No food is zero risk; raw dairy foods riskier than pasteurized

“These products carry an increased risk for foodborne illness. For those who value avoiding foodborne illness, that’s good information to keep in mind.”

That’s what I told Korin Miller of Self today when she called about Maytag’s (the food company, not the appliance company) recall of blue cheese.756374263_tp

I’m one of the folks who value avoiding foodborne illness.

Whole Foods recently announced that it is issuing a nationwide recall of Maytag Raw Milk Blue Cheese due to concerns that it may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

“There’s a risk with foods in general,” says Benjamin Chapman, Ph.D., an assistant (associate -ben) professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. “There’s an increased risk with raw dairy products.”

How much of a risk are we talking about? A 2012 CDC study that analyzed foodborne illness outbreaks tied to dairy from 1993 to 2006 found that 73 of the 121 outbreaks were associated with unpasteurized products. Of those outbreaks tied to unpasteurized products, there were 1,571 cases of foodborne illness, 202 hospitalizations, and two deaths.

Shared-use food facilities can benefit from shared knowledge around food safety risks

I guess I’m a foodie. Or a food nerd, or whatever Slate and The Atlantic call people who are into food. I dunno, I’m not into labels. I do about half of our grocery shopping and cook about half of our meals. I look to a few celebrity chef’s cook books/websites for recipe inspiration and share soup and pancake recipes with Doug11399793.

A lot of what got me into this can be blamed on the Food Network, Top Chef and the Internet. So can my love for pork belly.

The rise of food-related entertainment and the coolness associated with trying coffee made from beans that have been crapped out of a cat have resulted in more people getting into the food business. Niche bakeries, bagged salad makers and tempeh processors (run by foodies, or for foodies) continue to pop up as entrepreneurs are finding retailers who want to market local, specialized products.

Small food entrepreneurs are among the most passionate folks I’ve encountered – especially when it comes to creating community support for their products and sharing what they’ve learned with peers. That’s one of the reasons that shared-use or community kitchens are on the rise.

Shared-use kitchens are places where a bunch of fledgling food businesses can get together, learn from each other, use common equipment and space and take advantage of marketing together. There are around 30 of these sites in North Carolina alone – and likely hundreds across the U.S. supporting thousands of food businesses.

From Susan M. Novick of the New York Times,

At A Taste of Long Island, which opened in July, Courtney Thompson, 28, of Glen Cove, and her father, Jim Thompson, 59, of Massapequa Park, provide both an 800-square-foot commercial kitchen space for use by budding food entrepreneurs and a 400-square-foot retail specialty food shop in which they may sell their products. (And most do.) Around 20 clients are working in their kitchen making products that range from pasta sauce to vegan energy bars.

At the site on Main Street in Farmingdale, the Thompsons offer private-use kitchen rentals 24 hours a day, seven days a week in four-hour shifts that cost $110 each. In addition, Ms. Thompson and her father offer private business consultations for $100 an hour. Mr. Thompson previously owned a chain of video stores and a mobile book-fair business; Ms. Thompson has a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from the New York Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in career and technical education fromSUNY-Oswego, where she performed most course work online, she said. “We show people the most cost-effective way to get their food business set up,” she said (but how do they help the businesses evaluate and manage food safety risks? Who does that technical work? – ben).

The year-round retail market features Long Island-made, preservative-free foods that include pickles, ravioli and baked goods, as well as fresh produce from local farms and greenhouses. The company’s commercial kitchen clients provide about a third of the products featured in the market.

In 2012, an outbreak of Salmonella Paratyphi B linked to Smiling Hara Tempeh of Asheville, NC demonstrated that illnesses associated with a member/client business, or the introduction of contamination can impact all who use a shared-use facility. Smiling Hara’s issue was with a supplier and a process that wasn’t validated to reduce pathogens but the outcome was devastating – 60+ illnesses, over 10 hospitalizations.And the shared-use facility, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, was shut for a few weeks for investigation, clean-up and sanitation. That meant that the other clients couldn’t make their products. Big bucks for everyone involved.

These facilities are a great idea for fostering business but food safety should be a focus into the peer-support network, a lot of it comes down to what the facility’s operator knows about risks, how to manage them.

Maybe it was the Arctic Enema? UK Tough Mudder race linked to at least three E. coli O157 cases

In preparation for a legendary Raleigh event, the Krispy Kreme Challenge, I started running last fall. The challenge is to run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen donuts, and then run an another 2.5 miles. All under an hour. I finished in 1hr 6min (and I didn’t barf). I ran with a few guys from my hockey team – and now a couple of them are moving on to another endurance event, The Tough Mudder in South Carolina.

From the organizer’s website, "Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.

Triathlons, marathons, and other lame-ass mud runs are more stressful than fun. Not Tough Mudder. As hardcore as our courses are, we meet you at the finish line with a beer, a laugh, and a rockin’ live band."

The site lists a set of obstacles with names like Arctic Enema, Dirty Ballerina and Kiss of Mud.

According to BBC, a Tough Mudder event last month in Scotland was linked to at least three cases of E. coli O157.

The trio developed symptoms in the days following the Tough Mudder event, which attracted almost 6,000 competitors to Drumlanrig Castle on 14 and 15 July.

Many of the assault course-style obstacles on the 12-mile run involved immersion in, or contact with, mud.

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) said that, even more than three weeks after the event, further cases could not be ruled out.

HPS added: "If local authorities are made aware that such events are being planned, they would normally advise the organisers on any potential risks, which might for instance include the risk of mud being contaminated with animal faeces or slurry.

"This underlines the importance of event organisers liaising with local authorities during the planning stage, not least to consider what information participants need in order to enjoy ‘extreme’ activities as safely as possible."


Effectively communicating risks should lead to less risky food choices, not laws

When it comes to social issues I’m a bit of a libertarian hippy. I’ve looked the part (big bushy beard and longer thinning hair); used to play ultimate frisbee (poorly); and, our first-born was delivered at home. I saw The Dead, after Jerry, but I never really got into Phish.

The philosophy I’ve embraced around food safety is let people eat what they want. 

Extension folks like me should provide the best available evidence culled from the literature to help eaters calculate the risks and benefits of food choices. Present the info in a compelling way and then step back to let the individual do their thing.

Hopefully the choice results in the least amount of barf.

As North Carolina moves down the path of adopting the U.S FDA model food code, restaurant patrons will be able to order an undercooked burger, and the restaurant able to serve it, without risking a lower inspection grade. The responsibility to communicate the risks associated with undercooked burgers, and other raw/undercooked animal-derived foods (eggs, poultry, fish) lies with the restaurant. Risk must be disclosed somehow, and a reminder presented to the patron when they order.

Temperature guidance for cooking burgers doesn’t change (the food code suggests 155F for 15 seconds or 160F for 5-log reduction), just the ability for the restaurant to respond to patron requests – with the caveat of the mandatory risk discussion. And the risk dialogue applies to stuff like Caesar salad dressing, hollandaise sauce and sushi.

According to Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer:

The N.C. Commission for Public Health this week approved the adoption of most of the 2009 federal food code. Among other changes, it would allow restaurant customers to order raw or undercooked foods if the restaurant provides a warning – usually a note on the menu – to remind you it’s dangerous. A similar procedure is already followed in many states, including South Carolina.

“This really does represent the largest comprehensive change in our food safety rules in over 30 years.”
How big is that? It’s so big that when we called chef-owner Tom Condron at The Liberty, a pub known for its burgers, he was actually willing to come to the phone during the lunch rush.
“About time,” he said happily. “The quality of beef and the preparation have come so far. It’s about time North Carolina stepped up. For restaurants like us and others that grind in-house and take all the steps to make sure we get top-quality beef, it’s an important change.”
Michael says adopting the federal food code allows North Carolina to use the latest research in forming its own food safety standards.
“The majority of states use it,” he said. “It’s the most comprehensive standard out there.”
But the big one, Michael admitted, is the standard on allowing customers to request raw or undercooked foods. As it is now, undercooked burgers are often served to customers even though the restaurant isn’t supposed to do it – a sort of “wink-and-nudge” approach to food safety.
What the new regulation would do is put the decision into the hands of the consumer. The restaurant would have to tell you that you’re ordering a food that isn’t cooked to a safe level and it has to tell you that eating undercooked or raw foods puts you at a risk of foodborne illness, such as salmonella.
“This consumer advisory will be more helpful in ensuring consumers know they’re increasing their risk.”
I’m not sure what knowing the source well has to do with evaluating whether the primal cuts have pathogen-containing poop on the surface and in-house grinding can spread that surface bacteria just as well as at a processing plant.
Regardless of the source or method, undercooked ground beef carry food safety risks; restaurants with a positive food safety culture will communicate this effectively – or won’t serve it at all.


No doggie dining allowed in Wake county, NC

The Raleigh News & Observer reports today that Wake County health authorities have begun enforcing a no doggie-dining rule, an interpretation of a North Carolina state rule that prohibits pets from "a food preparation or storage area." The crackdown was apparently in response to a list of pet-friendly patios listed in the News & Observer last week.

Restaurateur Greg Hatem, questioned how health officials can regulate activity on sidewalks, where many of his restaurants have outdoor tables.

"I don’t know how it would create any more of an environmental risk than people walking dogs by on the sidewalk," Hatem said. "If they want to regulate something, we have a lot of street vagrants hounding our guests who are probably more of an environmental risk than the puppies."

"We’re certainly pet-friendly," Hatem said. "We’re going to continue to be pet-friendly until we’re told otherwise."

There are a number of potential risks including tripping, biting, dog fights, barking, allergies, and the transfer of dangerous microorganisms such as E. coli, Salmonella and Cryptosporidium. While pathogens can be transferred from pet-to-human and back and theoretically cause illness, there haven’t been any patio-related outbreaks recorded.

Florida recently enacted rules permiting doggie dining with provisions to reduce pet and owner co-eating related risks; some restaurants have also set aside entire sections for doggie dining. Rules state that hand sanitizer be available, restaurant staff are not allowed to touch the pets while working and poop must be picked up promptly. Seems reasonable.