59 sick; summer of shellfish outbreaks

In Seattle, King County health officials report there were 13 suspected cases of the saltwater bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus in the county during July, compared to an average of four reported in that month in recent years. Since the beginning of seven.fish.girls.2.dec.12August, an additional eight cases have been confirmed, while King County would typically only see six for the entire month.

Across Washington state, more than 40 residents have gotten sick with vibriosis.

“This is probably the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable disease for Seattle & King County Public Health. “For every case that is reported, an estimated 142 additional cases go unreported.”

People typically get vibriosis from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. Residents who have pre-existing medical conditions or who take antacids regularly are at higher risk for illness from the vibrio infection.

Since June 2013, Connecticut has reported 19 confirmed cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection, compared to an average of seven cases reported during the same time period in the past two years.

Shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Not sure where that number came from, but I grill mine.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is warning the public not to serve or consume the raw shellfish products seven.fish.bbq.dec.11described below because they may contain paralytic shellfish toxins that can cause illness if consumed.

These shellfish products were primarily distributed to wholesalers and institutional clients such as restaurants. However, the affected shellfish products may also have been sold in smaller quantities at some retail seafood counters. Consumers who are unsure whether they have the affected products are advised to check with their retailer or supplier.

These products have been distributed in Alberta and British Columbia. However, they may have been distributed in other provinces and territories.

The world is our oyster – shellfish safety in Sydney

I got to deliver an opening keynote chat at the 9th International Conference on Molluscan Shellfish Safety in Sydney yesterday, with my usual refrain about how the best producers should be marketing their safety investments directly to consumers and retailers.

The crowd was an eclectic group of 200 producers, scientists, policy types and retailers from 30 countries, several of whom approached me and said, I sydney.rock.oysterread barfblog; they don’t say, “you look younger than I expected” anymore.

And after she officially opened the conference I got to stalk chat with New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, about restaurant inspection disclosure in the state, including the Name and Shame website, and the voluntary posting of Scores on Doors, and whether the postings should become mandatory.

The NSW oyster industry is the State’s largest fishery by value employing more than 1500 people directly, and is primarily in regional areas contributing greatly to those economies.

“The NSW Government is a strong supporter of the State’s shellfish industry, through the provision of research and support services, by protecting water quality and by overseeing industry food safety programs,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“We have a robust food safety management program for shellfish in place that has been in operation since 2000.

“As a result the shellfish industry in NSW has a good safety record,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

Norovirus, Vibrio risk in raw oysters is global

Those same Korean oysters the U.S. banned because of norovirus sickened at least 62 people who dined at three different outlets of a well-known chain buffet restaurant in China in June.

According to China NewsNow, the Department of Health will fine the importer NT60 000 to 6 mil and 150,000 oysters prohibited from sale have been ordered to be destroyed.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also reiterated earlier advice Friday not to eat raw or partially cooked oysters and clams (shellfish) with tags listing Oyster Bay Harbor, in Nassau County, N.Y., as the harvest area, following illnesses reported in several states caused by Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria.

Sleeps with the fishes: illicit shellfish trade risking UK health

The illicit and highly-lucrative trade in shellfish is putting the health of many thousands of people at risk with tonnes of potentially contaminated seafood feared to be entering the food chain.

The Independent reports UK health officials and food watchdogs are concerned that a boom in the illegal harvesting of cockles, clams and oysters for sale to restaurants and wholesalers threatens outbreaks of serious food poisoning.

The thriving seafood rustling industry, which sees unlicensed gangs of pickers target beaches and mudflats across the country to steal molluscs worth thousands of pounds at a time, has prompted a crackdown by the authorities.

But with some pickers operating in organized gangs, fisheries protection bodies say they lack the resources to effectively tackle the problem.

With an annual value of at least £250m, the legitimate shellfish industry is a major part of Britain’s food economy. Properly gathered molluscs are subject to strict purification treatments, including ultra-violet light and filtering, to ensure they are fit for human consumption.

But shellfish taken from prohibited or unclassified fishing grounds, or sold before being properly treated, put the public at risk of serious illness caused by E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella, which can all be found in contaminated molluscs.

An investigation by The Ecologist and The Independent has been told that in the event of a major health scare, the illegal trade would make it difficult for officials to verify the origin of some shellfish despite strict documentation procedures which are supposed to ensure traceability of all consignments of shellfish moved or sold on a commercial basis.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it received “regular” reports of illegal shellfish harvesting and warned of the risks it poses to consumers.

Highly-organised gangs, some believed to be operating directly on behalf of fish merchants, others run by gangmasters, are known to have targeted shellfish stocks in Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Teeside, amongst other areas, in recent years. Parts of north Wales and Scotland have also been affected. 

Vibrio rises in Virginia; ‘I think it was some bad crabs I ate ‘

Liza Cabell says she’ll never forget how sick she felt after getting food poisoning.

"I had food poisoning years and years ago, I think it was some bad crabs I ate", says Cabell.

CBS 6 reports that now, at the start of the holiday season, the Virgina Department of Health is warning doctors to be on the lookout for a foodborne illness found in certain raw shellfish.

"We’re concerned about a bacterial infection called Vibriosis", says Seth Levine, Virginia Department of Health Epidemiologist.

One way to protect yourself from getting the illness is cooking shellfish to a temperature of 145 degrees. That will kill the bacteria.

So, should you or your loved ones avoid eating shellfish this holiday season?

"No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that", says Levine, but he warns people with a high risk of developing an infection, or with liver disease to avoid undercooked or raw shellfish.


Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck continues to blame others for over 500 getting sick in his restaurant; manuals are not the basis of food safety

When naïve me and my students started out to improve the microbial safety of Ontario greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers back in 1997, the former of which still dominate the Manhattan (Kansas) marketplace, we thought, OK, we’ll make a food safety manual.

We had another idea, which was to actually go out and talk to people, and we found out the manual pretty much stayed on the shelves.

So when Heston Blumenthal, a UK chef who says that after 529 people barfed from norovirus at his famed Fat Duck restaurant,

“Our staff training manual very clearly lays out a 48-hour return to work policy – you don’t come back to work until 48 hours after you feel better – and I don’t know many restaurants that do that,”

I sorta wanna barf. People don’t read manuals and they don’t follow them. And why would anyone pay a couple hundred bucks to eat at this dude’s restaurant when he had no idea of food safety or sourcing food from safe supplies.

To me, Heston Blumenthal sounds like that rapper douche, Chris Brown, who keeps popping up to say he don’t know what happened when he beat his girlfriend at the time, Rihanna, but that people are still supposed to listen to him.

Heston, the famed chef of The Fat Duck, told This is London in a story published yesterday,

Legal constraints during the investigation by the Health Protection Agency, and again during further investigative work by insurers, effectively gagged him.

It’s clear that he found this enormously frustrating, and hated not being able to talk.

"The insurance company just put a big veil over everything too. For a while, I wasn’t allowed to go to Bray because the place was crawling with reporters."

The source was eventually traced to a specific strain of norovirus, or vomiting bug, found in oysters served in two dishes – "Jelly of Oyster and Passionfruit with Lavender", and the "Sound of the Sea".

"The report insinuated things that I find really frustrating," says Blumenthal. "For example, that people were back at work while they were physically ill.

"Now, our staff training manual very clearly lays out a 48-hour return to work policy – you don’t come back to work until 48 hours after you feel better – and I don’t know many restaurants that do that.

"I’d say there’s no other restaurant in the history of Britain that’s gone through such an investigation and then had the results released fully to the public in such detail."

"You have to ask the question: how is it that oysters are allowed to be harvested from waters containing sewage – at low levels, but sewage nevertheless – when this thing is so horrendously contagious?

"You only need one spore, and an oyster with a virus is still a glisteningly fresh clean oyster. It has no smell, and it’s very hard to test for."

It’s not a spore, it’s a virus. And since it’s so hard to test for, maybe you shouldn’t serve oysters raw if you don’t want your customers to barf.

Oh and Heston, I played with liquid nitrogen 25 years ago doing DNA sequencing; doesn’t make you a rock star; especially if over 500 people barf on your watch.

As the U.K. Health Protection Agency concluded earlier this year,

Delays in notification of illness may have affected the ability of the investigation to identify the exact reason for the norovirus contamination??????.

As I’ve said, it’s the chef’s responsibility to source food from safe sources. If the chef thinks raw shellfish is a smart thing to serve, and to have sick workers working, then customers get what they pay for.

Celebrity chef dumbass: Fat Duck felled by norovirus in raw oysters; ‘weaknesses in procedures – delayed response to incident’

Chapman occasionally comes up with a good line. Usually, I do all the work on a piece (at least in my mind), and he’ll put in one sentence, but it will be the one that is remembered.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Chapman described celebrity chef and molecular gastrologest Heston Blumenthal (below, right) as the love child of Alton Brown and longtime Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player Mats Sundin (right).

Why didn’t I think of that.

Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant – which is consistently rated as the best in the U.K. – was the source of over 500 illnesses in early 2009. At the time, Blumenthal said, “tests for viral infections and food poisoning have proved negative and there is speculation that the winter outbreak of norovirus could be the real reason why they became sick.”

Way to blame the consumer, those paying hundreds of pounds for the privilege of barfing.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency published a report on the outbreak today that concluded:

*       There was a large outbreak of food poisoning among diners at the Fat Duck Restaurant in January and February 2009, with more than 500 reporting illness – over 15% of those dining there during this period

*       The organism responsible was norovirus which was probably introduced via shellfish (more diners who ate shellfish dishes reported illness). Oysters were served raw; razor clams may not have been appropriately handled or cooked; tracing of shellfish to source showed evidence of contamination and there have been reports of illness in other establishments associated with oysters from the same source

*       The outbreak continued for at least six weeks (between January 6 and February 22) because of ongoing transmission at the restaurant – which may have occurred through continuous contamination of foods prepared in the restaurant or by person-to-person spread between staff and diners or a mixture of both

*       Several weaknesses in procedures at the restaurant may have contributed to ongoing transmission including: delayed response to the incident; staff working when they should have been off sick and using the wrong environmental cleaning products

*       Delays in notification of illness may have affected the ability of the investigation to identify the exact reason for the norovirus contamination

It’s the chef’s responsibility to source food from safe sources. And if the chef thinks raw shellfish is a smart thing to serve, and to have sick workers working, then, customers get what they pay for.