Food Safety Confessional: Sheila says she is horrible

Sheila is a former MSc student with me at Kansas State University and a tough military chick. We hardly ever saw each other, because phones and the Internet sometimes work (despite administratium claims to the contrary), but she has kept up the food safety conversation. I was privileged to work with her and a whole bunch of other military food safety folks over the years.

Sheila writes:

I am a horrible food safety professional.  

Not at work. At work I’m a straight-laced, all business, don’t-you-dare-break-the-rules-or-I’ll-kick-you-in-the-nuts kinda girl.  My problem is outside of work.  When I’m off the clock I turn into Andrew Zimmern’s sister by another mister.  I like to eat weird stuff.  

I spent 15 years with the U.S. Army as a Food Safety Specialist and got to travel all over the world.  While others in the group were sticking to main stream chow hall fare and MREs, which has its own dangers, I was happy to find some random vendor selling mystery meat on a stick by the side of the road.  It might have been dog, or monkey, or bat, or rat.  I really have no idea, but it sure tasted good.  Boiled chicken heads?  Roasted sparrows?  Camel on a spit?  Beaver tater tot hotdish?  A whole sheep buried in the desert sand for 2 days?  Hell yeah, bring it on!  From Africa, Australia, Central America, the South Pacific, the Arctic, the Middle East and the Far East, it didn’t matter where I was I had to try the odd local fare.  Still do when I travel.  Real haggis is amazing.

Back at home, cooking for myself or eating out, I am also bad.  When cooking for others all safety precautions are followed, thermometers, separate cutting boards and utensils for different food types, obsessive hand washing, but I make all kinds of exceptions when food is just for me.  E. coli and Salmonella be damned.  My eggs need to be over medium. Scrambled eggs are gross.  I eat raw, homemade cookie dough.  I love homemade eggnog.  Don’t give me that store bought boxed crap that tastes like nutmeg infused cardboard.  Now if I could find pasteurized eggs in the shell, I’d use them, but out in the Minnesota tundra they just aren’t available.  I like my steak on the rare side of medium rare, even if it is needle tenderized.  Hamburgers done medium.  Sushi is a favorite food and I go for raw and roe.  Raw oysters are a heavenly treat.   

But here’s the deal.  I know the potential consequences of eating all of these risky foods.  I am generally healthy, aside from the arthritis and anger issues the Army so generously gave me.  I realize healthy people still get food poisoning, but I am willing to occasionally take that risk to enjoy certain foods.  I would never force anyone else to do what I do and I often tell people not to do it and why. 

Do as I say, not as I do. 

And even I have limits.  Chicken must be cooked to 165F.  I don’t drink raw milk.  I rant about the raw pet food trend.  And I avoid potlucks like the plague.  I’m sure it all tastes great, but I just can’t do it.  I don’t trust what most people do in their kitchens unless I’m there to see it.  If invited to a party that’s potluck and I can’t get out of it, I bring potato chips and eat before I get there.  Weird right?  

Oh, and I have 12 beautiful pet snakes of varying sizes and species, but that’s another story.  

Turkish military under spotlight as food poisoning and accidental deaths increase

Supplying a safe, nutritious, and increasing local food supply to any military outfit is a challenge.

I was privileged for a few years to provide my thoughts to U.S. military food safety types once or twice a year while at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

I made some lasting friendships, and deeply respect the challenges they faced.

Zulfikar Dogan of Ahval News writes that when the Turkish government issued a series of decrees reshaping the country’s institutions in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, none of the bodies it set its eye on were more significant than the Turkish Armed Forces.

The radical changes implemented in the military came under the spotlight last week when 21 commando trainees in the western province of Manisa were hospitalised with food poisoning. This followed mass outbreaks of food poisoning in May and June last year, again in training facilities in Manisa, where more than 1,000 soldiers became ill and one died.

Similar cases of mass food poisoning took place in other barracks across the country around the same time. Several government-linked catering companies have already lost their contracts, and the defence minister at the time, Nurettin Canikli, resolved to review catering tenders and introduce a new procurement procedure.

Now, spurred by this month’s poisonings, Özgür Özel, a member of parliament for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), directed a series of questions in the assembly to Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

He asked whether the new procurement system described by Canikli last year had been put in place, and for information on the food supply at the Manisa barracks and on the companies involved in catering. He also demanded answers on the last date of inspection at the barracks and on the truth of claims that detachments tasked with checking food had been shut down.

But the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rejected opposition proposals to create a special investigation commission and convene the Committee on National Defence in response to the cases of food poisoning.

After the cases of food poisoning, the Turkish Medical Association released a statement drawing attention to the vacuum left when the military medical institutions were turned over to the Ministry of Health. The association called for these institutions to be reopened and returned to the Turkish Armed Forces.

The Turkish Retired Non-Commissioned Officers Association gave its own statement on the matter, stressing that military doctors were soldiers as well as doctors and that the decrees had made the Turkish Armed Forces the only military in the world that did not have dedicated hospitals and doctors. The association also demanded to know whether private companies would be responsible for catering to Turkey’s troops in wartime.

The points Başbuğ and these associations raise are well illustrated by the response to the cases of mass food poisoning in May and June of last year. Since there was not adequate space in Health Ministry facilities to treat the thousands of poisoned troops, hundreds were forced to receive treatment on stretchers outside hospitals.

Similar scenes were replayed after the food poisoning this month. Handing military decision making to the civilian bureaucracy and dissolving military education and medical institutions has resulted in increased casualties.

Carrots and sticks: Coaching hockey and food safety

My friend Gord Surgeoner always said stay close to the producers, help farmers, and you’ll get somewhere.

And I did.

My friend Mike from Buffalo, who served overseas and then ended up coaching kids’ hockey with me in Brisbane 5 years ago would say, I don’t miss Buffalo.

Mike’s on the far left, and he’s used that face to, uh, motivate the kids, but he’s a softie like me, and moved an hour up north to the beaches.

Gord did a lot of consulting for the U.S. military on bugs, I’ve done my share on foodborne illness, but it’s not the same as serving.

Mike, keep on,  keeping on (without the weapon, there’s gun control laws in Australia, and watch out for those sharks).

Two separate outbreaks send thousands of Turkish soldiers to hospital

The leading cause of immobilizing U.S. troops?

Foodborne illness.

My former dean was known as Dr. Clorox while serving in Vietnam.

I used to give these training sessions to food types headed for Iraq and Afghanistan from Fort Riley (in Manhattan, Kansas) and would sheepishly say, I have no idea what you’re going to face in terms of potable water, but bleach is your friend.

Prayer won’t make food safe, but science can help.

An outbreak of foodborne illness was first detected on May 23, 2017 at the training center of the First Manisa Infantry Brigade in western Manis in Turkey. Up to 1,000 were sickened, with one death and 46 hospitalizations.

Dr. Tur Yildiz Bicer, who is also a deputy of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited the soldiers attended at the provincial hospital and the tests concluded that soldiers were infected with salmonellosis through game meat which was on the barracks menu.

“In the samples were traces of the bacterium Salmonella, which is transmitted through meat, especially poultry, If not well cooked or stored according to health regulations,” said the doctor, and recalled that the soldiers ate turkey meat the night the infection began.

On June 17, 2017, the Daily Sabah reported a total of 590 Turkish soldiers were hospitalized in the western province of Manisa following complaints of nausea and vomiting. It is the latest case of mass poisoning at military bases in Manisa that have been plagued by such incidents since late May. An investigation is already underway while police early Sunday arrested 21 employees, including executives of the catering firm that provides food to the base and others in the province.

The soldiers’ complaints at the 1st Infantry Training Battalion Command began following a dinner. The Manisa Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement Sunday that 731 soldiers were affected by the tainted meal.

The Manisa governorate announced yesterday that food services from the catering firm were suspended and meals will be provided to the base temporarily. Manisa Governor Mustafa Hakan Güvençer said a delegation from the Public Health Institute, the highest public health authority and a delegation from the Land Forces Command that oversees military bases hosting training for conscripts, were investigating the issue. Military compounds in Manisa function as two main training bases for thousands of conscripts who are dispatched to other cities after completing a month-long training course there.

Military food safety with mashed potatoes and ‘some stuff with lettuce’

Army Times reports that what began as a line of defense against biological warfare has been unleashed on unsuspecting victims in an Army laboratory — 150 mashed potatoes, to be exact.

Potato Head2The result could speed up the Army’s food-testing process, and even help save lives in the event of an outbreak caused by a foodborne pathogen. Which brings us back to the potatoes: 75 of them were infected with Salmonella for a recent test, and researchers at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center found all of them using a Mass Spectrometry Proteomics Method.

Tests that try to grow cultures of suspected pathogens to determine their presence take at least three days, said Mary Wade, head of ECBC’s Point Detection Branch — sometimes up to a month. Spectrometry takes four hours, at most. The test itself, after the questionable foodstuff is prepped for examination, takes minutes.

And unlike other methods that focus on a particular suspected toxin, this one can target any invader that’s been “genomically sequenced,” Wade said, including thousands of types of bacteria and viruses, even fungi and parasites.

The project began as a way to gauge environmental samples — air, water, even blood — for exposure to bacteria, Wade said. That was before the Army’s Public Health Command expressed interest.

“We were not, at the time, necessarily doing food work,” Wade said. “Some stuff with lettuce.”

Initial tests on spuds, a favored subject because of its consistency, showed promise four or five years ago, she said. That eventually led to the larger-scale potato testing, and the recent test led to further program expansion, according to a June 9 ECBC release, including sending the MSPM equipment to Camp Zama, Japan.

Statistics for foodborne illnesses are kept at the Defense Department level, a spokeswoman for PHC said: According to DoD figures, more than 2,700 service members came down with salmonellosis from 2002-2012, and more than 12,300 suffered from “other bacterial food poisoning.”

Tracking such illnesses isn’t an exact science — many service members likely wouldn’t report mild symptoms of food poisoning, and those who do report stomach or intestinal problems are grouped in categories that may or may not involve foodborne pathogens. More than 61,000 troops had “ill-defined intestinal infections” from 2002-12, DoD data show, and almost 380,000 reported suffering from diarrhea.

Handheld inspection tool may increase food safety for soldiers

Military food inspectors may one day hold the key to avoiding foodborne illness in the palms of their hands. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is working to develop a small, sensitive, hand-held device that will both capture and detect dangerous pathogens that can cause food-related illness. 

The effort received a 2013 U. S. Food and Drug Administration leveraging and collaboration award. Under the award, scientists from Food Protection Team and Macromolecular Sciences and Engineering Team at the Natick Soldier Research, napoleonDevelopment and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are collaborating with the FDA, Winchester Engineering and Analytical Center, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

NSRDEC originally came up with the idea of conductive membrane sensors and performed the initial research under the Army’s 6.1 basic research programs. This research is the basis for the collaboration with the FDA and MIT.

The food inspection tool will reduce the danger soldiers face from contaminated food. Food safety is critical to combat readiness. Soldier performance, quality of life, and health can be seriously affected by undetected pathogens in food.

“Military operations at some overseas locations where food is procured locally and food safety laws are lenient, are especially problematic. Soldiers can lose a lot of time from work because they get sick from pathogens present in water and food,” Andre Senecal said. “We are starting our work with E. coli O157:H7, but the goal is to look at all microbial pathogens and toxins that they produce.”

“The leading cause of illness among troops has historically been gastroenteritis, with one of the primary culprits being E. coli,” McGraw explained.

Biosensors consist of a biological component, such as an antibody or DNA that is capable of capturing, detecting and recording information about a measurable physical change in the biosensor system.

Sent to US military bases; USDA FSIS issues public health alert for processed egg products unfit for human consumption

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is issuing a massive recall on food sent to the men and women who serve the U.S.

According to USDA, “Nutriom LLC” sent false test reports about thousands of pounds of eggs, many of which were sent to military bases overseas. USDA says the eggs were at risk of containing Salmonella. When the company refused to recall the eggs, the food egg.farmsafety and inspection service stepped in and recalled the product. In February, the company recalled over 200,000 pounds of eggs.

USDA says the request for expansion was based on evidence collected during an ongoing investigation conducted by FSIS at this establishment. The company has refused to recall the additional processed egg products. As a consequence, FSIS intends to take appropriate action to remove the products from commerce.

FSIS issued the original recall because the company allegedly recorded false laboratory results. The company allegedly produced negative laboratory results for Salmonella when the results were actually positive, or reported that sampling had occurred when, in fact, no microbial testing was performed. FSIS requested the company to include additional products, but it declined. Because the product was not produced in accordance with FSIS requirements, it is unfit for human consumption.

22 sickened; outbreak of Staphylococcal food poisoning from a military unit lunch party

I’ve never served in the military but am proud of the work I’ve done with the U.S. military over the years on food safety training, and have met a lot of great people.

But, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports, on July 30, 2012, the emergency department at a military hospital was visited by 13 persons seeking care for gastrointestinal illness with onset 2–3 hours after a work lunch party. The hospital responded by opening up temporary evaluation and treatment capacity in primary-care clinics and a progressive-perlo.sausagecare unit and by diverting one patient to a local civilian hospital. An immediate outbreak investigation was conducted by local military public health personnel with assistance from CDC. Initial epidemiologic analysis implicated “perlo” (a chicken, sausage, and rice dish) and bacterial intoxication as the outbreak mechanism. This enabled public health personnel to 1) recommend no further consumption of perlo and 2) reassure appropriate authorities that no additional ill persons likely would be seeking care and advise that nothing more than supportive care of ill persons likely would be required.

After interviewing party attendees, investigators found nine additional persons who met their case definition. Subsequent CDC laboratory analysis of a sample of perlo detected staphylococcal enterotoxin A, supporting the epidemiologic findings. Improper food handling and preparation measures were identified and addressed by the appropriate authorities, who provided additional detailed education on food preparation safety for the persons who prepared the meal.

On July 29, the raw chicken thighs and sausage were defrosted in the microwave. The defrosted chicken thighs were cooked in a stock pot of boiling water. After cooling, the chicken was removed from the thigh bones by hand and placed back into the stock pot. Sausage was cooked in a skillet and added to the pot. Onions and other seasonings were sautéed in the sausage oil and added to the pot. To complete the perlo, rice was added to the stock pot and cooked until all remaining water was absorbed. The pot of cooked perlo then was placed in an unheated oven for approximately 8 hours overnight. On the morning of July 30, the perlo was found to be warm. It was transferred to a slow cooker for reheating for approximately 1 hour on a high setting before transport and consumption.

Don’t leave food, especially rice, at room temperature for eight hours. Put it in the fridge. Must not have had a military food safety type at this party, because they know their stuff.

Nanotube fabric with the power to ward off pathogens

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been crafting a high-tech fabric for the military made out of tiny carbon nanotubes — hollow structures that stay breathable in hot weather yet are small enough to block out pathogens. For an extra layer of safety, they’re planning to add a special coating that will block out even the smallest toxins, such as anthrax spores and other chemical and biological warfare agents.

The technology is still in the concept stages, but the research has already received funding from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Francesco Fornasiero, a chemical engineer at the Bay Area lab, told the Los Angeles Times, “We developed membranes which have pores that are made only of carbon nanotubes. These pores have walls that are extremely small. The smoothness of this wall and the hydrophobicity [ability to repel water] are together responsible for the extremely rapid transport rates observed for both gases and liquids.”

206 sick after food poisoning hits NATO base in northern Afghanistan

Food poisoning has sickened 206 NATO soldiers who ate in a German army canteen at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, defence authorities in Berlin said Thursday.

They said the 138 Germans and 68 military from other nations quickly had quickly recovered from the symptoms and overall fighting strength was not affected.

All had eaten Wednesday at the canteen in the ISAF regional headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif. The kitchen was disinfected and preparation of meals resumed there on Thursday. Army scientists were still hunting for the source of the infection.