Maine food boat shut down, and reopened due to food safety issues

One of the more compelling subplots on the was-AMC-now-Netflix series, The Killing, is one of the character’s broken relationship with her former case worker and parent figure – who lives on a house boat in Seattle.

That’s how much the show has devolved after a promising first couple of seasons.

Maybe I’m just bitter after investing 20+ hours of background watching.glba36861

Food safety in from mobile vendors has been much maligned, and propped up, but food boats are a new thing to me. In Portland (Maine) There’s at least one example of a food business operating on the open seas – from a small boat that delivers and sells food to boaters. According to, Reilly Harvey, of Mainstay (the boat) had been shut down due to operating outside of food hygiene laws. But then given a reprieve with conditions.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald had a fun slice-of-life feature on their hands. They found a woman, Reilly Harvey, who takes a small boat out into the state’s waters full of delicious homemade pies and entire lobster dinners to sell to boaters. 

The desserts were just the beginning. Harvey’s boat, Mainstay, is rigged with a three-burner propane stove set in the stern, and three pots sat waiting for lobster, clams and butter, all of which Harvey had aboard. There were tubs of cauliflower-curry tofu salads with yogurt-lime-cilantro dressing and homemade biscuits that had come out of the oven less than an hour ago.

The day after the story appeared in the newspaper it was over. The state shut her down. There are rules, man! Where are her sinks? She has to have running water! From the Press Herald’s follow-up coverage:

“It makes me feel sick to my stomach and sad,” said Reilly Harvey, who runs Mainstay Provisions out of an old boat she keeps on Andrews Island. Harvey said she was contacted by a state health inspector and told she must pass health inspection standards for mobile vendors – think food trucks – and get her vintage 22-foot wooden launch, the Mainstay, fitted with sinks and hot and cold running water if she is going to continue to serve hot food.

There are only 3½ weeks left in her season. Unless she is able to comply with the regulations, it is unlikely she’ll be able to operate Mainstay Provisions as usual in 2014.

UPDATE: Ira Stoll has alerted me that Harvey has been granted a reprieve, requiring her to have a wash basin, five gallons of water, a food thermometer and a bucket to drain hot water. The permission-based society is so kind!



Maine legislators want more than eleven health inspectors

Local and state public health inspectors are some of the most important folks in the food safety world. Especially in places where the philosophy has moved from traditional sanitation observations to risk-based inspections. They are individuals who see what is really going on in kitchens, are often the technical experts for independent restaurants, and are integral in solving outbreaks. welcome_to_maine_sign

In the entire state of Maine, there are 11 of them. According to the Portland Press Herald, this is a problem for some Maine legislators.

The Maine Restaurant Association, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Tourism Association opposed the bill during a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which oversees the restaurant inspection program. The industry groups said they fear the bill would confuse restaurant owners with inconsistent rules. 

The state now employs 11 inspectors, each of whom is responsible for inspecting 600 to 800 establishments a year, including restaurants, tattoo parlors, summer camps and inns. 

Cooper’s bill, L.D. 1592, was submitted shortly after the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram exposed weaknesses in state and local inspection programs, including less frequent inspections and less public access to inspection results than all but two other states. The newspaper found that lawmakers reduced the mandated frequency of inspections even as complaints about sanitation or food-borne illnesses increased.

The number of restaurant-related complaints continued to rise through the fall of 2013, according to the latest records provided by the state, as the state inspectors worked to inspect restaurants once every two years. The failure rate of restaurants varied greatly by county.

Testifying for the restaurant association, Richard Grotton, the group’s former chief executive officer, said millions of people eat in Maine restaurants every year, and very few have gotten seriously ill. He urged the committee to maintain the status quo, which he called “a good system.”

The state’s illness rate for pathogens doesn’t suggest that there is anything special going on – and there’s lots of room for improvement. Maine Department of Health and Human Services reports a Salmonella incidence rate of 12.1 per 100,000 in 2012 – which is just under the national average.

Farm free or die; Maine towns rebel against food rules

I was in New Hampshire once with Amy; she was talking at some conference, I had lunch with a health inspector, watched a serious girls lacrosse game, and became familiar with the license plate slogan, Live Free or Die.

The health type told me that meant some state legislator wanted to ilive-free-or-dientroduce raw milk for the school lunch program.

Maria Godoy of NPR appropriates the NH slogan and writes that in Maine, towns have declared independence from state and federal regulations on locally produced foods.

In May, the tiny Isle of Haut became the 10th town in the state to pass what’s known as a food sovereignty ordinance. Essentially, these resolutions claim that small local food producers don’t have to abide by state or federal licensing and inspection regulations if they are selling directly to consumers.

Until people get sick. Then they’ll want government.

Oversight of Maine restaurants diminishes, just as complaints rise

Maine’s guidelines for overseeing restaurant safety were quietly scaled back last year, even as the number of health-related complaints about Maine restaurants has been on the rise.

An investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has found that restaurant kitchens in Maine are subject to fewer inspections and less transparency than restaurants in much of the country. In addition, the cannot track the most common food code violations or analyze trends and variations from one county to another.

Among the findings:  

• The number of complaints that led to restaurant inspections has increased 87 percent since 2008, including a 35 percent jump after the Legislature doubled the amount of time between mandatory inspections. Key lawmakers were not aware of the increase in complaints when they changed the law.

• Little information is readily accessible to the public about the cleanliness of restaurants, with Maine being one of a small number of states where no local or statewide authority posts inspection information online. If a restaurant fails an inspection or is deemed a health hazard and closed, it is not required to inform its patrons.

The Press Herald created an online database of Portland restaurant inspections, but statewide data provided to the newspaper were too flawed to post online.

• State inspectors could not meet the state’s own mandate to conduct annual inspections, so the Legislature loosened the law to require an inspection once every two years. Other states require annual inspections, while many require multiple inspections each year.

• The state system for tracking restaurant inspections is seriously limited, erroneously listing some restaurants as public health hazards, saddling some new restaurants with the poor performance of a previous restaurant simply barf.o.meter.dec.12because it’s located at the same address, and provides no way for the state to analyze the most common food code violations.

• Inspection failure rates vary greatly from county to county. Restaurants in one county failed 13 percent of all inspections over the last three years, while in another county, virtually none failed.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants isfragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand

Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874

Katie Filion and Douglas Powell

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

16 sick from Salmonella Typhimurium in ground beef from Hannaford Supermarkets; CDC weighs in

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infections linked to eating ground beef purchased from Hannaford Supermarkets.

Representatives from Hannaford have been cooperating with public health officials throughout the investigation. Public health investigators are using DNA "fingerprints" of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak. Investigators are using data from PulseNet, the national subtyping network made up of state and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory laboratories that performs molecular surveillance of foodborne infections.

Preliminary testing shows that the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium is resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. This antibiotic resistance may be associated with an increase in the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

A total of 16 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from 7 states. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: HI (1), KY (1), MA (1), ME (4), NH (4), NY (4), and VT (1). Among persons for whom information is available, illnesses began on or after October 8, 2011. Ill persons range in age from 1 year to 79 years old, with a median age of 45 years old. Fifty percent are male. Among the 13 ill persons with available information, 7 (54%) have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Among 16 ill persons for whom information is available, 11 (69%) reported consuming ground beef in the week before their illness began. Among the 11 cases who reported consuming ground beef, 10 (91%) reported purchasing ground beef from Hannaford stores. For ill persons for whom information is available, reported purchase dates range from October 12, 2011 to November 20, 2011.

On December 15, 2011, Hannaford, a Scarborough, Maine-based grocery chain, recalled an undetermined amount of fresh ground beef products that bear sell-by dates of December 17, 2011 or earlier.

Salmonella warning: careful helping that turtle across the road

 Turtles, even those in the wilds of Maine, are wonderful sources of salmonella.

Ken Allen, an editor, writer and photographer, writes in Maine’s Morning Sentinel that on Aug. 27, the day before Hurricane Irene hit Maine, Katelyn, my youngest daughter, and I were bicycling north on Route 27 and came to the "turtle crossing" just south of the old Messalonskee Lake boat launch by Belgrade Stream, apparently an ancient migration route for this reptile.

That day, a painted turtle — large as this species goes — had hunkered in grass by the breakdown lane, pointing west toward the busy highway.

That day with Katelyn, I stopped my bicycle, showed her the turtle and said, "Why don’t you move it across the road so no one runs over it."

I wanted Katelyn to get accustomed to doing good deeds for wildlife, but she was worried the turtle might scratch her, a good thing.

Unknown to me at that moment, aquatic turtles commonly carry salmonella bacteria. I should have known that fact after writing nature articles for the past three decades — but just didn’t.

Normally, this small species doesn’t claw people anywhere near as readily as snappers do, making me careless. When I gently grasped the carapace with my fingers and thumb between the front and back legs, the turtle immediately reached back with its right front leg and scratched my index finger hard enough to break the skin. Then later, without washing my hands, I ate a piece of pizza at a convenience store. Either incident could have given me Salmonella poisoning.

By Monday morning, I was deathly sick with diarrhea, big-time nausea, headache, fever, chill and worst of all, severe abdominal pain, and it lasted through the power outage until well into Wednesday.

The following day, I told William Woodward, a retired biologist, about the snapper, and he quickly said, "Be careful handling turtles because they commonly carry Salmonella."

Salmonella kills 1 at Maine assisted living center

One person died and another was hospitalized in the last two weeks after a salmonella outbreak swept through Quarry Hill, a retirement and assisted living facility in Camden, Maine.

The Bangor Daily News cited Dr. Stephen Sears, acting director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying that seven positive cases of salmonella among the residents have been identified so far.

Quarry Hill offers independent living, assisted living, short- and long-term nursing care and rehabilitation and specialized memory-loss care to just over 150 people. Staff at the facility first became aware of the outbreak on Jan. 24, when several residents became ill with symptoms that included diarrhea, cramps, headache, fever and vomiting.

The Maine CDC sent two epidemiologists to the health care facility to try to find other sick residents and to identify a possible source. The experts also worked with facility staff to increase their education about salmonellosis, the infection caused by the salmonella bacteria.

Sears said efforts to track the cause of the outbreak have so far been fruitless. The strain of salmonella in the Camden outbreak has been identified as javiana.

He said that the Maine CDC has not seen other salmonella outbreaks from that strain in the state recently and that the problem appears to be “slowing down” at Quarry Hill, with no new cases reported in days.