Over 100 now sick with crypto from pools in Arizona

Heath officials in Arizona said Friday that more than 100 people have been sickened in an outbreak of diarrheal infection and that more than 20 water facilities may have been contaminated.

caddyshack.pool_.poop-1Maricopa County officials said that splash pads, water parks and public pools in the Phoenix area may have been contaminated with the pool-linked gastrointestinal illness cryptosporidiosis, or crypto, the Arizona Republic reported.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the medical director for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, told the paper that there’s no reliable test for the disease in water, making the determination where the outbreak started difficult to find.

The microscopic, chlorine-resistant parasite that causes sickness is most commonly spread through water. Symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Crypto could be spread at streams, rivers, ponds and lakes as well.

Restaurant inspection rules friendlier in Maricopa County, Arizona

Maricopa County’s newly adopted updates to restaurant-inspection rules expand the self-regulation program and make the process friendlier to restaurant operators.

restaurant.inspectionThe county Board of Supervisors approved 20 recommendations this week from a stakeholder task force that had been meeting since March. The changes are part of an ongoing effort to make various county regulatory functions more business- and user-friendly.

Maricopa County will expand its Cutting Edge program and educate restaurateurs about how it gives more autonomy to high-performing restaurants. It reflects a national trend in which regulators focus limited resources on those areas of the highest public-health risks, while giving high performers tools to stay compliant.

Restaurant owners in the program develop their own plans, subject to county approval, to reduce risk of food-borne illness.

Every other inspection is a “verification visit” in which the inspector makes sure the restaurant is following its own rules.

The county will now require owners to attend a class on the program and the underlying concept of “active managerial control” so that more restaurants know and enlist in the program, which began in 2011.

The county Environmental Services Department also will stop posting inspection records online immediately, instead posting them three business days after the inspection. Currently, the results are posted as soon as an inspector files them into the county database.

The change is intended to give permit holders time to clarify or challenge items in the inspection report, because “once the report is posted, the damage is done,” according to a recommendation document presented to the board.

Restaurant-inspection grades to get overhaul in Phoenix

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Arizona, has decided to scrap a longtime scoring system that informed customers how restaurants across the Valley performed in health inspections.

The Arizona Republic reports inspections of the 22,500 food establishments in Maricopa County are still taking place, monitoring things such as kitchen cleanliness, safe food handling and rodent control. But county officials say the voluntary award system that went along with it – one designed to help diners gauge which eateries had the best scores – didn’t accurately reflect how restaurants performed.

The system gave gold awards to restaurants that were among the top 10 percent of their peers in health-inspection scores. A silver award went to those in the top 20 percent. Those outside the top 20 percent did not get an award.

John Kolman, director of the county’s Environmental Services Department, said the decision to scrap the old system was prompted by a new health code, a new computer system and criticisms of the old scoring system by the local restaurant industry.

In recent months, he said, county officials met with representatives of the restaurant and hospitality industries to find out what kind of scoring systems they would favor. Kolman said he hoped to propose alternatives later this month and post them on the department’s website for citizens to vote on.

He said his agency is considering a system that would give "A, B, C or D" awards, similar to systems implemented by California and New York.

Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said, "In trying to develop a system, the most important question to ask is: How do you provide the most protection against food-borne illnesses? That should be the question, rather than, ‘Does the restaurant industry like it?’ "

And Mr. Kolman of Maricopa County, rather than just asking the restaurant industry, you may want to ask public health types, and consumers about the kind of grading system they would find valuable. To get started on you research, here’s a review paper.

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 is fragile, 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.