Keeping animal event goers safe takes vigilance

Two weeks ago 20-month old Colton James-Brian Guay tragically died from an E. coli O111 illness he picked up from a Maine fair petting zoo. Another child who visited the same event, Myles Herschaft, is still recovering from HUS.

Reading about these illnesses and thinking about my kids creates a pit in my stomach. The seriousness of the tragedy and how something like this might happen shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who works with food – farmers, processors, food handlers (commercial or domestic) – or the folks who run petting zoos and animal events.ekka_petting_zoo(3)

These tragedies happen often, but it’s not enough to just understand why; the science of pathogen transfer in animal contact events is out there. We’ve published on behaviors and best practices. Petting zoo operators should be watching this case closely and evaluating whether their current strategies would have avoided the outbreak. Changes might mean adjusting a process, increased training, testing and better communication of risks to patrons.

According to Time Warner Cable News, the NC State Fair organizers are focused on controlling zoonotic diseases at animal events.

“For many people, the fair is the only opportunity they may have to come see a cow or a pig or a mule, and so we want to make sure they get that experience. But we want everybody to understand that things like washing your hands and keeping your distance are great little steps that you can take and keep everybody healthy,” said N.C. State Fair spokesman Brian Long.

An E. coli outbreak at the 2011 State Fair caused 25 people to get sick and a year later, officials added barriers between livestock and fairgoers.

“Just to create more separation between humans and animals, you know animals are capable of transmitting bacteria to humans, and vice-versa. We want to keep the animals healthy. We want to keep the people healthy,” said Long.

Keeping folks and food separate from animals is a good strategy. Handwashing matters, but so does cleaning/sanitation of rails, floors and hand-contact surfaces.

At the root of a good food safety culture is recognition by everyone that it’s really important that things go right all the time. The stakes are too high if they don’t: kids end up in hospital or worse.

He said, she said: Salmonella/Holiday Inn edition

The manager of a Fayetteville, NC Holiday Inn is disputing the NC Department of Health & Human Services (NCDHHS) assessment of factors that led to a salmonellosis outbreak in May. NCDHHS says that food workers showing up to work while ill was among the potential issues that likely contributed to over 100 illnesses.AOW1-220x165

From the NCDHHS report:

The hotel agreed to set aside two conference rooms for one day to allow for staff interviews to be conducted by CCHD and NC DPH personnel. Among the 176 hotel staff, 141 staff interviews were completed. Twenty-three of 140 staff interviewed met case definition for illness. Fifty-seven percent of case-patients in the cohort study were categorized as food employees (i.e. reporting handling food, serving food, or changing ice buckets), and 54% of non-ill hotel staff in the cohort study were food employees. All cases (100%) reported eating or drinking at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux during the period of interest.

Furthermore, during the course of this investigation, it was revealed that seven food service employees, as defined by the North Carolina Food Code Manual, continued to work while ill.

Uh oh.

WRAL reports that Scooter Deal, the Holiday Inn Bordeaux’s manager says that’s not possible.

Deal said employees are required to notify managers if they are sick, and none did.“The restaurant would not allow an employee to continue working while ill, and the hotel has no knowledge or information to suggest that any employee continued to work while he or she was ill,” he said. “Most importantly, any potentially ill employees have not been determined to be the cause of the outbreak.”

Something’s stinky here. Management says no employees reported symptoms to them but seven of the same group of staff reported symptoms to investigators after the outbreak. Sort of shows that the policy isn’t worth much on its own. Creating an environment where staff understand the importance of not working while ill – and then actually following through – is how to run a food business.

Spinach tests positive for listeria, recalled in N.C., Virginia, Maryland

I made creamed spinach to accompany some beef, corn, potatoes and grilled vegetables for dinner tonight.

It was work for not a lot of punch; but at least the cooking took care of any listeria that may have been present.

Lancaster Foods LLC, of Jessup, Maryland, recalled 10-ounce packages of Krisp-Pak Ready to Eat Hydro-Cooled Fresh Spinach today after tests by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in product samples.

The packages have the code: “Best Enjoyed By: 23 Jun 10, Product of USA, 10/158/09:17/1/05.”

State inspectors collected the product from a Farm Fresh store in Elizabeth City.

No illnesses associated with this product have been reported.