Are fewer people getting sick from food? Is reporting getting worse

Foodborne illness outbreaks are trending downward, according to a new review of outbreaks by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

From 2001 to 2010, the latest 10-year period for which data is available, outbreaks related to E. coli, Salmonella, and other dangerous pathogens appear to have decreased by more than 40 percent. Better food safety foodnet.pyramid.fbi.reportingpractices, notably the adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs in the meat, poultry, and seafood industries, may have contributed to the decline, says CSPI. But the group cautions that incomplete reporting of outbreaks by understaffed and financially stretched public health agencies may also influence the data.

“Despite progress made by the industry and by food safety regulators, contaminated food is still causing too many illnesses, visits to the emergency room, and deaths,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “Yet state and local health departments and federal food safety programs always seem to be on the chopping block. Those financial pressures not only threaten the progress we’ve made on food safety, but threaten our very understanding of which foods and which pathogens are making people sick.”

Can you cope? On-line reviews

Last May, it was reported that 195 of the 580 people served Easter Brunch at Luciano’s Cotton Club in Worcester, Mass. were struck by norovirus contracted from a sick employee, and the incident was chronicled on Yelp and a food safety site called

“I would really drive home the point that they had a problem, investigated to determine what it is, and outlined a plan for what we’re going to do from now on,” said Gregory Charland, founder and chief executive officer of Charland Technology, a Hubbardston-based company offering a wide range of technology services. “Organizations should use problems like that to really do some soul searching and figure out how and why this happened. The overriding concept to underline is that they are never going to have their name in the news about this again.”

(Hint, and it’s in the blog post: don’t let sick employees work, even at an Easter buffet).

Alex Barbosa, the restaurant’s manager, declined comment.

That’s one anecdote in a story about on-line reviewing, which some love and some hate.

Alec Lopez dislikes consumer-driven review websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon.

The owner of Armsby Abey in Worcester, Mass. said, “I don’t read reviews often,” Mr. Lopez said. “I hate Yelp because it’s an unanswered forum for people to bitch. I feel like it’s a green light to voice your opinion without consequences.”

Worcester native Andrew Chandler, a 29-year-old medical student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, had an unpleasant dining experience at Armsby Abbey, and chronicled it on Yelp.

“I was really sad to have done it, but I think that when a place isn’t responsive or accommodating, people should know about it. I was hoping Armsby Abbey would read it and respond. I think it goes a long way if a manager explains what the circumstances were, and how they’ll prevent the problem from happening again. Today, online reviews can make or break a customer’s decision.”

In September, Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca released research that found a one-star rating increase on Yelp directly led to a 5 percent to 9 percent boost in revenue for independent restaurants, with comparable projections for independents in other industries. Despite the growing influence of Yelp and similar websites, business owners like Mr. Lopez continue to ignore — or worse, incorrectly address — negative feedback when it comes in the form of an online review.

With 61 million monthly visitors and 22 million reviews online by the end of the third quarter last year, Yelp is the most popular online review destination for everything from dentists to dieticians. Yelp’s popularity is proof that consumers trust reviews written by the average Joe, and enjoy contributing their own 2 cents.

Wilson Wang, chef and owner of Baba Sushi in Worcester, said he checks online reviews of his restaurant “all the time,” monitoring what diners like — and don’t like.

Mr. Wang, whose customers’ reviews currently rank Baba Sushi 4.5 out of 5 stars on, said he doesn’t respond personally to people’s comments but rather sees such reviews “as a mirror” to reveal what could be done better. “We are on the high level and we are really proud,” he said last week.

Yelp and websites like it open the door for independent businesses with limited marketing budgets, giving them an opportunity to advertise through old-fashioned word of mouth in a high-tech world. They offer a safety net to consumers who, with a few keystrokes, can be reassured that trying something new — rather than falling back on the reliability of a chain — won’t be a waste of their money.

“Every time I’ve given a negative review and gotten some sort of constructive, non-judgmental response, I’ve made it a point to go back to whatever business it was and give them a clean slate,” said Amy Jamieson, a 42-year-old Yelp user and homemaker from Worcester. “If they’re willing to try again, so am I.”

China says more media coverage of dodgy suppliers would enhance food safety – China?

The furious reaction of the market and consumers has dealt a heavy blow to those who are dishonest or even violate the law in food production.

This is in China, reports Global Times.

Without well-educated citizens or ethical strength, China "can’t be a respectable economy or a power in the real sense," Premier Wen Jiabao warned last week, making him the highest official to have made such blunt remarks toward food scandals. Food safety has been raised to the level of national strategy.

One effective way to mobilize consumer enthusiasm is to give more media coverage to the disclosure of fake food producers.

Food scandals have become a public enemy that demands public involvement to eradicate the problem.

Some shoppers told Xinhua News Agency they prefer shopping at big supermarkets, where they believe food safety standards are higher.

Another Beijing shopper said, “I often buy food and other products that are popular and have a good reputation."

Wisconsin hotel worker fired after norovirus outbreak

Don’t fire the messenger. Improve and enforce the message.

A Country Springs Hotel line cook claims he was wrongly terminated for “sanitation reasons” after dozens of people were sickened at a banquet at the Waukesha, Wis., hotel last week, adding,

"I’m the fall guy. I’m the scapegoat. There’s been no proof that I was responsible for bringing a virus to work."

The cook told WTMJ he was getting over the flu and wasn’t feeling 100 per cent the day he helped prepare the food for the banquet but he doesn’t think he should have lost his job.

"The managers, they knew I was ill, they knew there were other people that were ill. They didn’t send me home Sunday and Monday. They sent me home Tuesday. Sunday and Monday they needed me really bad. Tuesday it was not a busy day.”

The Wisconsin Food Code says kitchen employees must report if they have flu like symptoms. The Country Springs manager told Today’s TMJ4 that’s why they "fired one employee for failure to comply with the reporting requirement policies."