lives today, Victor Kiriakis gave his opinion about Chloe Lane, “Hell, botulism is better than being married to her.” In food safety terms, that’s a very low blow.

Botulinum is a deadly toxin that comes from bacteria in soil and grows in warm, moist environments with no oxygen and low acidity. For example, it can grow on a baked potato wrapped in foil and left out on the counter. There have also been cases of poisoning in carrot juice, home-canned green beans, and enchiladas in France.

Botulism can cause serious complications such as paralysis and death.

Common symptoms include difficulty swallowing or speaking, facial weakness, double vision, trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and paralysis.

In infants, symptoms include constipation followed by "poor feeding, lethargy, weakness, pooled oral secretions, and wail or altered cry. Loss of head control is striking."

If having botulism is better than being married to Chloe, then Lucas better hope Victor, Kate, Sammy or even Daniel will ruin that wedding (you can vote online at

And p.s., Victor Kiriakis is played by John Aniston, the father of Jennifer Aniston IRL.


NC juveniles accused of urinating in ice machine

You can pee on the ice, but not in an ice machine.

Four juveniles are facing several charges after security cameras showed them urinating into a cafeteria ice machine at a Chapel Hill,North Carolina middle school.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Tuesday the boys range in age from 12 to 15, and are charged with breaking and entering, larceny and vandalism to a public building. Because they are under 16, their names are being withheld.

Police said the vandalism occurred Dec. 15 at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill. School officials said the ice machine was used on the following three days.

But all the machine’s ice and containers were removed when school officials learned of the incident.

Public health officials instructed the school staff on how to clean and disinfect the surfaces and equipment before using them again.

Manager served ice cream allegedly containing poop; chef offers his DNA for testing

The gelato caper gripping Australia had several twists and a couple of great soundbites Tuesday morning (Australia time).

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that security camera footage of an incident in which staff at the Coogee Bay Hotel allegedly served a family a cup of gelato laced with human faeces shows the dessert being delivered to the family by the restaurant’s manager. …

"She was concerned about the family’s experience and she had the idea of offering a complimentary dessert to try and make some amends," said the hotel’s general manager, Tony Williams.

Meanwhile, the family’s lawyer, Steven Lewis, of Slater & Gordon, also rubbished newspaper reports the family had links to a rival pub as a "Kevin Bacon … six degrees of separation [defence]. My question is: ‘Did Kevin Bacon put the faeces in the ice-cream?"’.

Stephen and Jessica Whyte, along with their three young children and another family, were at the hotel to watch the NRL grand final, but after a series of complaints became suspicious when they were given a free bowl of gelato. "The real issue is that we were fed, as a family, shit, at someone’s pub," Mr Whyte told 2UE.

Yesterday the NSW Food Authority announced it was investigating, and the hotel’s management confirmed it had contacted Maroubra police in preparation for possible criminal charges against anyone who might have tampered with food at the hotel.

Meanwhile, the head chef at the Coogee Bay Hotel, Adam Wood, who had tendered his resignation before the incident and had continued to work at the hotel for several weeks afterwards, offered to put himself up for DNA testing.

Mr Wood’s arrival was trumpeted by the hotel’s general manager, Tony Williams, in a media statement about the hotel’s revamped beer garden this month.

"Executive Chef Adam Wood [was] poached from Japan where he headed up kitchens for the Swissotel, Osaka and Foreign Correspondent’s Press Club of Japan in Tokyo and brings extensive five star international and three hat experience with him," the statement read.

Why he resigned only weeks after being heralded as the hotel’s most senior chef remains unclear.

Sick bartender, bad ice led to barfing at Pennsylvania wedding

Norovirus sickened more than 70 people who attended a wedding reception in Washington County, PA, this month.

Investigators from the state Department of Agriculture found that the Stockdale Volunteer Fire Company, which hosted the reception at its fire hall, allowed an ill bartender to handle drinks and ice and used an unsanitary ice machine during the event.

Wedding guest Kim McCrory of Cranberry called the state Department of Health after she learned that she wasn’t the only guest experiencing diarrhea and vomiting in the days after the event.

"I have never been so sick; it was awful," McCrory said. "We weren’t sure if it was food poisoning or something else. But when I heard that so many people who were at the wedding got sick, I knew I should report it."

The bartender admitted having flu-like symptoms and should have been restricted from handling foods, ice and beverages.

Keep poop out of ice — wash your damn hands

An investigation commissioned by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) Wales found that one in five samples of ice tested from hotels and pubs in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan were contaminated with fecal matter — probably because staff are not washing their hands before serving customers ice in their drinks.

Julie Barratt, director of the CIEH in Wales, said,

“The results of the survey give us cause for concern. Although realistically there is little likelihood of food poisoning from the levels of bacteria that were found, the presence of fecal bacteria shows that the people handing the ice have very poor standards of personal hygiene. While the ice may pose little risk the same may not be true for other foodstuffs that they may also handle. Food business operators and food handlers need to recognise that ice is a food product and treat it in the same way as all other foods prepared for sale to the public.”

The Chartered Institute for Environment Health in Wales has put together these tips for when asking for ice in a drink:

• if the ice is in a bucket on the bar where anyone can lean over it or cough or sneeze on it, don’t have it;

• if the bar tender takes the ice out of the bucket with their hands, don’t have it;

• if the bar tender pushes a glass down into the ice and their hands come into contact with it, don’t have it;

• if the scoop or tongs for handling the ice are not stored properly, don’t have the ice – you wouldn’t chose to have meat cut with a dirty knife;

• if you can see the ice machine, and it looks grubby, don’t have the ice that comes from it; and,

• if the ice bucket looks dirty, don’t have the ice that comes out of it.

Pomegranate juice boosts sperm quality

Nutra Ingredients reports that a new study with male rats published in Clinical Nutrition suggestst that regular consumption of pomegranate juice may enhance the quality and mobility of sperm.

Gaffari Turk from Firat University in Turkey was quoted as writing, "The results of this study demonstrated, for the first time, that daily consumption of PJ for seven weeks caused increased spermatogenic cell density, epididymal sperm concentration, sperm motility and decreased abnormal sperm rate related with decreased lipid peroxidation in male rats."

I’ll stick to my berries and beer.

Ice storm hits Manhattan 3 — keeping food safe

On Tuesday night, the entire sky over Manhattan was colored green. And it happened at least five other times.

Those were transformers blowing up.

Westar electric says Manhattain may have no power for a week.


And then, Wednesday night, just when we thought we would have to wash dishes by hand, the power came on.

We’re fortunate, as hundreds of thousands across the Midwest still have no power, including several thousand in Manhattan. With that in mind, Reuters and USA Today picked up on my fridge on the front porch theme (also works well for beer).

CHICAGO — For nearly 610,000 customers in the U.S. Central Plains without power, the contents of their refrigerators and freezers may not be a total loss, a food safety expert said on Wednesday.
Meat, milk, cheese and other food can temporarily and safely be stored outside during freezing weather, said Doug Powell, an associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at Kansas State University.

Freezing rain and ice brought down tree branches and power lines on Sunday and Monday, initially leaving 1.2 million customers without electricity. Utility companies were estimating it may take up to 10 days to restore power to all customers in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

To turn a backyard into a refrigerator, place food in a cooler to protect it and monitor with a thermometer. Pack ice or snow around the food to help keep it cold.

Frozen foods will be fine for a couple days below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius). Refrigerated foods will keep at temperatures below 40F (4C).

While it’s fine for consumers to use their backyards as make-shift refrigerators, it’s not an option for restaurants and other businesses that serve food, Powell said.

For more information:

The pictures were taken this morning as the sun shone once again.