Be the bug: germs spread easily in kitchens but easy to prevent?

A new study released by Safefood Ireland has found the vast majority of Irish people do not thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw chicken and fail to properly wash down their kitchen surfaces after food preparation.

The findings were released to coincide with a new campaign by Safefood, which aims to show how easily food poisoning germs can spread in the kitchen.

The study involved 120 people preparing two meals – a beef burger and a warm chicken salad. They had to follow specific instructions, with 60 of the people working in a test kitchen, while the other 60 worked in their own kitchens.

Throughout both kitchens, webcams were used to observe the task and swabs were taken from the food, kitchen surfaces and the participants’ hands to assess the presence of potentially dangerous bacteria.

When it came to the participants’ hands, at least eight in 10 had not washed theirs properly after handling raw chicken, while the hands of one in three were contaminated with raw meat bacteria after the exercise.

Almost all of the kitchen surfaces had not been washed properly after food preparation and almost half of the kitchens were contaminated with raw meat bacteria.

Half of the chopping boards used were also not properly washed and were contaminated with raw meat bacteria and the use of utensils was no better.

In fact, almost three in four people failed to properly wash the knife they had been using on raw chicken before reusing it on salad vegetables. Furthermore, at least one in three side salads that were server with a beef burger were contaminated with raw meat bacteria.

Meanwhile, results from a second study also showed that raw meat bacteria can live for at least 24 hours on kitchen surfaces.

According to Safefood chief executive, Martin Higgins, ‘by highlighting the trail of these germs around the kitchen and revealing their journey, the campaign emphasises the dangers to consumers of not following simple food hygiene practices and the risks this can pose to themselves and others’.

Another interpretation would be, bugs that make people sick are not simple to control; they’re everywhere and easily move about, which is why loads have to be reduced before foods enter a grocery store, or restaurant or home kitchen. Food safety is not simple.

Underground market in San Francisco draws authorities’ notice

“If you have untrained vendors selling food to 1,200 people, you have a high-risk situation.”

So says Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the director of environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The New York Times reports for the past two years, the San Francisco Underground Market has served up haute fringe food, but on June 11, the monthly market, which now draws more than a thousand visitors, received an unwelcome serving of its own: a cease and desist order from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The market had positioned itself as a members-only club to circumvent the department’s retail food-safety permitting process.

The market started small but has become a kind of foodie phenomenon. The idea has been to provide an incubator for the Bay Area’s fledgling food entrepreneurs, many of them young people who said they could not afford the steep fees of a conventional farmers’ market.

The department has not received complaints of illness, Dr. Bhatia said, but given the popularity of the market — arguably no longer “underground” — it now does not qualify as a club but is a retail food establishment under state law and subject to the standard permit process.

Iso Rabins, 30, the market’s founder, said Friday that he planned to meet with the city attorney to discuss how the market might be “legitimized,” possibly by establishing a communal commercial kitchen.

Ahram Kim, 35, whose culinary pièce de résistance is pork sausage topped with kimchi, has his own theory about the crackdown. “I immediately thought: ‘Of course. The state is broke,’ ” he said.

Food Authority officer is also dashing

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “Peter Sutherland is a clean and tidy-looking man as would be expected of a NSW Food Authority employee. His uniform is neatly pressed and his spectacles are sparkling. His unassuming appearance would easily go unnoticed in a busy restaurant.”

That’s not an accurate description of Peter. He’s dashing in his own way, and has a healthy sense of humor.

”My job is not necessarily just about inspecting the kitchen, it is about observing people’s behaviour,” Sutherland (ritght, pic from SMH) says, his eyes slowly scanning the sink of dirty dishes, stove top and fridge. ”It is amazing how quickly people forget an officer is in the kitchen.”

Sutherland prefers the title of food safety officer to health inspector to describe the work of council officers who visit restaurants. The NSW Food Authority gathers the results from these inspections and publishes them in an annual report card.

According to the latest report card in October, restaurant standards are improving. But hundreds still end up on the NSW Food Authority name-and-shame list, updated weekly.

It is questionable whether most home kitchens in Sydney would live up to the same standards. My kitchen, for one, would be a shoo-in to be named and shamed.

”It is amazing how many people don’t wash their hands – 35 per cent admit to only remembering to wash their hands after they have started cooking,” he says.
The tea towel is another of Sutherland’s bugbears. Like chopping boards – which should be scrubbed between uses and regularly given a ”good dose of sunlight” – tea towels are a common source of cross-contamination. ”You use the tea towel to dry the dishes, wipe the bench, maybe wipe the floor and then you might wipe your child’s nose,” he says.


Is your in-laws’ cooking a food safety failure

The occasional relative will welcome my help in the kitchen. That’s Amy’s aunt Jean (right) as we prepped dinner in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. We talked food safety and I complimented her on stringent thermometer use.

But many dinners with family or friends can be food safety nightmares. Cross-contamination is rampant, temperature control inadequate, and the source of ingredients suspect.

Someone called Grossed Out wrote the Toronto Sun to say her mother-in-law does not wash her hands.

“During our Christmas visit, she and I went grocery shopping. We returned and prepared the leftovers. She "re-mashed" the potatoes with her bare hands — without ever washing her hands. … Is there any way to bring this to her attention without hurting her feelings?”

Columnist Amy Dickinson responds,

“This is extremely unappetizing, not to mention unhealthy. If your mother-in-law handled uncooked chicken or shellfish and then plunged her unwashed hands directly into a bowl of mashed potatoes, for instance, this could cross-contaminate foods and spread foodborne illness.

“If you were pregnant and contracted Listeria from these unsanitary practices, it could be disastrous. …

“Try saying: ‘Mom, I’m very concerned about hand washing in the kitchen and I notice you’re pretty casual about it. Can you help me out here? I feel like I can’t eat comfortably unless the cook washes her hands often.’"

Other suggestions?

Sydney inspectors to swab kitchens in foodservice crackdown

Sydney restaurants and cafes will be subjected to random swabs of their kitchens and cooking equipment to test for the presence of bacteria under a new program to begin next year.

As part of new enhanced program to be conducted by the City of Sydney council, health inspectors will take samples for testing from food preparation areas including from chopping boards, bench tops and dish clothes as part of their routine inspections.

The swabs will be tested for Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — two forms of bacteria which can contribute to food poisoning and illness.

City of Sydney chief executive officer Monica Barone told Hospitality magazine the sampling program reflects the high expectations of the million city workers, visitors and residents who rely on cafes, restaurants and sandwich shops every day, adding,

“As a global city and Australia’s leading culinary destination, people expect a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene at the restaurants and cafes where we all eat. … These sampling measures go above and beyond mandatory legislative requirements and provide customers with added reassurance that the kitchen surfaces used for the preparation of food are being monitored.”

The enhanced measures are part of the City of Sydney’s thorough inspection program of the 3,000 Central Sydney and inner city restaurants, cafes and food premises. Barone said not all premises will be tested, but random samples may be taken at anytime.

Premises found to have elevated levels will be re-inspected and staff given advice and training on hygiene practices. Premises found to continually return elevated readings may be issued with warning notices and fines – which are published on the NSW Food Authority’s website.

Real time turkey; bugs everywhere: the cross-contamination nightmare of prepping a turkey

Five days after purchasing a 15-pound frozen turkey for $0.68/pound, it’s time to prep the bird for our 4 p.m ish Thanksgiving dinner in Manhattan (Kansas, so Central time)..

Using a combination of countertop and the front porch to thaw the bird in a covered roasting pan, the frozen turkey has a surface temperature of 47F and an interior temperature of 39F (I’ve been letting it sit on the counter to warm up in preparation for cooking).

There was at least an inch of melted turkey juice and water at the bottom of the roasting pan. Whoever said place a frozen bird on a plate in the refrigerator to thaw has never done it. There would be salmonella-and-campylobacter-laden liquid everywhere, most likely on the fresh produce in the crisper drawer.

As I picked up the bird to begin removing the packing, there was a splash, and a few tablespoons of liquid splattered on the floor. Oops. Then there was a package of gravy mix in the cavity, covered in all sorts of bacteria. Got that into its own container, and the neck into the stock pot. Got me and the surrounding area cleaned up.

The bird is continuing to warm up at room temperature for another hour and then into the oven. The chestnut stuffing has to cool a bit.

Next, more cross contamination follies as the bird gets stuffed.


Possible food poisoning at Chattanooga Community Kitchen

At least 15 people have been diagnosed with what appears to be food poisoning after eating at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. The County Health Department is investigating.

Officials are interviewing people who have eaten there and supervising a clean-up of the food preparation area.

Until more is known about what made these people sick, the kitchen will only be serving broth and dry toast.

Central kitchen leads to 181 sick with salmonella at 16 nurseries in Hungary

A salmonella infection in 16 nurseries and primary schools in Szekesfehervar, central Hungary, has made 181 children ill, a local health authority official told MTI on Tuesday.

The infection was first reported on September 8 and developed sporadically rather than suddenly, said Gyongyi Lencses. "The curve is now on the down-slope," she added.

The affected institutions were all served by the same central kitchen. Three of the kitchen staff tested positively for the bacterium.

Village Voice don’t like disclosure

Once trendy, now trashy, New York’s The Village Voice has nothing but disdain for NYC’s restaurant inspection grading system.

Most recently, the Voice used the dirty kitchen story to conclude, “Your kitchen is probably filthier than New York’s dirtiest dive.”

“In yet another glaring example that the Department of Health’s restaurant inspection letter grades are likely to be formidably misunderstood by the average dining Joe, researchers have found that at least one in seven home kitchens would fail the DOH inspection — in other words, score less than a C grade. …

“If the top-rated restaurant in the city can only get a C (and White Castle is at the top of the class alongside A-graded Popeye’s Chicken and McDonald’s), something must be wrong with the system.”