Clostridium perfringens in tacos fingered as source that sickened 50 at South Dakota basketball game

Laboratory testing by the South Dakota Department of Health has identified Clostridium perfringens as the cause of the outbreak associated with the Pierre-Mitchell high school boys’ basketball game held in Pierre, Jan. 31.

KSFY ABC reports the investigation, which included voluntary questionnaires, implicated tacos as the source food of the outbreak; of those completing questionnaires, 75 per cent who ate the tacos reported becoming ill.

The outbreak follows a similar C. perfringens outbreak in Las Vegas before Christmas in which ham was held at improper temperatures and inadequately reheated, sickening at least 21 people. As noted in the Las Vegas outbreak, the majority of C. perfringens outbreaks are often the results of improperly cooled food or food held at room temperature for extended periods.

Going public: Mexican-style restaurant chain A will look bad in salmonella outbreak; if consumers knew, they could better choose

When government health officials wrapped up a three-month investigation of a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that sickened 68 people in 10 states, the final report on Jan. 19 included nearly every detail — except the name of the place that sold the food.

JoNel Aleccia of writes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has refused to identify the source, other than as “Restaurant Chain A,” a Mexican-style fast-food chain.

“It will eventually come out and it will be the company that looks bad,” said Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University and author of a food safety blog. “A lot of these problems could be reduced if government agencies were more transparent about how they decide when to go public.”

Dr. Robert Tauxe, a top CDC official, defended the agency’s practice of withholding company identities, which he said aims to protect not only public health, but also the bottom line of businesses that could be hurt by bad publicity.

“The longstanding policy is we publicly identify a company only when people can use that information to take specific action to protect their health,” said Tauxe, the CDC’s deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “On the other hand, if there’s not an important public health reason to use the name publicly, CDC doesn’t use the name publicly.”

The trouble, say food safety advocates, is that it’s not clear when or why CDC officials decide to withhold the identity of firms involved in outbreaks and when they decide to go public.

"No one is happy, and that’s largely because there are no guidelines people can at least point to, whether they agree with the guidance or no," Powell said.

Tauxe acknowledged there’s no written policy or checklist that governs that decision, only decades of precedent.

“It’s a case-by-case thing and all the way back, as far as people can remember, there’s discussions of ‘hotel X’ or ‘cruise ship Y,” he said.

Epidemiology, like humans, is flawed. But it’s better than astrology. The more that public health folks can articulate when to go public and why, the more confidence in the system. Past risk communication research has demonstrated that if people have confidence in the decision-making process they will have more confidence in the decision. People may not agree about when to go public, but if the assumptions are laid on the table, and value judgments are acknowledged, then maybe the focus can be on fewer sick people.

I understand the flexibility public health types require to do their jobs effectively, but much of the public outrage surrounding various outbreaks – salmonella in tomatoes/jalapenos, 2008, listeria in Maple Leaf deli meats, 2008, the various leafy green recalls and outbreaks of 2010, and the delay in clamping down on Iowa eggs – can be traced to screw ups in going public.

It’s long been a tenet of risk communication that it is better to default to early public information rather than later. People can handle all kinds of information, especially when they are informed in an honest and forthright manner.

Is that a grasshopper in your taco or are you just happy to see me

"Tacos de chapulines" are a popular cart and bar snack in Mexico City, Oaxaca and even in certain parts of the U.S. Devotees cite the cooked bugs’ appealing crunch and protein content – said to be twice that of beef.??

However, local authorities aren’t keen on where La Oaxaqueña Bakery and Restaurant owner Harry Persaud was sourcing his grasshoppers. While he has a permit to import them, the vendor he’s using is not FDA-approved, and he has yet to locate a domestic, approved source.

Persaud is reportedly considering raising his own grasshoppers.

Tuscon restaurant to offer lion meat tacos

Why aren’t there more meats on a stick?

And why aren’t there more lion-meat tacos?

The Arizona Daily Star reports Boca Tacos y Tequila, a Tucson taco restaurant, will start accepting orders for African lion tacos, to go along with previous tacos featuring alligator, elk, kangaroo, rattlesnake and turtle.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, lion and other game meat can be sold as long as the species isn’t endangered.

Most of Boca’s exotic tacos range between US$3 and US$4. The lion tacos will cost US$8.75 apiece.

Are taco trucks inspected?

A reader writes Medford’s Oregon’s Mail Tribune to say:

I think taco trucks serve a better lunch than fast-food chains. But I don’t see any listed with your restaurant inspection scores. Does anyone regulate them, or should I eat at my own risk?

Chad Petersen, an environmental health specialist who inspects "mobile food units" for Jackson County Health and Human Services, responded,

"They’re basically a restaurant on wheels.”

Like bricks-and-mortar restaurants, the county’s 100-some mobile ones are licensed and inspected every six months. You don’t see their scores with other eateries’ because Oregon law doesn’t require they get one.

"They’re kind of on a pass-fail basis," Petersen says.