11 sick: New York state investigating Cyclospora outbreak

Bethany Bump of the Times Union writes that New York state and local health departments are investigating an outbreak of cyclosporiasis in the Capital Region.

The gastrointestinal illness, which can spread through contaminated food and water, has been confirmed in 11 people so far.

Symptoms began around mid-June, and several of the patients reported eating at the Italian American Community Center in Albany, Prime Life Restaurant at the Beltrone Senior Living Community Center in Colonie, and a private buffet held at Union College in Schenectady, state health officials said.

While cyclosporiasis is endemic in some areas of the world, outbreaks in the U.S. are often associated with imported fresh produce that have been contaminated with a fecal parasite known as Cyclospora cayetanensis.

State health officials say there is no indication that the parasite was spread by poor food handling or preparation at local establishments, which are cooperating with the investigation. Instead, contamination often occurs prior to arrival at food distribution centers and restaurants, they said, and is not easily removed by standard rinsing.

Additional dining establishments may be identified as the investigation continues, they added.

Dozens of Swiss soldiers hit by vomiting bug, 4 in critical condition

The Straits Times reports more than 40 military staff and recruits at an academy in central Switzerland were taken to hospital on Thursday (July 4) after they suddenly fell violently ill, the government said.

In a statement, the Swiss defence department said that on Thursday afternoon, 43 recruits and members of the Jassbach academy in Linden, in Bern Canton, suddenly suffered from acute gastrointestinal problems, with diarrhoea and vomiting.

My brain hurts

It’s a strange thing having your brain disappear.

Amy has encouraged me to write about it.

I’m not sure I can.

I was crying on the phone with my parents the other day, talking about how my grandfather started showing signs of Alzheimer’s at 56 (my age).

It’s emotionally complex and I’m not sure how to handle it.

But it’s happening.

I watched it in my grandfather, I know it’s happening to me.

And my 77-year old mother is going to be here in a couple of days after making a 30-hour flight half-way around the world to see her sick son.

Informational nudges shaping food safety perceptions

The study examines the influence, and potential confluence, of message framing and issue involvement on consumer food safety perceptions. We assess the impact of gain and loss-framed messages and issue involvement on perceptions of two food safety enhancing technologies, cattle vaccines against E. coli and direct-fed microbials.

A survey with six information treatments was developed. Empirical results show that both loss-framed and gain-framed messages were persuasive in influencing safety perceptions of the two technologies under low issue involvement. Under high issue involvement, however, only the loss-framed message influenced consumers’ safety perceptions. High issue involvement also heightened concerns about foodborne infections.

Shaping food safety perceptions: The Influence of informational nudges

18.jun.19

Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics

Kofi Britwum

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214804318302830

279 sick: Salmonella infections again linked to backyard poultry

People, seriously, stop kissing your chicks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that since the last update on May 16, 2019, illnesses in an additional 227 people and 20 states have been added to this investigation. Four Salmonella serotypes have also been added.

A total of 279 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella have been reported from 41 states.

40 (26%) people have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported.

70 (30%) people are children younger than 5 years.

Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicate that contact with backyard poultry, such as chicks and ducklings, from multiple hatcheries is the likely source of these outbreaks.

In interviews, 118 (77%) of 153 ill people reported contact with chicks or ducklings.

People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources, including agricultural stores, websites, and hatcheries.

One of the outbreak strains making people sick has been identified in samples collected from backyard poultry in Ohio.

People can get sick with Salmonella infections from touching backyard poultry or their environment. Backyard poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness.

Follow these tips to stay healthy with your backyard flock:

Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

Adults should supervise handwashing by young children.

Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.

Don’t let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.

Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.

 

Should we be afraid of eating sprouts?

I don’t eat much lettuce either.

But I eat a lot of fruit and veg.

 I revealed last week I was nervous about doing a media interview, because I’ve been out of the game for a while, and my brain, just don’t work so well.

Fell again today and it hurt.

I have no balance.

But I still have a brain.

So when a U.S. reporter agrees to chat at 4 a.m. EST (6 p.m. EST) I say sure, because I’ve always been a media whore. How else to spread the message.

I particularily like the lede.

Kate Bernot of The Take Out wrote, “If you ask anyone in food safety, ‘What is the one food you will not eat?’ Raw sprouts tops the list, always.”

That’s one of the first sentences out of the mouth of Doug Powell, a former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog, a frequently updated site that publishes evidence-based opinions on food safety.

I’ve asked him whether food-safety fears about sprouts—those tiny, crunchy squiggles in your salad or sandwich—are well-founded. He tells me the public isn’t concerned enough about them.

“Risk is inherent in the nature of the product which is why Walmart and Costco got rid of them,” he says. (Kroger also stopped selling sprouts in 2012.) “This is not a new problem. It’s been going on for decades.”

According to a paper he and three colleagues published in the journal Food Control in 2012, sprouts have been responsible for at least 55 documented foodborne outbreaks affecting more than 15,000 people globally in the past two decades. The Food And Drug Administration tallies 46 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States linked to sprouts between 1996 and 2016, accounting for for 2,474 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations, and three deaths. In an effort to reduce these outbreaks, the FDA in 2017 collected 825 samples of sprouts from across the U.S.; 14 of those tested positive for E. coli, listeria, or salmonella.

The first reason sprouts—whether alfalfa or mung bean or radish or other varieties—can carry E. coli or salmonella bacteria has to do with how the sprouts are produced. The conditions that cause a seed to sprout are the same conditions that cause bacteria to breed: warm, moist air.

“The sprout is made from germinating seeds and the seeds themselves may be the source of the contamination. When you’re germinating a seed and growing a sprout, you’re providing conditions for the sprout growth that are ideal also for bacterial growth,” says Craig Hedberg, a professor in the School Of Public Health at University Of Minnesota. “This is a product that went through incubator-like circumstances.”

The second reason is related to how most of us consume sprouts: raw. Because we value sprouts’ crunch, we rarely cook them before adding them to a dish. Powell notes that people in many Southeast Asian countries do blanch their sprouts before cooking with them, but that the West tends to consume them raw.

The third reason sprouts can pose a risk is because even rinsing them won’t generally remove enough of the bacteria to keep an infected sprout from making a person sick. Hedberg says that even romaine lettuce, which has recently been associated with foodborne illness outbreaks, has a surface area that’s easier to wash than sprouts.

“The seeds can get contaminated as they’re growing, so the contamination can be internal,” Powell tells me. “So you’re never going to wash it off.”

Sprouts do have their defenders, though, who note higher levels of soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and mineral bioavailability compared to non-sprouted grains and vegetables. The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics statesthat “in general, the health benefits associated with savoring raw or lightly cooked sprouts outweigh risks for healthy individuals. However, be aware that there is risk of food poisoning if you plan to eat them.”

The FDA recommends cooking sprouts thoroughly to kill bacteria, and further advises that the elderly, children, people who are pregnant, and people with compromised immune systems should not eat sprouts at all. To further reduce your risk of sprout-related foodborne illness, the FDA says consumers can “request that raw sprouts not be added to your food.” So, bottom line, if you’re concerned—yeah, just don’t eat them. May we suggest beet slivers or carrot ribbons for crunch?

Empathy, barfblog and rock and roll

I used to have Mick Taylor hair.

And then it turned grey, and went straight up, like Lyle Lovett.

I used to have a brain, but I feel it ever so slowly fading away, so I’ll get as much writing in while I’m somewhat together.

Personality, worse than ever, because I alternate between frightened, fearless and forlorn, and have no control over it.

This won’t end well.

Chapman asked me if doing all this end of life stuff like making sure my families were taken care of was a downer, and I say no, I’ve been fighting so long, it’s sort of cathartic.

My wife rolls her eyes and turns away when I tell people, I couldn’t remember my own phone number yesterday because I started taking pucks to the head in 1967.

She just thinks I’m a drunk.

Empathy may not be her strong suit.

Yet new research shows that just one concussion can mess the brain up.

I’ve had dozens, if not hundreds.

I’ve shared this with my physicians, but why not use this megaphone. When I die, someone please call this number and they’ll have a look at my brain. They’re hooked up with the CTE clinic in Boston (that’s a Sydney number, so needs a 61 first).

Research published by the American Psychological Association finds that even when feeling empathy for others isn’t financially costly or emotionally draining, people will still avoid it because they think empathy requires too much mental effort.

Amy’s had a lot to deal with and I blame her for nothing.

If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s the value of empathy (but like a good scientist, I want to know what works and what doesn’t, not just a bunch of catch-phrases).

I’ll stick with it as long as I can, because the reason I started the Food Safety Network in 1993 is still valid today: no parent, no individual, should say, they didn’t know the risk (followed by tragedy).

And where else would I get to play the music I love.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

Science behind the human urge to tell stories

Whenever I speak with a psychiatrist or psychologist who is trying to rearrange my brain until I’m sane, they all say the same thing: stop with the stories and get to the point.

They think I’m using stories as a distraction tactic, whereas I’m using stories to enhance the meaning of what is or isn’t going on upstairs.

If you’ve seen the film, Lincoln, you may know what I’m storying about.

And the eggheads don’t get it.

Leo Robson of New Statesman America writes that although it has been more than 60 years since Ernst Gombrich delivered his Mellon lectures on art and illusion – the title of his subsequent bestselling book – the application of empirical thinking to works of culture or creativity is still considered a minority interest, even a kind of novelty. There are academic courses in critical approaches such as “evolutionary literary theory” and “cognitive poetics”, but they are taught by academics with devoted professorships in other fields of study.

With notable exceptions, most of the movement has been from the humanities towards the sciences, as was the case with Gombrich, who used cognitive psychology to illuminate the processes of visual representation; with the film scholar David Bordwell, who has cited Gombrich’s example; and with the Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, who in his book On the Origin of Stories (2010) mentioned the “revelatory” experience of discovering Bordwell’s work. Now Will Storr, a journalist and writing teacher, has written an account of our story-telling instincts that doubles as a guide to telling better stories.

It would be hard to imagine a case of more wholehearted advocacy. The book is heavy with categories, dichotomies and tags (“identity claims”, “feeling regulators”). Storr begins with the idea that stories emerged to address the fact that life is “meaningless”. This does not explain why a child oblivious to the planet’s looming “heat death”, the “infinite, dead, freezing void”, may still enjoy an episode of Paw Patrol, but it’s true that a desire for order has always prevailed among human beings. Or, in Storr’s rather Tarzan-ish phrasing, “Story is what brain does.” He goes further, arguing with clarity and conviction that it is due to our brains’ desire for control that we are excited by stories of change. Boy meets girl. Stranger dismounts from horse. Complacent youth is humbled. Ancient order shows signs of frailty.

Storr succeeds in bridging evolutionary psychology and narrative theory, or making one the basis for the other. But unlike Gombrich or Bordwell, his aim isn’t to answer a critical question better. He’s probing his own craft in order to teach it to others. So it’s odd that he approaches the subject mainly as a researcher. He doesn’t bring to bear his experience of working on his novel, The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone; or of turning research into books, such as The Heretics; or, in his work as a ghostwriter, shaping reams of interview transcripts into a pleasing or plausible account of a life. It would be rather as if David Hockney had neglected to mention his life as “an artist, a mark-maker”, in Secret Knowledge, his remarkable study of optical devices.

Instead, Storr turns to novels and films for examples of storytelling that appeal to our neural processes, but they do little to help his case. He tells us that Raymond Chandler packs “a tonne of meaning” into the image “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”; and that the lines “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “These go to 11” are “so dense with narrative information it’s as if the entire story is packed into just a few words”. His most frequently cited case studies are Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day and Citizen Kane, though neither is very representative, being less stories than meta-stories, respectively a faux-memoir of an unusually ruminative sort and the portrait of a journalist assigned to uncover what made a man tick.

It’s in the writing manual section that the book is at its strongest. In one terrific passage, Storr explains that an audience’s curiosity – resembling the shape of the lower-case “n” – peaks when we know something and fades away when we know everything. Then, in an appendix, Storr elaborates his theory that “more traditional” – ie non-science-based – “attempts at decoding story”, such as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth” or idea of the “hero’s journey”, have emphasised ideas of plot and structure at the expense of what he calls “character work”. Storr’s concept of the “sacred flaw” – an over-compressed phrase referring to the faulty concept that a character holds sacred – is lucid, original, plausibly grounded in the science and proves once again just how much goodwill can be derived from a satisfying ending, even when it depends on a deus ex machina (I don’t speak foreign languages).

Tangled up in blue: Finding food safety purpose

I used to write up the U.S. Centers of Disease Control with the enthusiasm of a teenage going on a date.

It was current, it was confident and it was cool.

Now, not so much.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of watching Salmonella and other foodborne illnesses flatline, even if a Senator brings a day-old bucket of KFC into a hearing to make some sort of metaphorical point.

I’ll say the same thing I say every year: the numbers aren’t changing because the interventions are in the wrong place.

When national organizations go agenst the World Health Organization and don’t mention on-farm food safety, then they’re missing the source.

According to Food Business News, illness was more prevalent in 2018, according to preliminary surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and Prevention. Incidents of Campylobacter, Salmonella and Cyclospora infections increased last year, according to FoodNet 2018 preliminary data released by the C.D.C. The increases were due, in part, to more infections being diagnosed using culture-independent diagnostic tests (C.I.D.T.s), but the C.D.C. noted the possibility that the number of infections actually is increasing.

Campylobacter infections were the commonly identified infection in FoodNet sites since 2013 with poultry being the major source of infection.  More infections are being diagnosed, the C.D.C. said, because more laboratories use C.I.D.T.s to detect Campylobacterand other pathogens. C.I.D.T.s detect the presence of a specific genetic sequence of an organism. The tests produce results more rapidly because they do not require isolation and identification of living organisms.

Reducing Campylobacter infections will require more knowledge of how case patients are becoming infected, the C.D.C. said. The pathogen can contaminate raw chicken or poultry juices, and cross-contamination can impact hands, other foods or kitchen equipment.

“Focusing on interventions throughout the food production chain that reduce Campylobacter bacteria in chicken could lead to fewer illnesses in people,” the C.D.C. said. “Whole genome sequencing might help us figure out the contribution of various sources and help target interventions.”

Salmonella infections, the second most common infection, also appear to be increasing, according to the preliminary report. The most common Salmonella serotypes were Enteritidis, Newport and Typhimurium. Additionally, Enteritidis infections are not decreasing despite regulatory programs aimed at reducing Salmonella in poultry and eggs.

 

Not dead yet: Future of barfblog.com

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

That famous quote, often wrongly ascribed to Albert Einstein, is believed to have originated with Narcotics Anonymous in 1981 (the same year I began university).

In addition to helping raise five daughters, providing endless relationship entertainment to the folks I played pick-up hockey with back in Guelph (that’s pre-Amy, who is playing pick-up as I write this), helping teach lots of kids how to skate, influencing lotsa students (good and bad, not much in-between), pissing off lotsa bureaucrats and industry types, publishing lots of peer-reviewed stuff that still gets cited daily and almost 15,000 barfblog.com posts, I did news.

Food Safety Network news, long before wannabes.

For 26 years I’ve done news.

And always referenced the evidence, or lack thereof.

Until others do the same, they’re just plagiarists.

I combined my background in molecular biology with some journalism experience, and I carved out a path in food safety.

The vision I always had for food safety information, all those years ago, was what I heard about daily – and often directly: How the hell was I supposed to know?

We mined the world (I used Compuserve to get access to the AP wires and others back in the days before Google, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s MMWR would take six months to arrive by mail, when those who needed to know should have had the information as soon as possible).

I am intensely loyal to the kids, er, students, that flourished and maybe we’ll write a book; or maybe not.

I did my best, even when my best wasn’t good enough.

I still love it – I haven’t been paid in over two years — but someone else should be in charge.

I have early-onset dementia, I have other health issues, so rather than submit any more family members to, I’ve got to do news, I am going to step away while I can.

Of the 15,287 barfblog.com posts, I authored (or cut and paste) 13,070 since 2005. That’s 86 per cent, or an ice hockey goalie save percentage of .8549, which isn’t great (should be over .91) but doesn’t exactly suck, because this isn’t hockey.

It’s something different.

And time for me to do something different.

I may still write, maybe about food safety, maybe about other things, maybe about the probability of monkeys flying out of my butt.

But for now, I’ve got other priorities.

Ben can figure out what to do and what he wants to do.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to share your computer screens, maybe even your brain space, and improve food safety, one tip-sensitive digital thermometer, one less serving of raw sprouts, and one calling out of bullshit advice, at a time.

Peace and love.

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