Wales starts restaurant inspection disclosure; mom of E. coli child death says system sucks

I know golf is boring. I only play the game when I don’t want to be with my wife. I like my wife, I don’t golf anymore.

The golf world is all a twitter with the Ryder Cup being held in Newport, Wales. Amy and Sorenne and I were there in January to visit the Powell family tree.

But in the food safety world, Wales is probably most famous for its terrible food safety failings in 2005.

Sharon Mills, the mother of 5-year-old Mason Jones, who was tragically killed in a 2005 E. coli outbreak in Wales that sickened 160 school kids, said the U.K. Food Standards Agency is putting the interests of businesses before public safety.

Abby Alford of the Western Mail reports that Mills comments came as the roll-out of a new food hygiene rating scheme, which will grade the cleanliness of more than 30,000 Welsh food retailers, began Friday.

Ms Mills, of Deri, near Bargoed, Caerphilly, said: “The FSA’s decision not to base ratings on existing environmental health inspection reports provides a get-out clause to failing restaurants, cafes, shops, pubs and takeaways, as does the decision not to make it mandatory for them to display their rating.”

Environmental health officers in the 22 local authorities have been told to award the food hygiene ratings from 0 for the worst to five for the best, based on routine inspections carried out after today. Businesses are inspected at six, 12 and 18-month intervals depending on the risk they pose. After their next inspection their rating will be uploaded to a dedicated website
Ms Mills said it would be months before the ratings would be made available to the public.

An FSA spokeswoman said it was not feasible to launch the scheme with all Welsh food businesses listed from the outset. But she added that within a 12-month period the highest risk categories of food businesses would have been visited at least once and their score ratings would be available.

Regarding mandatory display of the ratings, she said it would have required a change in legislation, which would have resulted in an “unwelcome delay” in implementing the scheme.

This is bureaucratic nonsense which the FSA has become famous for, especially its piping hot cooking recommendation.

Ms Mills said,

“It was this soft-touch approach which allowed William Tudor to continue trading and which ultimately led to the 2005 outbreak which cost Mason his life.”

Mason’s mum fears food plan for Wales restaurant inspection disclosure

Abby Alford of The Western Mail reports that the effectiveness of a new scheme designed to reduce food poisoning outbreaks has been called into question a month before it is launched.

Sharon Mills, who lost her son Mason Jones during Wales’ largest E.coli O157 outbreak in 2005, said she feared the food hygiene rating scheme lacked the teeth to make a difference.

And watchdog Consumer Focus Wales told the Western Mail a decision to keep food inspectors’ detailed findings out of the public domain would leave concerned customers with no other option than to request hygiene records under the Freedom of Information Act.

All 22 councils in Wales will begin awarding the country’s 26,000 food retailers, which include pubs, restaurants, hotels, takeaways and supermarkets, a score from 0 to 5 from October 1 (left, pretty much as shown).

The ratings will gradually be made available to the public on a single website from October 1. Businesses will not be forced to display their rating on their premises.

Rob Wilkins, team leader for enforcement at FSA Wales, said details of what inspectors found during their visits and the reasons for awarding a particular score would also be left off the website.

And wholesalers like Bridgend butcher William Tudor, the man responsible for the 2005 outbreak which affected almost 150 South Wales school pupils, will not be rated at all under the scheme because they do not sell directly to the public.

Ms Mills, from Deri, near Bargoed, said while she broadly supported the food hygiene rating scheme, believing it to be an important step forward, she feared the lack of a mandatory display clause and a lack of detail scuppered any hope it could be truly effective.

“The public has a right to know how clean food retailers are and this scheme does not go far enough. I don’t know why they have chosen to hold back some of the vital information. I don’t really understand how this is going to work.”

Doesn’t make sense to me either. The attempt seems half-hearted and feeble.

What about Wales? If U.K. Food Standards Agency goes, Wales should set up its own

Professor Hugh Pennington, who wrote a report following the 2005 E. coli outbreak in South Wales which claimed the life of five-year-old Mason Jones, said the plan to abolish the U.K. Food Standards Agency had “absolutely no merit” and “could lead to more tragedies.”

Wales Online reports the U.K. Department for Health yesterday said no final decision had been taken about the fate of the FSA, but admitted it was “under review” along with other bodies.

Professor Pennington urged the Welsh Assembly to “think very, very hard” about creating their own FSA in Wales should the current one be abolished and said there was no need to follow England’s example.

There is confusion today over what will happen in Wales if the FSA is abolished.
It has been reported that in England, the FSA’s responsibilities would be taken on jointly by the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – whose remit does not cover Wales.

It also comes as the Welsh Assembly is in the midst of taking forward the actions of the Pennington Report.

The issue could prove embarrassing for the Welsh Conservatives, who last week called for more powers for the FSA, while their London counterparts have confirmed they are considering its future.

Professor Pennington said,

“What is being proposed seems to be going back to what we had before and that would be a significant step backwards. I see no merit in it whatsoever. E.coli hasn’t gone, and it’s likely to cause problems again in the future if you don’t get the system of regulation and inspection right. We know there are a minority of food companies out there who flout the rules and present a danger to the public. They need to be found and stamped on.”

The mother of five-year-old Mason Jones, who died after contracting E. coli in the 2005 outbreak in South Wales, said abolishing the FSA would be a “major, major blow to Wales. If the FSA is abolished, who is going to oversee Wales’ local authorities? It is quite shocking. It would be a major, major setback for all that we have tried to achieve with the Pennington report. It would be absolutely awful.”

Groundhog Day: Will there be an E. coli Pennington 3 without additional money?

Professor Hugh Pennington is apparently unstuck in time, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

In November 1996, over 400 fell ill and 21 were killed in Scotland by E. coli O157:H7 found in deli meats produced by family butchers John Barr & Son. The Butcher of Scotland, who had been in business for 28 years and who was previously awarded the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year, was using the same knives to handle raw and cooked meat. That’s a food safety no-no.

In a 1997 inquiry, Prof. Pennington recommended, among other things, the physical separation, within premises and butcher shops, of raw and cooked meat products using separate counters, equipment and staff.

In 2008, Prof. Pennington heard in a new inquiry how John Tudor and Son, the Butcher of Wales, used the same machine to vacuum package both raw and cooked meats, leading to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak beginning in Sept. 2005, which sickened some150 children in 44 schools in southern Wales and killed five-year-old Mason Jones.

This morning, a consumer watchdog said food hygiene services in Wales need an extra £2.5m a year to help prevent a repeat of a fatal 2005 E. coli outbreak.

I’m not sure extra money is going to change anything. If someone wants to clearly skirt with food safety, as butcher William Tudor did, bad things will happen. And the local councils were already turning a blind eye to Tudor’s most egregious actions.

The Butcher of Wales was shown to have:

• encouraged staff suffering from stomach bugs and diarrhea to continue preparing meat for school dinners;
• known of cross-contamination between raw and cooked meats, but did nothing to prevent it;
• used the same packing in which raw meat had been delivered to subsequently store cooked product;
• operated a processing facility that contained a filthy meat slicer, cluttered and dirty chopping areas, and meat more than two years out of date piled in a freezer;
• a cleaning schedule at the factory that one expert called "a joke;"
• falsified crucial health and safety documents and lied about receiving hygiene awards; and,
• supplied schools with meat that was green, smelly and undercooked.

Professor Chris Griffith, head of the food research and consultancy unit at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, told the inquiry the culture at the premises was “dominated by saving money.”

So who allowed Tudor to operate under such conditions?

Government inspectors.

Prof. Pennington heard that Tudor and Son was visited several times in the months leading up to the Sept. 2005 outbreak, that inspectors knew there was only one vac-pac machine being used for both cooked and raw meats but, despite Pennington’s 1997 recommendation, inspectors decided the business did not pose "an imminent risk" to human health.

"There was a failure in the series of inspections to identify poor hygiene and working practices and a failure to take action."

The inspectors also took on "face value" explanations offered by Tudor and his staff for various food safety failures.

Among the recommendations in the report issued this morning is that,

The Food Standards Agency should issue clear guidance to inspectors that the use of the same equipment to process raw and ready-to-eat foods is totally unacceptable.

Does anyone need extra money to clearly state food safety basics?

Better food poisoning awareness amongst docs after E. coli O157 inquiry in Wales

Looks like the E. coli O157 death of 5-year-old Mason Jones, the illnesses of 160 other Welsh schoolchildren and the subsequent inquiry headed by Prof. Hugh Pennington were not entirely in vain.

The South Wales Echo is reporting today that the number of reported foodborne illnesses increased to 631 in June, compared to 234 in January.

The figures highlight the impact the public inquiry into the September 2005 E.coli outbreak in South Wales has had on the willingness of doctors and sufferers to report suspected food poisoning cases.

A spokeswoman for Rhondda Cynon Taf council said,

“The high-profile E.coli court case and subsequent inquiry that has generated increased awareness of food poisoning and, as a result, has driven up the number of cases that are reported to us.

“More GPs are diagnosing cases as food poisoning and not stomach bugs and reporting them to us."

Three-year-old recovering from E coli but woman still in coma

A three-year-old girl who needed dialysis after being caught up in an E coli outbreak is beginning to recover in hospital, her parents said today.

Abigail Hussey suffered kidney failure after eating from a takeaway in Wrexham, north Wales, and is one of two people undergoing hospital treatment after the outbreak last month. Karen Morrisroe-Clutton, a new mother who also had kidney failure, remains in a medically induced coma at Wrexham Maelor hospital. The North East Wales NHS trust said she was in a serious but stable condtion.

She is in Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool, which today released a statement from her mother, Sarah, who also fell ill, and her father, Jeff.

"Abigail’s condition deteriorated and she was eventually referred to Wrexham hospital, who transferred her immediately to Alder Hey on Monday 27 July. She tested positive for E coli and was placed on dialysis. We are very relieved that Abigail is beginning to recover, is off dialysis and is eating and drinking quite well."

Sharon Mills, the mother of E. coli victim Mason Jones (left) said the latest Wales outbreak has brought horrific memories flooding back.

“It’s terrible that more people are having to go through this. Mason fought for two weeks until he couldn’t fight any more and ever since I have fought on for him as I don’t want his death to be in vain.”

While the cause of the North Wales outbreak remains under investigation, Mills said she believes both the authorities and the public still fail to fully appreciate the terrible consequences of E.coli infection.

The Llay Fish Bar was allowed to continue business even though environmental health inspectors found poor hygiene conditions and was awarded the lowest rating of no stars during the August 2008 inspection.

Mills said:

“The threat of E.coli is not being taken on board. People really need to start listening and they need to start listening now. The message needs to be drummed home that E.coli is serious and can affect anyone, not just those with underlying health problems. it’s such a powerful bacteria.”


Tragic food safety stories and teaching moments

This is what happens when doing interviews at 6:30 a.m. while feeding Sorenne some mush of peach and pear.

After blogging about how the U.K. Food Standards Agency was embracing food safety culture, I turned the post into an opinion piece and sent it to a newspaper in Wales.

The next morning, while feeding Sorenne, a reporter e-mailed me with some questions, and I replied, “call me.”

So she did.

The article, by Abby Alford, appeared this morning in  Wales under the headline, Tragic E. coli death used to teach US students food hygiene.

The tragic story of E. coli victim Mason Jones is being used by an American professor as a graphic illustration of what unsafe food can do.

Dr Douglas Powell also shows his students at Kansas State University a picture of the five-year-old as he teaches them about food safety.

“We are always trying to come up with new ways of getting the food safety message across. We have to have a compelling story and there’s no more compelling story than Mason Jones,” he said.

I talked about food safety culture, what FSA was proposing, and questioned how they were going to measure effectiveness.

The FSA has announced a culture change is needed in all parts of the food supply chain if the UK is to avoid another E.coli outbreak.

Dr Powell also suggested UK firms could follow the example of a factory in North Dakota, USA, which uses webcams to stream its activities live on the Internet.

Apparently I dreamed that part. There is a turkey processing plant in South Dakota that uses video cameras to constantly monitor operations and the videos can be accessed by auditors or USDA inspectors at any time – but not on the Internet. And not in North Dakota.

‘Change culture to avoid E. coli’

Amy’s father and stepmom came for a visit and yesterday we went to a local eatery for a late lunch.

When Amy’s dad ordered a burger, the server asked how he would like the burger cooked.

He said medium-well.

The server said he could get the burger as rare as he wanted.

Amy said really, and started asking, just what was a medium-rare burger.

The server said it all had to do with color, and after some back and forth with the cooks, said the beef they get has nothing bad in it anyway.

Color is a lousy indicator.

During the same meal, a reporter called to ask, why do companies – big companies, huge chains and brand names — knowingly follow or ignore bad safety practices? (that story should appear Sunday).

It comes down to culture – the food safety culture of a restaurant, a supermarket, a butcher shop, a government agency.

Culture encompasses the shared values, mores, customary practices, inherited traditions, and prevailing habits of communities. The culture of today’s food system (including its farms, food processing facilities, domestic and international distribution channels, retail outlets, restaurants, and domestic kitchens) is saturated with information but short on behavioral-change insights. Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems, including compelling, rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated, multi-linguistic and culturally-sensitive messages.

Sixteen years after E. coli O157:H7 killed four and sickened hundreds who ate hamburgers at the Jack-in-the-Box chain, the challenge remains: how to get people to take food safety seriously? ??????Lots of companies do take food safety seriously and the bulk of American meals are microbiologically safe. But recent food safety failures have been so extravagant, so insidious and so continual that consumers must feel betrayed.??????

Frank Yiannas, the vice-president of food safety at Wal-Mart writes in his book, Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-based Food Safety Management System, that an organization’s food safety systems need to be an integral part of its culture.

The other guru of food safety culture, Chris Griffith of the University of Wales, features prominently in the report by Professor Hugh Pennington into the 2005 E.coli outbreak in Wales that killed 5-year-old Mason Jones and sickened another 160 school kids.

Yesterday, the board of the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA), in response to Pennington’s report, approved a five-year plan that will push food businesses to adopt a food safety culture and comply with hygiene laws, and urge stricter punishments for those that do not. The FSA will also ensure health inspectors are better trained.

A report put before FSA board members in London stated “culture change in all of the relevant parts of the food supply chain” is necessary.

Mason Jones’ mum Sharon Mills said she is pleased with the action being taken by the FSA.

“This sounds promising and shows they are moving in the right direction. … Things are slowly changing and hopefully we will all see the benefits sooner rather than later.”

Maybe. I’m still not convinced FSA understands what culture is all about. And how will these changes be evaluated. Is there any evidence that social marketing is effective in creating food safety behavior change? Those issues get to the essence of food safety culture, yet are glossed over with a training session – more of the same.

And why wait for government. The best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants should go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

Can food safety culture be taught? UK Food Standards Agency responds to E. coli O157 report

Two days ago, the parents of 5-year-old E. coli victim Mason Jones called the Welsh government response to an inquiry into the 2005 outbreak, “a bit disappointing.”

Today, the U.K. Food Standards Agency published its own response and, it’s a bit disappointing.

After a cursory reading, the FSA folks seem to acknowledge some of the major points raised by Prof. Pennington, but in the end promised more of the same (but gosh-darnnit, a bit tougher on enforcement).

Here are a few highlights:

This understanding of ‘food safety issues’ culture and ‘what works’ are core to the Food Hygiene Delivery Programme. This will be a particular challenge as local authorities’ regulatory services are facing declining resources, and increasing demands for their services. We must push more effectively in all appropriate national forums for food safety to be given more prominence by local political bodies and their officials. Our own project-based approach to delivering responses to this Inquiry, coupled with the restructuring of the Agency’s Food Safety Group, is designed to concentrate on a coordinated set of actions to achieve the desired outcomes in a holistic rather than piecemeal way.

Culture and holistic are nice words but the FSA says:

In May 2009 the FSA announced a new training course on social marketing and behavioural change for food enforcement officers. It aims to develop skills to acquire an insight into the behaviours of food business operators and consumers in order to successfully disseminate food safety messages.

What does disseminate mean in this context? What if the messages suck? How will this be evaluated. Is there any evidence that social marketing is effective in creating food safety behavior change? Those issues get to the essence of food safety culture, yet are glossed over with a training session – more of the same.

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.