Suspected norovirus at south Sioux City, Nebraska, restaurant

A restaurant/bar in South Sioux City has closed down voluntarily to disinfect its premises after dozens of people became ill after eating there, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The restaurant/bar at the Marina Inn has closed temporarily on the advice of health officials.

Symptoms are consistent with a norovirus, a highly contagious virus that is spread person to person or by food.

Sprouts linked to Nebraska Salmonella cases

WOWT TV in Omaha and AP are reporting that an outbreak of Salmonella in Nebraska has been linked to a local fresh sprouts producer.

Nebraska Health and Human Services says the initial testing links the outbreak to source-alfalfa sprouts from a local grower, CW Sprouts in Omaha.

Public health workers have been interviewing individuals involved in the outbreak, as well as people in a control group that helps interviewers determine the food source. The interviews led epidemiologists to conclude that sprouts were reported in a high number of food histories of ill people, thus there was a strong association with sprouts.

Nebraska’s chief medical officer Joann Schaefer held a press conference Tuesday releasing the following information:

– As of Tuesday, the state health department had confirmed 14 cases of Salmonella in Nebraska.

– The cases were reported from Feb. 2 to Feb. 23.

And in a great example of good communication, the health authorities said that there really wasn’t much a consumer could do once they had the product (other than cook it):

While the health department recommended consumers wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption, Schaefer acknowledged that doing so likely would not have prevented the most recent outbreak.  Schaefer said officials believe the salmonella was probably within the alfalfa sprouts, and therefore, could not be washed off. 

"The company does all sorts of washing procedures in its plant," Schaefer said. "It’s state of the art. It’s probably one of the cleanest facilities we’ve seen."

A clean facility doesn’t do a whole lot if the seeds come in contaminated. The warm and humid environment that sprouting plants grow in provide a fantastic situation for pathogens to thrive. Pathogens have been shown to attach and survive within the layers of the sprout, making washing virtually useless.

Sprouts have often been linked to foodborne illness, with the FDA issuing a standing risk advisory in 1999, updated in 2002, on raw and lightly cooked sprouts:

The FDA offers the following advice to all consumers concerning sprouts:

  • Cook all sprouts thoroughly before eating to significantly reduce the risk of illness.
  • Sandwiches and salads purchased at restaurants and delicatessens often contain raw sprouts. Consumers who wish to reduce their risk of foodborne illness should specifically request that raw sprouts not be added to their food.
  • Homegrown sprouts also present a health risk if eaten raw or lightly cooked. Many outbreaks have been attributed to contaminated seed. If pathogenic bacteria are present in or on seed, they can grow to high levels during sprouting even under clean conditions.

A selection of past sprouts-related outbreaks can be found here.

Food poisoning sickens 80 at Neb. choir event

Nebraska health officials say more than 80 people fell ill from food poisoning after a choir competition Feb. 21 at Papillion-La Vista High School.

Food served at the competition came from a range of sources, including vendors and parents who had donated baked goods for a fundraiser. ??????

State epidemiologist Tom Safranek says the illnesses have been traced to improperly handled meat, which was cooked at a family’s home. ??????

The illnesses are not linked to a recent outbreak of salmonella that’s sickened at least 14 people in eastern Nebraska. State health officials are still investigating the source of those illnesses. ???

Salmonella outbreak in Nebraska reports tonight that 14 cases of Salmonella have been linked together by DNA fingerprinting in Douglas County, Nebraska:

The first cases were reported earlier this week, in which women younger than 50 — and all the way into their teens — were getting infected, said Dr. Ann O’Keefe.
Health experts know all illnesses have been connected to the same strain, but they don’t know where it originated.
The strain has been submitted to the Centers For Disease Control and has an identical serotype to the jalapeno and tomato outbreaks in the fall 
(which was Saintpaul) but a different genetic fingerprint. 
Officials are reviewing detailed information from multiple victims in hopes of targeting the strain’s source, said state epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek.


In the past, Salmonella Saintpaul has been linked to tomatoes/peppers, melons, paprika and sprouts.

E. coli outbreak in ground beef linked to Whole Foods Markets

When I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Whole Foods was adjacent to my apartment complex. It was cruel, really. I couldn’t afford to shop there very often but the food always looked so delicious, and, well, wholesome. Yesterday, however, Whole Foods Market recalled fresh ground beef sold between June 2 and August 6 for a possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

Seven are sick in Massachusetts and two in Pennsylvania. None in Ann Arbor, yet.

Whole Foods has successfully built its reputation on natural and organic foods with high prices to make you believe you are doing good to your body by shopping there. Personally, I shopped there for the wide array of cheeses and pâté that wasn’t available in my favorite (more affordable) grocery. This outbreak raises the question for me – why are people still getting sick from ground beef processed at Nebraska Beef Ltd. that was previously recalled? And, as Bill Marler points out, why was Whole Foods selling Nebraska Beef? He offers a list of hard-hitting questions for the elite grocery chain that touts its own high standards.

On a side note, the Whole Foods that used to be in my backyard in Ann Arbor has since become a Trader Joe’s. Whole Foods moved down the street to a much larger and fancier location.

New iFSN infosheet: E. coli O157 outbreak linked to Georgia restaurant

This week’s iFSN infosheet focuses on an outbreak of E. coli O157 in Moultrie, Georgia at the Barbecue Pit Steak and Seafood restaurant.  Twelve cases of E. coli (including four hospitalizations) O157 have been linked to the restaurant.  This outbreak appears to be linked to the Nebraska Beef recall which has been connected to an additional 45 confirmed cases in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Utah  and New York.

The food safety infosheet targeting food handler food safety practices can be downloaded here.

Employee guilty of spitting, urinating in food; cop wins $40K

A police officer and his family in Sidney, a town of about 6,000 in western Nebraska, have won $40,000 in their lawsuit against a a KFC/Taco Bell that had served them food tainted by an employee’s spit and urine in October 2005.

The employee accused of urinating and spitting in the family’s food pleaded guilty last year to violating the Nebraska Pure Food Act and fined $100, according to court records.

A jury on Friday found the restaurant negligent. The family’s attorney said of the restaurant owner,

"I’d advise them to get a better class of employees."

USDA says Nebraska Beef doesn’t know how to manage shit

While Nebraska Beef was busy telling church ladies they didn’t know how to safely prepare food, and telling Americans, including 50 really sick ones, that their meat had never been linked with illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was busy telling Nebraska Beef they didn’t know shit.

Or at least how to reduce it in Nebraska Beef products.

USDA just announced that Nebraska Beef, Ltd., an Omaha, Neb., establishment is expanding its June 30 recall to include all beef manufacturing trimmings and other products intended for use in raw ground beef produced between May 16 and June 26, totaling approximately 5.3 million pounds, that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

“FSIS has concluded that the production practices employed by Nebraska Beef, Ltd. are insufficient to effectively control E. coli O157:H7 in their beef products that are intended for grinding. The products subject to recall may have been produced under insanitary conditions.”

That’s insane. Or unsane. And why thermometers and cleanliness are a must at retail, food service and the home, cause companies like Nebraska Beef would rather blame consumers than take care of their own shop.

I feel naked without my thermometer — when cooking

Me and Misti Crane, of The Columbus Dispatch, had a chat about all things food safety yesterday, as 18 people in Ohio and another 20 in Michigan have been stricken with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7, linked to hamburger from Nebraska Beef.

As Bill Marler pointed out last night, Nebraska Beef tried to downplay the seriousness of its recall of over 265 tons of ground beef and components when it said in a press release,

"The Company has processed over 10 billion pounds of product without a confirmed customer illness."

Not sure what confirmed means, but …

What I tried to explain with Misti was that it’s not nearly enough to expect people to just handle things safety because food safety is so simple; that pathogen loads – the sheer numbers of dangerous microorganisms on product like hamburger – need to be reduced from farm-to-fork.

If you’ve ever tried making hamburgers from scratch, you’ll know why.

The opportunities for cross-contamination — a few of those E. coli O157:H7 moving from hamburger to hands or counters or utensils, and then somewhere else –are just overwhelming.

And if the burger does make it to the grill, it has to be cooked. As I said,

"I feel naked without a thermometer," and that brown meat is not necessarily cooked meat. "Color is just a terrible indicator. Over half of hamburger will turn brown before it’s actually done.”

That’s why a risk reduction approach, beginning on the farm and right through to the fork, is essential. Especially with E. coli O157:H7.