After visiting a bunch of produce packing plants in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade, I have a keen interest in cleaning and sanitizing conveyor belts. They sure seem like they could be harborage sites for Listeria – especially with all the seams. Traditional conveyor belts are also pretty hard to take apart as part of a daily (or between lot) sanitation step.
My concerns are around how sanitation is carried out (maybe it’s a good compound, maybe not; all sanitation crews are also not built equally) – but equipment really matters too. Sorting machines haven’t been built with Listeria control as a design feature.
According to the Packer, JBT Corp is marketing a better belt.
The SaniClean belt conveyor from JBT Corp. has gained food safety approval and is now commercially available.
“The biggest feature of it is that it is super easy to clean,” Jeff Cook, aftermarket parts and equipment sales manager at JBT, said in a news release. “With most conventional conveyors, you can’t get into them and clean under or around the belt — you need the maintenance department to take them apart to do the cleaning.”
The sanitation precautions include disposable plastic belt supports directly under the conveyor, as well as “food-safe” welds that allow for cleaning of the machine’s hidden and hard-to-reach crevices to stop germs from manifesting.
The marketing sounds good; but who knows what it really means. Food safety approval? By whom? Against what standard? Show me the data (I couldn’t find anything on their website).
Don’t believe the hype without seeing the validation.
However, new archaeological research has revealed that — for all their apparently hygienic innovations — intestinal parasites such as whipworm, roundworm and Entamoeba histolytica dysentery did not decrease as expected in Roman times compared with the preceding Iron Age, they gradually increased.
The latest research was conducted by Dr Piers Mitchell from Cambridge’s Archaeology and Anthropology Department and is published in the journal Parasitology. The study is the first to use the archaeological evidence for parasites in Roman times to assess “the health consequences of conquering an empire.”
Dr Piers Mitchell brought together evidence of parasites in ancient latrines, human burials and ‘coprolites’ — or fossilised faeces — as well as in combs and textiles from numerous Roman Period excavations across the Roman Empire.
Not only did certain intestinal parasites appear to increase in prevalence with the coming of the Romans, but Mitchell also found that, despite their famous culture of regular bathing, ‘ectoparasites’ such as lice and fleas were just as widespread among Romans as in Viking and medieval populations, where bathing was not widely practiced.
Some excavations revealed evidence for special combs to strip lice from hair, and delousing may have been a daily routine for many people living across the Roman Empire
Piers Mitchell said: “Modern research has shown that toilets, clean drinking water and removing faeces from the streets all decrease risk of infectious disease and parasites. So we might expect the prevalence of faecal oral parasites such as whipworm and roundworm to drop in Roman times — yet we find a gradual increase. The question is why?”
One possibility Mitchell offers is that it may have actually been the warm communal waters of the bathhouses that helped spread the parasitic worms. Water was infrequently changed in some baths, and a scum would build on the surface from human dirt and cosmetics. “Clearly, not all Roman baths were as clean as they might have been,” said Mitchell.
Another possible explanation raised in the study is the Roman use of human excrement as a crop fertilizer. While modern research has shown this does increase crop yields, unless the faeces are composted for many months before being added to the fields, it can result in the spread of parasite eggs that can survive in the grown plants.
“It is possible that sanitation laws requiring the removal of faeces from the streets actually led to reinfection of the population as the waste was often used to fertilise crops planted in farms surrounding the towns,” said Mitchell.
The study found fish tapeworm eggs to be surprisingly widespread in the Roman Period compared to Bronze and Iron Age Europe. One possibility Mitchell suggests for the rise in fish tapeworm is the Roman love of a sauce called garum.
Made from pieces of fish, herbs, salt and flavourings, garum was used as both a culinary ingredient and a medicine. This sauce was not cooked, but allowed to ferment in the sun. Garum was traded right across the empire, and may have acted as the “vector” for fish tapeworm, says Mitchell.
“The manufacture of fish sauce and its trade across the empire in sealed jars would have allowed the spread of the fish tapeworm parasite from endemic areas of northern Europe to all people across the empire. This appears to be a good example of the negative health consequences of conquering an empire,” he said.
The study shows a range of parasites infected people living in the Roman Empire, but did they try to treat these infections medically? While Mitchell says care must be taken when relating ancient texts to modern disease diagnoses, some researchers have suggested that intestinal worms described by Roman medical practitioner Galen (130AD — 210AD) may include roundworm, pinworm and a species of tapeworm.
Galen believed these parasites were formed from spontaneous generation in putrefied matter under the effect of heat. He recommended treatment through modified diet, bloodletting, and medicines believed to have a cooling and drying effect, in an effort to restore balance to the ‘four humours’: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm.
Added Mitchell: “This latest research on the prevalence of ancient parasites suggests that Roman toilets, sewers and sanitation laws had no clear benefit to public health. The widespread nature of both intestinal parasites and ectoparasites such as lice also suggests that Roman public baths surprisingly gave no clear health benefit either.”
“It seems likely that while Roman sanitation may not have made people any healthier, they would probably have smelt better.
I was explaining to an American friend what a chip butty was this weekend. The oh-so-British delicacy of white bread, butter and french fries all wrapped up into an artery stopping sandwich. The butty was a menu favorite of my grandfather (who introduced me to it when I was a kid) and you could only get one at real pubs (the ones that show Manchester U on Saturday mornings and illegally serve beer before 11) or traditional fish and chip shops.
Like the Nevill Street Chippy in Southport (that’s in England).
According to the Liverpool Echo, Chippy owner Kim Paskin was recently fined for breaching local sanitation rules following an inspection.
They found the inside of the microwave that was used to heat up mushy peas and beans to be coated in grime, as well as the can opener being covered in ‘brown grime’ and the top lid of the chest freezer in the potato preparation room to be covered in flour and ‘not sufficiently cleaned or maintained.’
Cigarette butts were found on the floor of a food storage area – indicating that people were smoking on the premises – where canned drinks and cans of beans and peas were kept.
The prosecution for Sefton Council noted a ‘tennis-ball sized hole’ in the wall which led out onto the yard, which inspectors said would be an access point for vermin into the kitchen and preparation areas – although there was no evidence to suggest there were any on the premises.
These are all nasty, but only one foodborne illness risk factors showed up:
Inspectors also found insufficient hand washing facilities, with the bottom of the wash basin covered in grime and no soap or hand drying facilities available.
The other stuff fits the yuck factor category, but no handwashing sink/equipment/soap is bad news.
A Scottish food safety friend sent along this story from English Heritage which has some great pics.
1. Housesteads Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall: All together now…
The best preserved Roman loos in Britain are at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. At its height, the fort was garrisoned by 800 men, who would use the loo block you can still see today. There weren’t any cubicles, so men sat side by side, free to gossip on the events of the day. They didn’t have loo roll either, so many used a sponge on a stick, washed and shared by many people.
2. Old Sarum, Wiltshire: Luxury facilities, until you have to clean them…
These deep cesspits sat beneath the Norman castle at Old Sarum, probably underneath rooms reached from the main range, like private bathrooms. In the medieval period luxury castles were built with indoor toilets known as ‘garderobes’, and the waste dropped into a pit below. It was the job of the ‘Gongfarmer’ to remove it
Henry II made sure that Dover Castle was well provided with garderobes. He had his own en-suite facilities off the principal bed-chamber. As with many castles of the era, chutes beneath the garderobes were built so that the waste fell into a pit which could be emptied from outside the building.
6. Muchelney Abbey, Somerset: Thatched loo for monks
Many medieval abbey ruins across the country include the remains of the latrines, or ‘reredorter’ (meaning literally ‘at the back of the dormitory’), including Muchelney Abbey, Castle Acre Priory and Battle Abbey. At Muchelney the building survives with a thatched roof, making it the only one of its kind in Britain. The monks would enter the loo block via their dormitory and take their place in a cubicle – you can still see the fixings for the bench and partitions between each seat.
A precious survival from the medieval Palace of Westminster, Jewel Tower was part of the ‘Privy Palace’, the residence of the medieval kings and their families from 11th to 16th century. It was well supplied with garderobes, with one on each of the three floors.
Along with many other technological advancements, Audley End was one of the first country houses in England to have flushing toilets. The first of Joseph Bramah’s new hinged-valve water closets was purchased in 1775, and a further 4 were bought in 1785 at a cost equivalent to the wages of two servants for a whole year.
10. Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire: Thunderboxes
Inside the elegant Victorian country house of Brodsworth Hall almost everything has been left exactly as it was when it was still a family home. So as well as the grand furniture, there’s also everything from the commodes of the 1840s to a modern pink bathroom from the 1960s/70s.
I’m sitting at the NoroCORE annual meeting and listening to Aron Hall and others talk about sources of noro illnesses. Stuff like ill food handlers and bare hand contact in full service restaurants rise to the top as risk factors for the most prevalent food-related pathogens. Dirty conveyor belts, not so much.
I told her that when it comes to outbreaks and pathogens, I’m not sure the data is there.
If you’re squeamish about the thought of unseen bacterium and pathogens, stop reading. A 2009 study found contamination on 100% of tested grocery store conveyor belts. Though they often seem clean, a lack of dust doesn’t mean they aren’t a breeding ground for bacteria. The question to ask ourselves us is whether these grocery store workhorses have the potential to make us sick.
The study, conducted by Dr. Zhinong Yan, took 100 samples from 42 grocery stores in Michigan. They were tested for “total aerobic bacteria count (TAC), yeast, mold, Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), and coliforms.” Coliforms are a rod-shaped bacteria that are commonly used as bacterial indicators due to their easy cultivation and large presence in fecal matter. If you’ve got coliforms, you’ve got stool (this is not true, the bacteria that make up the coliform group are naturally associated with lots of plants, without poop – ben). Dr. Yan also tested for more dangerous bacteria like MRSA, E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. Luckily, evidence of the most dangerous foodborne pathogens weren’t found.
What was detected, however, were high levels of just about everything else – including coliform bacteria. These belts might not give you stomach flu but probably needed a good round of sanitation.
Enter the antimicrobial conveyor belt, a cover for your bacteria-covered black belts. Antimicrobial wraps both kill bacteria and are non-porous (read: can actually be cleaned). A somewhat ingenious advertisement from MessageWrap, an antimicrobial surface that can also display ads or other messages, shows that even a child can install it in under an hour.
Yet not everyone is sure that conveyor belts are breeding grounds for dangerous microbes. Benjamin Chapman, Food Safety Specialist, often works with consumers, grocery, and retail stores to curb potential risks. “When we look at conveyor belts, there are two components of risk: what’s the likelihood of pathogens being there and how they could be transferred to food,” he says. While he agrees that conveyor belts are difficult to clean and sanitize, that doesn’t automatically mean they should be a source of worry.
To put it simply, bacteria can be found in any environment – your bathroom, kitchen table, or cooking surfaces at home. Chapman has never found data to prove that conveyor belts are particularly good at transferring pathogens to food. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for the belt to be sanitized if the person in front of you has a package of chicken that’s leaking fluid. “If I see something, I’m going to do what I can do make it safer,” Chapman adds.
As for microbial wraps, they may not even get rid of potential contamination. As Chapman put it, “It’s not a magic bullet.” All conveyor belts have seams that are often particularly hard to sanitize and clean whether it’s a wrap or black PVC. If you’re going to find bacteria, that’s a good place to look.
So unless you’re shopping for groceries in a particularly dingy store, chances are good that you have little to worry about. “If there’s going to be food, there’s going to be bacteria,” Chapman says. We’d be sick forever if the mere presence of bacteria was enough to give us a foodborne illness.
Don’t avoid the grocery store just yet but be mindful of the state of the surfaces where you set your food. As for your mild case of bacterial OCD? Chapman may have put it best, “I’m not in the business of knowing how much people should be concerned about something.”
This last bit was in response to a question Tove asked “how concerned should people be?” My philosophy (stolen from many other smart people in the food safety risk analysis work) is that I want to present the risks and let people make their own risk management decisions. How concerned someone is (whether an individual or a food safety nerd at a food company) is a risk management calculation. It didn’t come out quite right.
NPR asked, “Why did the superhero go to the toilet?
“Because it was her duty!” Raya exclaims as she throws her head back laughing.
Six-year-old Raya is not shy at all — especially when it comes to talking about poop.
The 6-year-old Muppet has her mind on the toilet.
That’s because Raya is the sanitation Muppet. She’s one of the newest additions to the Sesame Street family, introduced back in March as part of the Sesame Workshop’s “Cleaner, Healthier, Happier” campaign. She’s got aqua green skin, big pearl eyes and an orange button nose. And her mission is to teach kids how to pee and poop in a sanitary manner.
So Raya’s job is to get people — both adults and kids — to talk openly about poop.
Chinese officials, visiting plants in Europe ahead of the country’s new food safety law coming into force on May 1, reportedly complained about maintenance, raw milk transport temperatures, chemical storage and air sanitization, insisting that all UK dairies exporting cheese to China must now pass council inspections before the restriction is lifted.
However, it has emerged that the unnamed dairy visited does not even supply cheese to the country.
George Eustice, UK farming minister, said: “British cheese is the best in the world and produced to the highest safety and quality standards so it is disappointing that China have put a temporary block on cheese imports.”
The United Nations says six billion of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines.
So the UN is launching a global campaign to improve sanitation for the 2.5 billion people who don’t have it.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called their plight “a silent disaster” that reflects the extreme poverty and huge inequalities in the world today.
Eliasson told a press conference Thursday that the issue must be addressed immediately for the world to meet the UN goal of halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation by the end of 2015. World leaders set a series of Millennium Development Goals to combat poverty at a summit in 2000, and Eliasson said the sanitation goal lags farthest behind.
While most people don’t want to talk about the problem, Eliasson said, “it goes to the heart of ensuring good health, a clean environment and fundamental dignity for billions of people.”
The UN said action must include eliminating by 2025 the practice of open defecation, which perpetuates disease.
Last weekend we took the family to Myrtle Beach, land of golf, outlet malls and lazy rivers. After hitting a kids museum, a pizza arcade and the Ripley’s Aquarium I asked Jack, our three-year-old, where he wanted to eat dinner and he emphatically replied ‘Chick-Fil-A’ because of the playground. No wonder I dream about the place.
Being a food safety nerd, we do a bunch of handwashing after visiting the play area and before jumping into our meals. A friend of mine who runs one told me the staff also disinfect the whole room using a bunch of different sanitizers every night. Not risk elimination, but definitely reduction.
According to USA Today, a mother of four has embarked on a national crusade to reduce illness risks associated restaurant playgrounds, including suggesting regulations on sanitation.
Arizona’s most populous county is looking at new regulations to safeguard restaurant play areas after one mother here discovered unsanitary conditions when her 3-year-old wanted to play at a nearby McDonald’s.Maricopa County health officials are looking at expanding their oversight of restaurant cleanliness to playgrounds."This is a giant step in the right direction," said Erin Carr-Jordan, 37, a mother of four with a doctorate in developmental psychology who lives in this Phoenix suburb.The proposal would require sanitizing of those areas after every shift, detailed cleaning protocols, permanent signs encouraging children’s hand washing before meals and immediate closure of the play areas "when vomiting and/or fecal accidents occur."But getting those changes into law isn’t a sure thing. The approval process takes months, the county supervisor she is working with leaves office at the end of the year and a candidate for another supervisor’s seat is president of the Arizona Restaurant Association.
Carr-Jordan is getting support from the county’s public-health director, Dr. Robert England (not to be confused with Robert Englund – ben).
"It’s just common sense. You don’t want to facilitate something that’s going to make kids’ hands filthy dirty right before they handle food," England said. "But we also don’t want to do anything that discourages physical activity. For some, this is the best playground equipment available."
England said he hasn’t read the proposed health-code changes but would support "reasonable" play-equipment-cleanliness requirements.The Arizona Restaurant Association would prefer advisory, not mandatory, cleaning standards for play areas."Our restaurants do everything in their power to make sure these locations are clean," said Sherry Gillespie, the association’s government relations manager.
The mother’s outrage started about a year ago when Carr-Jordan’s son asked to go on the slide at a Tempe, Ariz., McDonald’s."I saw filth and grime coupled with clumps of dirt, matted hair and rotting food. The entire structure was riddled with swear words and gang signs," she said.
The Arizona Restaurant Association would prefer advisory, not mandatory, cleaning standards for play areas.
"Our restaurants do everything in their power to make sure these locations are clean," said Sherry Gillespie, the association’s government relations manager.
While I’m not a fan of regulation just because, Gillespie’s comments sound like ‘just trust us’ to me. Everything in their power is pretty empty, if there are cleaning and sanitizing guidelines that folks are following, tell people what they are. My Chick-Fil-A friend showed me what he does and that was good enough for me.
I thought rugby match cocktail parties only happened with cans of Brockman’s beer after the games; I have seen Invictus. It’s the way hockey players do it – especially the girls.
The Institut de Veille Sanitaire in France reports today (thanks Albert) that on Feb. 20, 2010, the Fire and Rescue Service of the Hérault district informed the Regional Health Authorities that symptoms such as stomach ache, nausea, vomiting were diagnosed among around 15 people taking part in a rugby match cocktail party.
One person was taken to the local emergency hospital service. … A total of 94 cases and 110 controls were reported among the people taking part in the cocktail party. Two successive epidemic events were identified with distinct symptoms and median incubation periods of 3.5 and 30 hours. The results of the epidemiological, biological and veterinary investigations were in favor of an intoxication of the early cases due to the ingestion of knuckle of ham pieces contaminated by Staphylococcus aureus (OR=3.75; IC=[1.91; 7.35] p=0.001) and an intoxication of late cases due to the ingestion of oyster contaminated by Norovirus (OR=32.22; IC=[7.09 ; 146.34] p<0.001). In this investigation, food and pathogens at the origin of the contamination were identified. This outbreak stresses the importance of respecting hygiene measures in collective catering and defining first management measures as soon as the results of the investigation are known.