‘We don’t have any magic’ Kathy Glass on Listeria in apples

Kathleen Glass started working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Food Research Institute 30 years ago, studying various microbes — primarily those turning up in the meat and dairy industries — and assisting with food safety investigations.

caramel.appleShe added her first fruit case last year with a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in caramel apples.

Now, Glass and other researchers are working to better understand the needs of the tree fruit industry in order to help growers, packers and retailers meet new food safety regulations and ensure the safety of their products.

“The meat and dairy industries had problems 20 years ago. That’s really when we found our religion when it comes to food safety,” Glass said.

Fruit growers didn’t have as much to worry

A couple of consecutive outbreaks with ready-to-eat meat products led to significant changes in cleaning and sanitation in that industry, Glass said, as well as the addition of growth inhibitors to meat products so that Listeria can’t grow during the normal shelf life.

The changes sparked a 42 percent decrease in cases from 1996 to 2012.

The World Health Organization estimates an infectious dose of Listeria at about 10,000 cells or more.

“Just a couple of Listeria in our food products probably is not going to make us sick. That means we need to focus on foods that support growth — perishable things you should refrigerate, those with the right amount of moisture and the right acidity level,” Glass told growers and packers at December’s Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting in Yakima, Washington.

Investigators eventually tied the Jan. 6, 2015, Listeria outbreak to a specific supplier of Granny Smith and Gala apples in California, marking the first direct tie of fresh whole apples to a serious food safety outbreak.

road.apples .tragicallyhipBut there were some novel things about the case, Glass said. Healthy children were getting sick from an unusual food source: caramel apples.

The apples were sanitized, dipped in hot caramel, and the pH of the apples was too low for minimum growth of the pathogen, which raised several questions.

Is this the work of a superbug? Are conditions present to allow growth? Could damage to the apple contribute?

Preliminary studies suggest that damage to apples could encourage microbial growth, Glass said. In this case, puncturing the apple with a stick allowed Listeria to translocate to the core.

In addition, deep depressions in apples may protect Listeria from hot caramel. Storage temperature also is an issue, with the apples stored at room temperature at retail, enabling Listeria growth.

Glass said it’s clear the industry is stepping up its efforts in the food safety arena and in environmental testing, which is the best way to determine if there’s an area of concern.

The problem is knowing if disinfectants are as effective as hoped.

“We have to try things that have been done elsewhere and apply things in different ways,” she said. “It’s a tough, tough thing, because they don’t have a great kill step. We don’t have any magic at this point, and more research is needed.”

Hospitality horrors in Hamilton, New Zealand

barfblogger, graduate student and salad sous chef Katie is on her way from New Zealand (below, left, exactly as shown) to her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, famous for being cold, where Wayne Gretzky played junior hockey for a bit, and home to the greatest NHL goaltender ever and my teenage-idol, Tony Esposito (and his brother, Phil, who scored a few goals over the years for the Boston Bruins).

Katie will attend Kansas State University for the summer semester and finish up those pesky MS details, like writing a thesis.

She leaves behind New Zealand, for now, and I don’t know if she ever traveled to Hamilton, N.Z., but the Waikato Times reports that more than 320 Hamilton restaurants, takeaways, eateries and caterers have failed food safety inspections in the past year and one was so dirty the council closed it down straight away.

Hamilton City Council’s environment health team inspects the city’s 800 food businesses each year and just over half pass on the first inspection.

Horror stories include filthy kitchens and surfaces covered with cockroaches.

Of the businesses inspected since July 2009, 64 had critical food safety issues which include dirtiness and food being stored either at wrong temperatures or risking cross contamination with raw food.

Preparing for flu in the Soo

OK, I blog a lot about Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Maybe it’s because I’m away from home, but usually it just cracks me up to read what the local Sooites are up to this week. Regardless, The Sault Star reports that the local university and college campuses are preparing for September and potential outbreaks of H1N1 virus.

Since swine flu emerged in April, Sault College’s health and safety committee started preparing a pandemic plan… Via e-mails and the school’s dozens of "infonet screens" throughout the building, students and staff were also bombarded with information about prevention and containment through, for example, handwashing, sneezing into the elbow and staying in your room or home if not feeling well. As well, hand sanitizer dispensers were placed in high-use areas, such as computer rooms, cafeteria and workout areas…

[Algoma University] also plans to put up information posters and bulletins reflecting the latest from the World Health Organization and distributing hand sanitizers to every employee…

The confined quarters of university and college dorms can lead to illness outbreaks, and handwashing signs and sanitizer are OK for trying to promote hand hygiene – if the medium grabs your attention and the message is compelling. Dirty Finger Al (pictured), my favourite Food Safety Infosheet, did just that, sparking dialogue among food handlers. Will the handwashing signs in Sault College and Algoma U spark dialogue, or go unnoticed by students come September?

Doo doo in the Soo

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is a very unique place. Lovingly called the Soo, home of the Bon Soo winter carnival and Greyhounds Ontario Hockey League team, many, including myself, call it home.

Today, while creeping on a fellow Saultite’s Facebook photos, I came across this picture (right). My workmate asked if cartwheeling was Canadian slang for something – I’m pretty sure it refers to the gymnastics move.

If you cartwheel in doo doo, wash your hands.