Seen and heard: Hepatitis A exposure in Ontario

Line-ups usually seen at the Fergus curling club or Legion bar – not at the offices of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (below, exactly as shown). Following the report of a hepatitis A-positive cook at Marj’s, an Alma, Ontario (that’s in Canada) diner, public health officials have been busy issuing protective IgG shots to exposed patrons.

According to The Record, at least 600 shots were given Friday AM before supplies ran out. And an additional 150 when stock was replenished.B821841584Z.1_20150123191304_000_GGS1DL62B.2_Gallery

The shots are effective and reduce the risk of illnesses. Earlier this month, a similar exposure incident in New Jersey resulted in additional cases amongst folk who didn’t stand in line for shots.

“It’s unfortunate, really,” said Joanne Hall, a clerk of session at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church down the street from the restaurant. “It’s a business, and something like this is not something you ask for. It can happen anywhere. As a small community we will support them, and help them get back on their feet.”

Anyone who dined at Marj’s between Jan. 2 and Jan. 20—the period when there was the highest likelihood of infection— was advised to get vaccinated to prevent infection.

Marj’s was closed on Friday, but not due to a public health order. Health officials inspected the premises on Thursday and cleared it. The restaurant’s owner, Keith Mclean, was not immediately available for comment. There were a number of people in the back of the diner Friday who appeared to be readying it for business. 

John Goforth lives just around the corner from Marj’s and eats there occasionally. He has not dined there this month and is not getting the vaccination.

“It’s a really good place, with good people and good food,” he said. “There was nothing they could do about this (except require vaccinations for their staff? -ben), and I hope it doesn’t hurt them. It’s been there forever, and it’s a great place.” 

“I think it was just a fluke,” Arsene Pick said Friday after getting the shot. He lives in Elora and dines occasionally at Marj’s. “It was just one of the cooks there that caught it and nobody knew. I hope it doesn’t hurt their business.”

Sharon Grose was in the outside lineup Friday. She said Marj’s is legendary in Alma, and is frequented by people from all around the town, especially in the farming community, and by travellers on their way to cottages further north. 

“This is a small price to pay to make sure you’re safe,” she said, speaking of waiting in the lineup for the vaccine. She had been waiting for about 40 minutes. “I don’t think this will hurt Marj’s. I hope not. They have a solid record for good food. This is just a matter of people being cautious.” 

Canadians are so nice.

Marj’s in Alma, Ontario source of hepatitis A exposure

When I was a grad student I played in a few co-ed slopitch baseball tournaments close to Guelph, Ontario (that’s in Canada). These tournaments consisted of a lot of beer drinking and my team (which completed in the Guelph restaurant league) wasn’t great. We played one tournament in Palmerston and on the way home we stopped for greasy hamburgers at a place called Marj’s in Alma. I don’t remember much about the meal. Just that we stopped.logo

Marj’s, according to the Guelph Mercury, is dealing with a hepatitis A exposure situation.

Anyone who ate at Marj’s Village Kitchen in Alma between Jan. 2 and 20 is advised to get a Hepatitis A vaccination as soon as possible, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health reports. 

Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health, has confirmed that an employee at the restaurant has a confirmed case of Hepatitis A and anyone who ate there in the first part of January could be at risk of infection.

“The source is no longer working at the restaurant so there is no further risk at this restaurant,” Mercer said in an interview. “We are not out to be punitive.

“But Marj’s is extremely popular—it’s always busy. There could be many hundreds who have been exposed.”

Mercer is urging customers who ate at the restaurant between Jan. 2 and Jan. 20 to get a Hepatitis A vaccine as soon as possible.

Results rather than rules: Ontario backs down on meat inspection

Jim Romahn, the dean of Ontario agriculture reporting, writes that, after years of blistering criticism from small-business meat packers, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food is introducing new regulations that take effect Jan. 1.

meat_inspectorThere are more than 40 changes to technical regulations, most of them to offer flexibility in how meat packers can meet the standards. Laurie Nichols who runs the Ontario Independent Meat Processors Association said the existing regulations are “prescriptive” and the new ones are based on “outcomes” without specifying precisely what needs to achieve those outcomes.

She said her members welcome the increased flexibility.

For example, the existing regulations have construction requirements for dry storage facilities for items such as sanitizing liquids, brushes, brooms, etc. The new regulations require that the items be off the floor and in a secure location which could now be met by putting the items in containers and on shelving. There is also a major policy change to move inspection of foodservice establishments out of OMAF and over to local health units. The expectations for food safety will remain the same.

There is also a provision for these foodservice establishments to conduct a small volume of meat processing. Nichols said that a policy the independent meat packers want clarified because it’s a competitive issue. OMAF is mentioning only a minor change in pre-inspection and post-inspection that adds another half hour of free service before it begins charging fees for service.

At least three sick with E. coli O157 in Canada from unpasteurized apple cider

I confess. I experimented with something else while a university undergraduate: unpasteurized apple cider. ex and I would go to the Guelph Farmer’s Market and stock up, including unpasteurized cider.

After moving to Kitchener (that’s in Ontario, Canada), we would bike with the kids out to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in Waterloo, Ontario (that’s also in Canada) on Saturday mornings, buy some local wares, including cider, although we preferred the Waterloo County Farmer’s Market across the street.

By the time we moved back to Guelph in 1997, I’d finished my PhD in food science, and had become exceedingly wary of unpasteurized cider.

So had the U.S. government.

In October, 1996, 16-month-old Anna Gimmestad of Denver drank Smoothie juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc. of Half Moon Bay, Calif. She died several weeks later; 64 others became ill in several western U.S. states and British Columbia after drinking the same juices, which contained unpasteurized apple cider –and E. coli O157:H7. Investigators believe that some of the apples used to make the cider may have been insufficiently washed after falling to the ground and coming into contact with deer feces.

By 1997, one of my first students was working with a cider producer at the Guelph market, who had gone so far as to set up his own microbiology lab at his farm.

20141030ba_1414719717551_engGood for him.

In the fall of 1998, I accompanied one of my then four daughters on a kindergarten trip to the farm. After petting the animals and touring the crops –I questioned the fresh manure on the strawberries –we were assured that all the food produced was natural. We then returned for unpasteurized apple cider. The host served the cider in a coffee urn, heated, so my concern about it being unpasteurized was abated. I asked: “Did you serve the cider heated because you heard about other outbreaks and were concerned about liability?” She responded, “No. The stuff starts to smell when it’s a few weeks old and heating removes the smell.”

Today, Chapman reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency noted an outbreak of E. coli O157 linked to unpasteurized cider sold at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.

Why CFIA reports an outbreak but relies on Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada to report actual illnesses is baffling. Guess it keeps the different bureaucrats busy.

Fortunately there are a handful of reporters still employed in Ontario, and one at the K-W Record says at least three people have been sickened with E. coli O157 from the unpasteurized cider.

Food safety inspectors are searching across southern Ontario for 2,000 litres of E. coli-contaminated apple cider that’s already made three people ill.

Some of the unpasteurized juice from Rolling Acres Cider Mill, 1235 Martin Creek Rd., near St. Jacobs, is in unmarked, 1.3-litre plastic bags.

local.children.halloween.oct.14A Waterloo health official suspects some of the perishable juice it is already stashed away in household freezers for use weeks or months later.

Health officials are also tracking cider made for other retailers on Oct. 10, which is also likely contaminated with the bacteria that causes brutal stomach upset.

“The tracing is still ongoing,” said Chris Komorowski, food safety manager, at Waterloo Region public health.

Suspect cider pressed Oct. 10 at Rolling Acres has likely been sold as far east as Toronto and west of Waterloo, he said. “It’s all of southern Ontario.”

Rolling Acres is co-operating with the investigation, providing paperwork to track Oct. 10 batches of cider, Komorowski said. Waterloo and federal food inspectors have taken a close look at the apple press operation and found no problems.

“Currently they are meeting all regulatory food safety requirements from both agencies,” Komorowski said. “They’re in full compliance with that.”

The owner of Rolling Acres wasn’t available for comment.

Here’s the abstract from a paper Amber Luedtke and I published back in 2002:

A review of North American apple cider outbreaks caused by E. coli O157:H7 demonstrated that in the U.S., government officials, cider producers, interest groups and the public were actively involved in reforming and reducing the risk associated with unpasteurized apple cider. In Canada, media coverage was limited and government agencies inadequately managed and communicated relevant updates or new documents to the industry and the public.

Therefore, a survey was conducted with fifteen apple cider producers in Ontario, Canada, to gain a better understanding of production practices and information sources. Small, seasonal operations in Ontario produce approximately 20,000 litres of cider per year. Improper processing procedures were employed by some operators, including the use of unwashed apples and not using sanitizers or labeling products accurately.

Most did not pasteurize or have additional safety measures. Larger cider producers ran year-long, with some producing in excess of 500,000 litres of cider. Most sold to large retail stores and have implemented safety measures such as HACCP plans, cider testing and pasteurization. All producers surveyed received government information on an irregular basis, and the motivation to ensure safe, high-quality apple cider was influenced by financial stability along with consumer and market demand, rather than by government enforcement.

Dirt on the menu? It’s ‘hyper-local’

My friend Steve managed his four kids and mealtime with frozen veggies, and I sorta did the same.

mqdefaultBut in provactive food porn, for those who’s lives are hopelessly dull, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports chef Justin Cournoyer is heading north of Toronto in his Subaru Forester (because only soilvares would drive a Subaru, or that it would matter) to forage in the wilderness. He’s on one of his biweekly pilgrimages to harvest wild bounty, such as chamomile, ginger, peas, woodruff or ground elder. These he will place into a cooler to take back to his small hyper-local Ossington Avenue restaurant, Actinolite. While he’s out, he’s also seeking an ingredient that the average forager might overlook: soil.

“You want soil that is near maples and pines,” he says. “If it’s too into the pines, it’s too acidic.”

He prefers not the silty topsoil that one could procure from a front lawn, but the stuff that is rife with pine needles, decaying organic matter and broken-down leaves. He wants the scents and sensations of an Ontario forest captured in a handful of dirt, and he wants to cook with that dirt.

7 sick from E. coli burgers in Ontario; federal public health MIA, no government shutdown

There’s no federal government shutdown in Canada, which is a different country than the U.S., but bureaucratic sleepiness continues.

A week after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced a recall of hamburgers made by Toronto-based Belmont Meats Ltd., the feds in meatwad.raw.hamburgerthe form of Health Canada and/or Public Health Agency of Canada, have provided no information on how many people are sick.

Maybe they’re still at the cottage.

Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Arlene King, has filled the void, and has stated that seven Ontario residents are sick with an additional suspected case.

The recall has been expanded from Compliments brand Super 8 Beef Burgers sold in packages of six in Sobeys, Sobeys Urban, Foodland, Freshco and Price Chopper stores in Ontario and Atlantic Canada to ow include President’s Choice Beef Burgers in 4.54 kilogram packages sold nationally in Loblaws banner stores and Webers Bucket of Burgers sold in 1.02 kilogram packages, which may have been distributed across Canada.

26 sick; leafy green cone of silence descends again

On Jan. 4, 2013, the California leafy greens folks were quickly out with a press release praising the passage of proposed rules regarding produce food safety under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) spongebob.oil.colbert.may3.10and how California growers were way ahead of the government.

Yesterday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said the most probable cause of 26 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in the Maritimes and Ontario was shredded lettuce grown in California and distributed by FreshPoint Inc. primarily to some KFC and KFC-Taco Bell restaurants.

The silence from the California Greens Marketing Agreement has been deafening.

A table of leafy green outbreaks is available at

Ontario restaurant closed after Salmonella outbreak

A Peterborough restaurant is closed as health officials investigate an outbreak of lab-confirmed cases of salmonella.

The Peterborough County-City Health Unit wants to speak with anyone who became ill with symptoms consistent with salmonella
after eating at Ming’s Restaurant at 554 Lansdowne St. W. on or after Nov. 27.

The health unit is seeking this information to prevent the spread of illness to others.

Ontario racehorses being sold for meat as slots shuttered

The theory of unintended consequences underscores Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel, Cat’s Cradle.

According to QMI, it’s possible thousands of Ontario broodmares have been slaughtered for meat since the Liberal government announced the cancellation of a slot-machine program that generated millions in revenue for the horse-racing industry, an equine veterinarian says.

Mark Biederman, who works just outside Windsor said while he’s not sure how many broodmares have been sold for meat, he estimates it could be hundreds, if not thousands.

He said many of his clients have sold theirs.

Broodmares are retired female racehorses used to breed the next generation. But with the horse-racing industry in dire straits — facing hundreds of millions in losses — the old girls aren’t worth much anymore.

“The broodmares are the first casualty of the industry,” Biederman said. “There isn’t any market for them other than going for meat.”

Ontario’s horse-racing industry reels in $354 million a year from the soon-to-be-dead Slots at Racetracks Program, which divvies up profits from slot machines at tracks between the industry, the track owners and the government.

The province announced in the spring its plan to axe the program and divert the money to health care and education instead. Slot machines have already been removed from some racetracks in Ontario, and they’ll all be gone by March 31, 2013.

The move was met with opposition from people in the industry, and has forced some major tracks — such as the Windsor Raceway — to shut down.

It also means many horse owners can no longer afford to keep the animals.

Biederman says business is down 50% at his veterinarian clinic. He’s had to lay off staff and reduce hours. When the program officially ends in March 2013, he said he’ll probably pack up and leave the province.

“If the slot program is ultimately cancelled, I think that’ll be the death of the industry. I don’t think there will be any way to stay in Ontario. I think you’re gonna have a mass exodus of horses.”

Or as Vonnegut wrote,

“I’m not a drug salesman. I’m a writer.”

“What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?”