Michael Scott eats: restaurant inspections in Scranton and elsewhere to go online at state website

Diners in Scranton, Pennsylvania, famous as the home of The Office, will soon be able to check food-inspection reports from all of their favorite eateries online.

Michael Scott will need to learn to use a computer.

With enactment of a state law, Act 106, in late January, people will soon be able to find all reported restaurant inspection reports online at a state Department of Agriculture website. The law also codifies common standards for municipalities across the state to follow.

Before the law took effect, 167 local jurisdictions were permitted to have their own inspection processes and reporting mechanisms.

In Scranton, the administration is acquiring a hand-held electronic device from the Agriculture Department at no cost that will allow the health inspector to gather data at a food establishment, bring it back to City Hall and transmit it to the state for posting, said Mark Seitzinger, licensing, inspections and permits director. Council authorized the city’s acquisition of the device last week.

"We are creating a letter that will be sent to all businesses," Mr. Seitzinger added. "Our health inspections are done on a yearly basis."

For more information, go to www.agriculture.state.pa.us, keyword "Food Safety Inspection Results."

Environmental health driven by HR, good people leaving

Scotland has the highest rate of E coli O157 infection in the world and experts are struggling to maintain the fight against the infection.

Prof Hugh Pennington, who has chaired two public inquiries into major outbreaks of E. coli O157, said he was concerned about the number of experienced personnel being lost due to budget cuts, adding,

"Worryingly environmental health now seems to be being driven by HR departments."

Rod House, president of the Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland, said many senior officers were taking early retirement as councils seek to reduce their wage bills, yet fewer trainees are being appointed.

Pregnant Pam doesn’t eat pate on The Office

I don’t know if Jenna Fischer is pregnant in real life, but her character, Pam Beesley, on television’s The Office, most certainly is.

On last night’s new episode, Pam was trying to set Oscar up with a dude from the warehouse. She introduced Oscar by saying he made the pate, and she can’t get enough of Oscar’s pate – although she wasn’t shown eating the pate.

This is good, because as real live pregnant woman Amy blogged, pate and other refrigerated ready-to-eat foods are not a good idea for expectant moms due to the listeria risk.

Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods
, the Canadian company that killed 22 people with listeria-laden cold cuts last year, was honored again today as a visionary leader, yet he has never publicly said whether pregnant women should eat his cold-cuts. Or pate. Glad The Office got it right.

Campylobacter week: two great papers on the pathogen

A couple of cool papers on Campylobacter were published last week — one discussing outbreaks  of the pathogen in Australia (and the most common sources) and another suggesting that generic E. coli is a lousy indicator of campy in water.

In the first paper, Outbreaks of Campylobacteriosis in Australia, 2001 to 2006, researchers looked at 33 outbreaks of campylobacterosis between 2001 and 2006 resulting in 457 probable and 147 confirmed illnesses. These outbreaks only captured 0.1 per cent of laboratory confirmed outbreaks suggesting that sporadic cases are much more problematic than outbreaks. The group found that commercial settings were implicated in 55 per cent of the outbreaks, and the most common suspected food vehicle was poultry (41 per cent of outbreaks). Salads were also suspected in two of the outbreaks.

In the second paper, Thermotolerant Coliforms Are Not a Good Surrogate for Campylobacter spp. in Environmental Water, researchers in the former home of the Nordiques, Quebec, analyzed over 2400 samples of river water from 25 sites over a two year period. The samples were tested for the presence of indicators (thermotolerant coliforms and generic E. coli) and Campylobacter. The group found that there was a weak association between the distributions of Campylobacter spp. and thermotolerant coliforms and between the quantitative levels of the two classes of organisms. Their results suggest that sampling water for thermotolerant coliform does not provide a good indication whether or not Campylobacter is present.

This is important information for the produce industry which, as the first paper shows, plays a role in Campylobacter infections. By testing water for common indicators, producers and packers may be missing campylobacter risks entirely.

A good way to get campylobacter? Use raw chicken to reduce swelling.

UK: It’s a bummer heights high

Doug and Amy introduced me to what is now one of my favourite TV shows, up there with The Office, Arrested Development and Flight of the Conchords. Summer Heights High is an Australian mockumentary following the lives of highschool students. One of the main characters, Ja’mie (not to be confused with Jamie) has transferred for a year from a private school to attend Summer Heights High public school. On multiple occasions Ja’mie refers to how povo (poor) the public school is.

Students at a UK private school may have been better off attending a povo public school after five pupils became ill this past week, reports This is Croydon Today.

Cumnor House School, in Pampisford Road, South Croydon, has been hit by an outbreak of campylobacter – a bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Headteacher Peter Clare-Hunt insists there is no proof that the bug came from the school kitchen. But nevertheless environmental health officers who were called in to carry out an inspection have "reminded" the school about good hygiene practice.

Headteacher Hunt explained,

"We have had five confirmed cases of campylobacter which is a type of food poisoning. As soon as that was confirmed we underwent a visit from the food hygiene consultant and environmental health…"

"There is no safety issue with regards to school lunches. I would say 99 per cent of the boys, if not more, are having school lunches and can do so without any fear of risk whatsoever.


“In terms of tracing this back to the kitchen that will never be proved one way or the other."

All the boys who fell ill at the school, which takes pupils aged between four and 13, are now back in class "healthy and doing fine". Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning and symptoms can include stomach cramps and severe diarrhoea. Anyone who contracts the bug is normally ill for two days to a week and infection can come from inadequate cooking of food to handling domestic pets. Infection from person to person contact is, however, uncommon.

Headteacher Hunt should focus on apologizing to the sick students rather than insisting his cafeteria couldn’t possibly be the source of illness.

Do you wash your hands during mid-night bathroom breaks?

During an episode of the TV show The Office Michael Scott burns his foot on a George Foreman grill while cooking bacon (see right). I did the exact same thing this past weekend, and now my bubble-wrapped foot and I have been tossing and turning at night.

Last night while wallowing in self-pity and pain I heard two of my flatmates get up to use the bathroom (my bedroom is right next to the facilities). I heard the bathroom door shut, toilet flush, and…nothing. No sound of the tap running while the night-pee-ers washed their hands.

Do you wash your hands during a mid-night tinkle?

UK veterinarians want to tackle disease, not play Diversity Day

Farmers Weekly Interactive reports that while farmers fight for their livelihoods, the entire UK Animal Health workforce of about 1700 staff will have to undergo workplace training, which includes learning how to play the drums and playing games.

One vet spoke of management’s attempt at Diversity Day (from The Office, right and below) by saying,

"… we wasted an entire day playing games, mucking about and banging drums.I am appalled that taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for this when we are supposed to be fighting disease.”

A spokeswoman for Animal Health said,

"As well as strategy, aspects of the day focus on effective teamwork and how it can help Animal Health deliver better outcomes in the future.

"This was done in a fun and interesting way which involved staff doing activities together.”

Rob Mancini: Use a thermometer, and use it right

“A concierge is the Winnipeg equivalent of a geisha.”

I thought that line was so good on the television show, The Office, last night –when a few of the staff took a business trip to Winnipeg, Canada — that I wrote it down for future use.

So when telegenic public health inspector Robert Mancini of Winnipeg (former co-host of the television series Kitchen Crimes, right, pretty much as shown) e-mailed me about something he saw, I had my excuse to use the Winnipeg line.

Rob writes:

“Yesterday, upon walking into a restaurant kitchen to perform a routine inspection, the chef was actually using a metal stem thermometer to determine doneness of a hamburger patty. Naturally, this excited me until I asked the chef what temperature he was aiming for. He said 130?? F. Lovely.

“Just because a chef has a thermometer and uses it once in a while doesn’t really mean anything, they need to be aware of proper cooking temperatures. The chef, assuming that I was a health inspector (I guess all my fancy gadgets gave that away) used the thermometer to impress me and perhaps gain some extra bonus points.  It almost did as I scurried over, maybe too excitedly, but sadly left disappointed. Let’s get people talking about food safety.”