About time: Pittsburgh unveils updated restaurant inspection stickers

The Allegheny County Health Department is making it easier for restaurant patrons to get a glimpse of what’s going on in the kitchen before deciding where to eat.

stickers0719-restaurant-inspected-bizOn Monday, the county unveiled new inspection stickers for restaurant doors that include QR codes — two-dimensional bar codes — so that people with smartphones can scan the codes and get instant access to a restaurant’s inspection reports. 

The decals — which include green stickers for “Inspected and Permitted” facilities; yellow “Consumer Alert” stickers for when conditions may pose a health risk; and red “Closed” stickers for facilities shut down for serious health code violations until fixes are made — also have been redesigned in an easier-to-read format.

“The updated placards will provide county residents with a clear and easy-to-read status of the facilities they’re considering when making dining choices, while also providing easy access to the reports,” health department director Karen Hacker said in a statement.

Restaurant inspection reports have been available for residents to view online using a search engine on the health department’s website since 2007. The QR codes will provide a direct link to the search page.


Signs don’t work: Employees must wash hands

 Handwashing is important in preventing microbial cross-contamination. The US FDA Model Food Code requires that handwashing sinks have a sign or poster nearby that is visible to employees washing their hands.

jon.stewart.handwashing.2002This research collects and reviews existing handwashing signs and subjects them to quantitative analysis. An Internet search produced a database of handwashing signs. Lather time, rinse time, overall wash time, water temperature, water use, drying method, technique, and total number of steps were recorded.

Eighty-one unique handwashing signs were identified. Each sign had between one and thirteen steps. Thirty-seven signs indicated a specific lather time, with average time ~18 s. No sign suggested > 20 s lather, and none suggested < 10 s lather. Twenty-four signs recommended use of warm water. Two signs recommended 100°F (37.8°C) water and one recommended hot water. Sixty-two signs made a recommendation on drying hands, and fifty-three suggested using a paper towel.

Our analysis reveals that handwashing sign instructions can vary quite widely. Lack of consistent hand wash guidance on signage may contribute in part to a lack of handwashing consistency and compliance. Our study serves as a foundation for future research on handwash signage. 

Quantitative analysis of recommendations made in handwashing signs

Food Protection Trends, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 270-279, July 2015

Dane A. Jensen, Donald W. Schaffner



Handwashing signs don’t matter as much as handwashing

A couple of years ago I was invited to the GFSI Consumer Goods Forum as a last minute replacement speaker. The meeting attendees were top level corporate folks with expensive shoes and haircuts. I felt a bit out of place. surprise-01

The organizers asked me to talk about how we developed food safety infosheets and how we evaluated them.  I shared that the literature shows surprise matters when it comes to communicating risks – and a message that is up all the time, like a handwashing sign, probably doesn’t do much after the day it was posted (when it is surprising to the food handler).

The level of surprise in a message determines how successfully the information is received. In 1948, the Bell Telephone Company commissioned a study on communication as a mathematical theory to aid in the design of telephones.  In a study of brain function, Zaghloul and colleagues (2009) also showed the brain’s sensitivity to unexpected or surprising information plays a fundamental role in the learning and adoption of new behaviors.

During the Q&A session at the end of the session someone from a German retail store asked if I was suggesting that that they take down all the handwashing posters they had up, I answered yes, unless they plan on changing them every couple of days. The audience had an audible gasp. At least that’s how I remember it.

WFMY in Greensboro, NC ran a story with the headline: Handwashing signs in restaurant restrooms do matter. The headline is wrong – handwashing signs in restrooms don’t matter; washing hands matters.

When’s the last time you noticed those hand washing signs in the restroom of your favorite restaurant? You might think it’s sad they have to remind workers to wash their hands. Chef Keith Gardiner with G-T-C-C’s Culinary Technology Departments says the health department requires them — as an extra safety precaution.

Keith says, “The rule is any time you do come back into the kitchen from doing anything, you should wash your hands again.  Keith says, “The primary thing you have to be concerned with not washing hands are viruses – things like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B (uh, Hep B is bloodborne, not foodborne -ben). People who may have it or have come in contact with it. If they don’t have that, you could also have get E. coli.”

UK parents launch petting zoo lawsuit

Those ‘please wash hands’ signs at petting zoos (left, exactly as shown) are as effective as the ‘Employees must wash hands’ signs – they don’t work. And it’s not enough for petting zoos to simply put up signs and hope bad things won’t happen. Good luck in court.

Lawyers representing 28 victims of last year’s E. coli outbreak at Godstone farm in Surrey are preparing to demand "substantial" damages in a group legal action.

Ninety-three people, mostly young children, were infected with E. coli O157 after visiting the farm.

Some are still ill with kidney damage.

Godstone farm says it cannot comment on the legal action until the release of a report into the outbreak due next week.

Two of the victims who are expected to be named in the legal action are twins Aaron and Todd Mock, who are about to celebrate their third birthday.

Both had kidney failure and spent weeks in hospital with E. coli poisoning after visiting Godstone Farm last September. Aaron is still unwell; he has limited kidney function and has to be given liquids through a feeding tube.

Their lawyer, Jill Greenfield, alleges that Godstone Farm was negligent in the way it handled the outbreak of E. coli O157. She is representing 27 children and one adult who were affected.

Flies and feces: Restaurant inspection disclosure goes online in London-lite

"What does (Powell) know about the actions of London politicians and the relationship of the city and the health unit? Probably nothing."

That was London-lite Councilor Harold Usher responding to my criticism that if London (in Ontario, in Canada) politicians wanted restaurant inspection disclosure in the form of colored signs on doors like the medical officer of health recommended 40 months ago, it would have happened faster. Just like it did in Toronto, all those years ago.

Sir, I didn’t just send my comments in by stagecoach from Kansas, I am from Brantford (in Ontario, in Canada), and have sat through numerous city council meetings involving board of health issues as both a journalist and participant in Toronto, Port Colborne, Welland, Guelph, and closer to London, Ingersoll (all in Ontario, Canada).

Coun. Susan Eagle, one of two people on the 11-member board appointed by city council, said,

"I was keen to move faster than we did . . . I’m disappointed it’s taken so long."

Jonathan Sher of the London Free Press wrote in Saturday’s edition that when London-lite restaurant inspections went online for the first time this week, so many diners logged on, the system slowed to a crawl.

Dr. Douglas Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, said,

"I think it goes back to a lack of political will. London could have done this earlier if (politicians) wanted to. Is there anyone in London who will champion the rights of diners and people who buy (prepared) food?"

London Controller Gina Barber thinks Powell has a point — while politicians support the use of coloured signs, no one made it a priority or directed staff to get the work done by a deadline.

The Free Press coverage caused a flood of diners to call the health unit, where officials promised they’d soon post inspection summaries on a long-planned website.

I also told the reporter, the best restaurants will embrace public disclosure and even promote their food safety excellence.

How to use the inspection website in London:

Access at http://inspection.healthunit.com or through the health unit’s main website, www.healthunit.com?
Search for restaurants by region, by first letter or by keyword. Violations will be listed for each. ?
Click on restaurant names for dates of inspection reports, then on each date for summaries of violations and action required.?


Restaurant ratings off the menu in London, Ontario

Nearly 16 months after the local health board recommended posting food safety signs, they’re still at least a few months away, years after Toronto started with the red, yellow, green signs to advise wary consumers.

Jonathan Sher of the London Free Press (that’s in Ontario, Canada, not the U.K.) cited Jim Reffle, the director of environmental health at the London Middlesex Health Unit, as blaming the delay on a shuffling of bodies at city hall.

Reffle defended what, for Londoners, has been a decade-long wait to get the same protections offered in Toronto, a sign system that officials there linked to a 30% reduction in foodborne illness.

While Reffle first proposed a restaurant-inspection disclosure system in 2006, it took two years for he and the health board to agree on its details.

Many cities already disclose restaurant inspections, said Dr. Douglas Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, who taught at the University of Guelph and published work on the issue in the Journal of Food Service.

In cities that post inspection findings, diners often use them to select where to eat and restaurants strive for better compliance, he found.

You might think that would reduce foodborne illness, but the research in that area is inconclusive, he said.’

64 UK kids now sick from Godstone petting zoo; 3 other farms closed; is telling people to wash their hands really enough?

With 64 kids now stricken with E. coli O157 related to visits at the Godstone farm in Surrey, the responses from the folks who run petting zoos could be a little more sympathetic, a little more reflective.

Instead, as reported by the Guardian tonight (tomorrow in the U.K.), Geoff Ford, who runs Docker Park farm in Lancashire, where children can feed pygmy goats (see 1999 Ontario Western Fair outbreak, below) by hand and stroke rabbits, said any ban would affect "children’s environmental education” stating,

"It’s going to get hyped up out of all proportion. It does away with children’s environmental education. It’s important that children realise what a chicken is, what a calf is – often they come here and ask ‘is that a horse?’… We have run our farm for 20 years with no problems. But there is only so much you can do if people don’t listen. The farm at the source of the outbreak in Surrey had big signs all over the place telling people to wash their hands, but some people don’t give a damn."

The U.K. Department of Health responded today by announcing that the advisory committee on dangerous pathogens would be reviewing the current guidance on open farms and will advise on the need for additional precautions "in the light of the current outbreaks of E coli O157."

A Department of Health spokesman told the Telegraph,

“The risk of infection from E-coli O157 through petting farm animals can be prevented by following everyday good hand hygiene measures.”

All of these statements have serious problems.

• 64 kids sick with E. coli O157 is not hysteria, it sucks;

• anyone who says, “we have run our farm for 20 years with no problems” is unwilling to learn and a hazard to public health;

• telling people to wash their hands is insufficient – proper handwashing requires access to proper tools;

• even with proper tools, signs are not enough, as we showed with our recent handwashing compliance study at a university residence when everyone was barfing and awareness was high; and,

• the best handwashing may not be enough — the E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 82 people in 2002 at the Lane County Fair in Oregon appears to have spread through the air inside the goat and sheep expo hall.

Scott Weese, a clinical studies professor at the University of Guelph (Canada) and colleagues reported in the July 2007 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases that in a study of 36 petting zoos in Ontario between May and October of 2006, they observed infrequent hand washing, food sold and consumed near the animals, and children being allowed to drink bottles or suck on pacifiers in the petting area.

He observed similar failures yesterday.

So after 159 people, mainly children, were thought to be sickened with E. coli O157:H7 traced to a goat and a sheep at the 1999 Western Fair in London, Ontario, and eight years after all Canadian fairs were urged to adopt 46 recommendations to enhance petting zoo safety, many are still doing a lousy job.

Bill Marler has compiled a list of outbreaks related to petting zoos. We’ve previously reported at least 29 petting zoo related outbreaks in North America alone.

These petting zoo experiences raise questions: how best to motivate fair managers to provide petting zoos that are microbiologically safe? Should the urban public be allowed to interact with livestock at all? Should petting zoos be inspected, as restaurants are, and the results displayed?

If 64 sick kids is hysteria, conversation is useless and regulation required.