More than 1,000 Koreans sickened by Salmonella in cakes

Lee Sung-Eun of the Korea JoongAng Daily reported last month that over 1,000 people, mostly school children, got sick across the nation after eating a chocolate cake distributed by a Pulmuone affiliate.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said Salmonella, a common type of food-poisoning bacteria, was detected in the cake. 

A total of 1,156 people who ate the dessert in 29 cafeterias across the nation, mostly in schools, reported symptoms of food poisoning.

Pulmuone said it recalled the chocolate cake and halted all distribution and sales of the product. 

The product, Chocolate Blossom Cake, was made by the W1FNB food company in Goyang, Gyeonggi, and distributed by Pulmuone Foodmerce, which has its headquarters in Yongin, Gyeonggi. 

E. coli O157 is always tragic, but probably not because of the last thing you ate

McDonald’s is a big, semi-popular fast-food chain in the way Semi-Tough (the movie) depicted American professional football as big and semi-popular.

When Shiga-toxin producing E.coli were discovered in 1977 (named verotoxigenic E. coli) and then the first outbreaks were linked to human illness in 1982 at McDonald’s in White City, Ore., and Traverse City, Mich., McDonald’s completely revamped its beef sourcing and cooking procedures.

Over the past three decades, I’ve heard everyone blame McDonald’s for everything, especially on food safety, and especially what used to be known as hamburger disease.

South Korean lawyers are apparently catching up to where North Americans were 25 years ago, but perpetuate semi-stereotypes.

According to The Korea Herald, a mother on Wednesday filed a complaint against McDonalds Korea, claiming her daughter was diagnosed with the “hamburger disease” after eating a burger with an undercooked patty in one of its outlets.

“The 4-year-old victim had no health problems, but caught hemolytic uremic syndrome after eating a McDonald’s hamburger,” lawyer Hwang Da-yeon said at a press conference held in front of the Seoul District Prosecutors Office, before submitting the complaint. 

HUS is serious shit.

McDonald’s has known about it for a long time.

The complaint claims McDonald’s violated local food safety rules by serving contaminated meat that was not fully cooked.

The plaintiff also made a tearful plea, asking state prosecutors to investigate and hold McDonald’s Korea responsible for her daughter, who has suffered irreversible damage to her kidneys and must undergo eight to 10 hours of peritoneal dialysis on a daily basis.

According to the mother, the child ate a hamburger at a McDonald’s outlet in Gyeonggi Province in September and fell ill about three hours afterwards.

HUS is always tragic, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

She was brought to an intensive care unit three days later, where she was diagnosed with HUS, a food-borne disease that can cause acute kidney failure. The child was discharged from the hospital two months later, but had lost 90 percent of her kidney function.

The McDonald’s outlet denied any link between its product and the child’s illness, saying the meat is machined-cooked, eliminating human error.

I’m not sure who’s right, but Shiga-toxin producing E. coli – the kind that lead to HUS – take 2-4 days to develop – not 3 hours.

As Kate Murphy of The New York Times explained last week, when you’re fine one minute and barfing the next – what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls an acute gastrointestinal event — happens to all of us at least once a year. The bouts, while extremely unpleasant, usually don’t occasion a trip to the doctor or require any medication.

But such events tend to make us spin our gears trying to pinpoint what made us so miserably sick. While it’s hard to know for sure, there are clues that might help you determine the source and reduce your risk in the future.

“People tend to blame the last thing they ate, but it’s probably the thing before the last thing they ate,” said Dr. Deborah Fisher, a gastroenterologist and associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

It takes the stomach around four to six hours to empty a full meal, and then the small intestine takes about six to eight hours to squeeze out all the nutrients and empty into the colon. The remains linger there for another one to three days, fermenting and being formed into what ultimately is flushed down the toilet. So-called bowel transit time varies significantly from person to person, but gastroenterologists said you can easily find out what’s normal for you by eating corn and watching for when the indigestible kernels appear in your stool.

Gross, perhaps, but with that baseline, the next time you get sick, you’ll be better able to estimate when you might have eaten the offending meal. For example, if you throw up something and don’t have diarrhea or roiling further down, it could be that what made you ill was something you ate within the last four to six hours. If you wake up in the middle of the night with cramps and diarrhea, it’s more likely something you consumed a good 18 to 48 hours earlier, depending on the results of your corn test.

We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way home from the Glass Mountains yesterday. Quality was semi-OK, but safety was there.

(No McDonald’s money was involved in this blog post; there was no money at all; I just like to write).

1300 sickened in 17 outbreaks: Korea has a school lunch Salmonella problem

More than 500 students at five middle and high schools in northern Seoul came down with salmonella poisoning last week, as did more than 200 students at schools in North Gyeongsang Province, Daegu and Busan. total, 17 cases of mass salmonella poisoning had been reported across the nation as of Tuesday, with 1,284 people infected. That was a 34-percent increase compared to last summer and up 52 percent compared to the 2011-2015 average.

An editorial in The Korea Herald says the government’s 5.6 trillion-won ($5 billion) free school meals scheme has been found to be supplying improper lunches to many of the nation’s 6.14 million students.

A government task force inspected between April and July some 2,400 food suppliers and lunch operators and visited 274 of the nation’s 11,700 elementary, middle and high schools that provide students with hot lunches.

The team’s findings, released Tuesday, were disappointing and shocking. It has uncovered a total of 677 violations of the relevant law on the production, sale and consumption of foodstuffs used in school meals.

The findings suggest disregard for food safety and quality is rampant. The number of violations would have been much larger if the task force had visited more schools and inspected more companies.

In one case, a company in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, washed moldy potatoes with hygienically inappropriate underground water and shuffled them with eco-friendly ones to supply them as organic products.

In another case, a company was found to have used frozen beef that had passed its expiration date by as many as 156 days.  

The investigation also laid bare corrupt practices between schools and food firms. Many schools were found to have awarded contracts to food suppliers in an opaque manner.

Four large food companies – Dongwon, Daesang, CJ Freshway and Pulmuone – are suspected of having provided kickbacks to nutritionists at 3,000 schools to win foodstuff supply contracts.

Many schools were found to lack the ability to inspect the quality of the ingredients provided by suppliers. And at many schools, monitoring of kitchen sanitation was lax.

In light of these and other problems, it would be strange if food poisoning did not occur at schools.

To enhance the quality and safety of school meals, stern punishments should be meted out to those who violate the relevant regulations.

It would be also necessary to encourage parents to keep tabs on school kitchen sanitation. Kitchen managers need to train food service workers to ensure that their kitchens are maintained safely and free from germs and bacteria.


Happy New Year: lots of norovirus in Seoul, South Korea

Norovirus isn’t just a North American concern – although surveillance and reporting elsewhere is sorta loose. In Jan. 2014 over 1000 Japanese kids were ill from prepared school meals with contamination eventually linked to bakery employees and bread.

According to Korea JoongAng Daily, 70 cases of norovirus required hospitalization at Severance Hospital in Seodaemun District, northwestern Seoul on New Years Eve.D0NA88_2426320b

Kim Mi-jin is the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and the 4-year-old son. But unlike most people, she spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room, while her son struggled with a high fever that had climbed beyond 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on the previous night.

“He was diagnosed with enteritis, caused by the norovirus,” she said. “I’m worried about my daughter because she’s also showing symptoms similar to my son: vomiting and high fever.”

Despite the bitterly cold weather in Seoul – it was minus 10 degrees Celsius on New Year’s Day – winter enteritis is in full swing, which has led a number of patients to the hospital.

According to statistics from Severance Hospital in Seodaemun District, northwestern Seoul, 70 patients rushed to the emergency room on New Year’s Eve, all exhibiting symptoms of enteritis, more commonly known as inflammation of the small intestine.

Among them were 20 adults and 50 children.

“Most of the patients were children or those in their 20s or 30s,” a hospital official overseeing the night shift said on Dec. 31.

2 dead from Vibrio in raw fish in Korea

Health officials in Incheon are on alert after two vibrio sepsis patients died there while receiving treatment. They contracted the disease after eating raw fish. year, 10 cases of vibrio sepsis have been reported throughout the country, most of which occurred in South Jeolla Province.

According to the Incheon Metropolitan Government, a patient from Ganghwa-gun, surnamed Hwang, 53, died Aug. 14 at a hospital where he had been treated for severe abdominal pains and diarrhea.

Hwang was the second vibrio sepsis patient in Incheon to die, following another fatality in Bupyeong-gu.

The bacterium Vibrio vulnificus is commonly contracted through the consumption of raw or undercooked seafood. The resulting sepsis can cause abdominal pain and vomiting, among other symptoms.

Korean rice cakes-Gangnam style

Rob Mancini writes:

Two of my favourite things that have come out of Korea include the intriguing yet inspiring choreography from the Gangnam Style video, and Korean rice cakes.  In Korea, rice cakes are popular and are traditionally held at room temperature for sale to the public. Refrigeration reduces the quality of these products.

They are comprised of rice, salt, sugar, and water.  Other ingredients include chestnuts, walnuts, beans, pumpkin, and tapioca. The combination of room temperature, high pH >4.6, and high water activity provides an environment suitable for pathogen growth resulting in a psy-gangnam-style-1potentially hazardous product which would require temperature control. Yet, research has shown that Korean rice cakes can be held at room temperature for days without temperature control.

Rice cakes are traditionally steamed anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, dramatically reducing vegetative cells to safe levels and inactivating spores. Subsequently they are moulded into different shapes, wrapped in plastic wrap and sold to the public at room temperature.

Lee et. al investigated the effect of steam cooking on foodborne pathogens and their subsequent growth in five varieties of rice cakes made from flours of regular rice, sweet rice, white rice, tapioca, and mung bean.  The results of the study are as follows:

Rice cakes were inoculated with non-spore forming bacteria (Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus. Steam cooking 100°C for 30 minutes significantly reduced non-spore forming foodborne pathogens in all samples (>6 log CFU/g) and inactivated spores of Bacillus cereus by up to 1 to 2 log CFU/g.  Spore germination occurred after 3 days at room temperature storage, however, populations in most rice cakes remained below 106 CFU/g, which is the threshold for producing the toxin. It is important to note that spoilage bacteria multiply rapidly exceeding the growth of Bacillus cereus, therefore, off flavours and odours would be present before any toxin production.

The authors recommended that Korean rice cakes are safe to sell up to one day of room temperature storage (24 hrs). Further, there have been no documented outbreaks associated with these products.

Sun-Young Lee, Hyun-Jung Chung, Joong-Han Shin,1richard H. Dougherty, and Dong-Hyun Kang. (2006) Survival and Growth of Foodborne Pathogens during Cooking and Storage of Oriental-Style Rice Cakes.  Journal of Food Protection Vol. 69, No. 12


Squid strikes woman’s oral cavity with spermatophores

Park et al. report in the Journal of Paristology the case of oral stings by spermatophores of the squid Todarodes pacificus. A 63-yr-old Korean woman experienced severe pain in her oral cavity immediately after eating a portion of parboiled squid along with its internal organs. She did not swallow the portion, but spat it out immediately. She complained of a pricking and foreign-body sensation in the oral cavity.

Twelve small, white spindle-shaped, bug-like organisms stuck in the mucous membrane of the tongue, cheek, and gingiva were completely removed, along with the affected mucosa. On the basis of their morphology and the presence of the sperm bag, the foreign bodies were identified as squid spermatophores.

Penetration of the oral mucosa by parasite-like sperm bags of squid: A case report in a Korean woman, Journal of Parasitology 98(1):222-223. 2012
Gab-Man Park, Jong-Yun Kim, Jeong-Ho Kim, and Jong-Ki Huh

Kimchi crackdown in Korea

The Korea Food and Drug Administration announced Friday that it conducted a joint inspection with local governments on kimchi producers and ingredient makers over a 2-week period earlier this month in order to ensure that consumers are free from foodborne illnesses.

Of more than 1,000 companies inspected, 140 were cited for having poor sanitary conditions or failing to conduct self-quality checks before selling the food products.

Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of vegetables.

Couple didn’t know what they were eating

A 47-year-old Israeli woman crawled feebly to the front door to call for help from a neighbor before passing out. Her partner, also 47, had already fallen unconscious.

FOX News reports that the couple began to feel dizzy after eating a meal of fried blowfish, and could barely breathe when the ambulance arrived.

“From what they have been able to tell us,” Rambam Hospital spokesman David Ratner said, “a neighbor gave them the fish as a gift. They didn’t know what it was; they fried it up for dinner and ate it.“

The couple was unaware of the neurotoxins contained in the skin and certain internal organs of blowfish that are highly toxic to humans. Contacting or ingesting these toxins leads to muscle paralysis and can result in an excruciatingly slow and painful death.

Marine biologist Dr. Nadav Shashar said, though the fish is the second most poisonous vertebrae in the world, it is considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea, "but they know how to prepare it."

Dr. Shashar concluded by saying, “The basic rule of thumb is simple: Don’t stick things in your mouth if you don’t know what they are.”

Don’t eat poop or blowfish poison.

Eat My Brain

In May 2008, thousands of South Koreans took to the streets to protest the impending importation of U.S. beef. In a classic example of the social amplification of risk theory, citizens were apparently convinced that substandard beef was headed for South Korea and they would all develop mad cow disease.

Now, some citizens are fighting back.

JoonAng Daily reports that more than 1,000 Korean-Americans filed a group lawsuit against a Korean broadcaster yesterday, claiming its coverage of the supposed health risks of U.S. beef humiliated them and subjected them to mockery in the United States.

In April last year, Seoul-based MBC broadcast a report on U.S. beef warning that consumption of the meat may lead to the human form of mad cow disease. Following the airing of the “PD Diary” episode, tens of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets to protest a Seoul-Washington agreement that reopened the Korean beef market to U.S. products.

The protests continued for months, rattling the new Lee Myung-bak administration. …

“We demand that MBC and the chief producer of PD Diary pay for the psychological damage and broadcast a correction report and an apology,” said Lee Heon, legal representative of the group. …

Lee said the plaintiffs were insulted by PD Diary as its report insinuated that anyone who eats U.S. beef will contract the human form of mad cow disease. He also argued that because of the report, people living in Korea came to look down on overseas Koreans who have eaten U.S. beef for years.

And every time I hear of some frivolous story about mad cow disease – not the serious stories where innocent people die – I think of this 1995 song by Vancouver band, The Odds.