Food safety in schools sorta sucks

Today’s USA Today has a great feature about food safety and school lunches in the U.S.

Students at Starbuck Middle School stumbled through the halls just after lunch on Oct. 31, 2007, holding their bellies and moaning. When the vomiting began, teachers knew that it wasn’t a Halloween prank.

By midafternoon, almost 70 children waited outside the nurse’s office at the school near Milwaukee. "There were so many kids there, it was like, ‘Holy cow!’ " recalls Michael Hannes, then a seventh-grader who felt "like someone kept punching me in the stomach."

During the Racine outbreak, the scene at Starbuck was so striking that photos of a hallway full of sick kids memorialize the day in the school yearbook. In the foreground sit trash barrels; the school ran out of bags to catch the vomit.

Much about the following days typifies what happens after such outbreaks. Worried that a virus might be to blame, officials closed the school and custodians disinfected every surface; meanwhile, health and school officials tried to learn all they could about what the children ate.

Days would pass before local health officials determined that the tortillas served at Starbuck and four other schools in Racine were to blame for 101 illnesses. An Internet search showed them the stunning particulars: The company that supplied the tortillas had a long history of making children sick.

The feature has lots more details. And is why I always helped pack the kids a lunch.

British school headmaster channels John Cleese in response to campylobacter outbreak

My favorite John Cleese movie is not one of the Monty Python things, or a Fish Called Wanda, or the Faulty Towers TV bits. It is the rarely seen and vastly underappreciated 1986 effort, Clockwise. It is so … British.

“Brian Stimpson (John Cleese) is the headmaster of a comprehensive (high) school in England. He sets himself, his staff and pupils very high standards. On the way to a conference at which he is to talk, all manner of disasters strike."

Brian Stimpson came to mind after This is Croydon Today reported that Cumnor House School, in Pampisford Road, South Croydon, has been hit by an outbreak of campylobacter.

Headteacher Peter Clare-Hunt, who I am totally envisioning as John Cleese, insists there is no proof that the bug came from the school kitchen.

"We have had five confirmed cases of campylobacter which is a type of food poisoning.

“The recommendation that the environmental health and independent food hygiene consultant made are all very minor and by minor I mean temperatures of fridges. But there is nothing sinister.

"We’re talking about food storage, temperatures of fridges not being too high or too low, making sure we don’t prepare raw meat alongside salads.”

Yes, John-Cleese-in-Clockwise character: don’t prepare raw meat alongside salads.

Headteacher Peter Clare-Hunt also said,

"In terms of tracing this back to the kitchen that will never be proved one way or the other."

How reassuring.

Welsh government responds to E. coli outbreak report; parents of Mason say it’s not enough

After the 2005 E. coli O157 outbreak which killed 5-year-old Mason Jones and sickened 160 schoolchildren in Wales, Professor Hugh Pennington led a public inquiry which revealed the futility of food safety training, government inspection, and pretty much anything to do with the so-called food safety system.

Yesterday, First Minister Rhodri Morgan announced
more of the same in responding to Pennington’s report in the Wales Assembly.

“We know already that the Food Standards Agency is to review the use of equipment such as vacuum-packing machinery for both raw and cooked products.”

Duh. It shouldn’t happen.

“The training of inspectors and their managers is also being examined, with the aim of making this more comprehensive, helping them develop a sixth sense of what is potentially catastrophic.”

So they can see dead people?

“Inspections will be unannounced unless there is a clear requirement otherwise.”

Just make the inspections unannounced.

Sharon Mills and Nathan Jones, the parents of Mason Jones (above, right) said they would like to see Mr Morgan take more direct action and impose measures on the authorities involved, instead of leaving them to correct their own mistakes, with Ms. Mills stating,

“It was a bit disappointing because there was nothing definite about what he said. I thought we were going to get some answers and there still aren’t any. I don’t think we are any further forward than we were before.”

Somewhere, Prof. Pennington, who also headed the inquiry after the 1996 E. coli O157 outbreak in Scotland that killed 21 and sickened over 400, is wondering how to escape this Groundhog-Day-esque cycle of outbreak-illness-death-report-repeat.