Food safety vs food security

My month-long break in Paraguay is coming to an end. It has been a hectic month – packed with family visits, celebrations, and of course, lots of [un-safe] food.

With concepts like “cross contamination”,  “meat temperature”, and “hand washing” floating around my head I’ve been able to look at things differently.  I concluded that we are decades behind the U.S. in terms of food safety. 

While Americans worry much about food safety, Paraguayans are more occupied with food security. Access to food is more important than stopping to think whether it’s safe or not. I even have a hard time explaining what food safety is. I am not surprised; I had no idea when I started working for Doug. Food safety topics are not in the news much and I have not heard people discussing about it.

To find out more, I’ve sat around the kitchen a lot. I tried a few times to explain to the cook why she should wash her hands every time she touches raw meat and goes on to something else. All I got back were looks of ‘you are just crazy’. Her food is still delicious.

I asked her how often her kids have diarrhea. She said, not often, maybe once or twice a month. I asked her if she’s worried about it, she answered she’s not, it’s a normal part of being a kid. 

Or maybe our stomachs are used to handling salmonella and E. coli better than others. It’s hard to know. When I moved to Kansas two years ago I survived on rice and toast for a week because I couldn’t stop barfing.

But sitting back and recalling some of my experiences on this side of the world, I am surprised I have not yet barfed once (not counting the New Years party, when I had too much champagne).

A couple of weeks ago I went to eat one of my favorite meals – steak sandwich – better known as lomito. The best place I know is just a few blocks away – a humble-looking lomito stand. I took a bite out of my lomito and realized the meat was still pink on the inside. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the mayonnaise tub by the grill.

I wondered how long the mayo (probably home-made, with raw egg) had been sitting out in the heat. I wondered where he kept the raw meat or how he knew if it was done or not. Should I ask? I resolved that some things are better left unknown. I finished munching and handed him the money. He grabbed the bills with bare hands, put them in a box, and continued flipping steaks. (Note: the pic to the right is actually another lomito I ate during a short visit to Brazil, but that’s pretty much how it looked like)

We do have nice restaurants where things like these don’t happen or at least we don’t see them happening. But in a broader picture, citizens and leaders of the country have plenty to figure out before they can tackle food safety concerns.

In the meantime, I will keep savoring the lomitos, chipa guazu, sopa paraguaya, asados, and such. For me, it is still awesome [un-safe] food.

Raw eggs in mayonnaise blamed as salmonella infects 18

The Guernsey Press – of the Guernsey Islands – reports that an outbreak of salmonella, blamed on raw eggs used in mayonnaise, has left 18 customers and staff at an unamed island catering establishment needing treatment.

Environmental health inspectors visited the premises last week and a spokesman said the infection had been contained.

The spokesman would not confirm the location of the outbreak as he said the premises had been deemed fit to continue catering.

Sounds surprisingly similar to an outbreak in Tasmania earlier this year,

Tasmanian Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, said at the time that given the national increase, and the local experience of salmonella outbreaks associated with eggs, his department was proposing to introduce new measures to control the safety of raw egg products in Tasmania as a matter of urgency.

Passing the buck – Tasmanian style

The Venus café in Hobart, Tasmania, was the epicenter of a Salmonella outbreak that sickened about 100 people in Feb. 2008.

Seems the owner, Maree Little, didn’t know that raw eggs could carry Salmonella. On Feb. 7, 2008, owner Little cried as she spoke of the devastation of knowing food prepared at her Hobart, Tasmania, eatery had made at least 79 people seriously ill, including mourners at funerals which her business had catered for.

She too became ill after eating food from the cafe, which had been made  with raw eggs.

Now, with her business down by 60 per cent, Ms. Little says,

"I would like to have some sort of recognition to our business because we have been caught in all of this, and I would like the government to come out and say we’re thinking about you also, but again that hasn’t happened. I don’t know whether we can demand it but we will, we will consider what appropriate action we need to take, We need to build our business, and that’s what’s important."

The Tasmanian Greens jumped in, calling on the government to develop new protocols to lessen the impact of Salmonella outbreaks on retail food outlets, which have often been devastated by negative publicity despite not being responsible in any way for an outbreak.

Wow. Not sure Salmonella knows which party to vote for.  But if you’re serving food to a bunch of people, don’t use raw eggs.

Tasmania, rest of Australia, wake up to raw egg risks

The Tasmanian Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, said consumers should be aware that eggs are a safe and excellent source of nutrition when handled and prepared correctly but in recent years there had been several outbreaks of Salmonella gastroenteritis linked to the consumption of raw or undercooked egg products, including the most recent outbreak in the Hobart area.

"All the evidence we have collected so far indicates that there is no single ‘magic bullet’ solution to preventing further outbreaks of salmonella gastroenteritis. Things can go wrong at each step of the way from farm to fork, and so multiple control points and strategies are required – in just the same way as we recommend that drinking water authorities use a ‘catchment-to-tap’ approach to drinking water management.

The Public and Environmental Health Service has previously issued several warnings to both the food industry and the public outlining the hazards associated with raw egg products and cautioning against their continued use. …  I say this because OzFoodNet – the Australian national surveillance system for foodborne diseases has reported that the number of egg-related Salmonella outbreaks across Australia increased in 2006 and 2007 when compared to previous years. Eggs were responsible for approximately 14% of the 115 foodborne disease outbreaks occurring in 2006 and 12% of the138 outbreaks in 2007.”

Dr Taylor said that given the national increase, and the local experience of salmonella outbreaks associated with eggs, we propose to introduce new measures to control the safety of raw egg products in Tasmania as a matter of urgency. 

Under the new requirements all food businesses choosing to make raw egg products must document the method of manufacture and follow strict and auditable procedures governing egg receipt, product preparation, storage and handling.

The shelf life of each batch of raw egg product will also be limited to no more than 24 hours under refrigeration, after which the product must be discarded.

Dr Taylor said the new egg safety measures will be legally enforceable by local government environmental health officers, as part food business licensing and inspection procedures.

“The new requirements will not apply to businesses using commercially processed egg-based sauces and dressings, or to businesses that use pasteurised products such as egg pulp in lieu of raw eggs.

 “I would also urge patrons when dining out to ask whether raw eggs have been used to prepare mayonnaise, aioli and tartare sauces, so that they can make an informed choice."