Food safety and tourism are mutually dependent: Vibrio in conch in Bahamas

Morgan Adderley of Tribune 242 reports there have been four confirmed cases of conch poisoning and as many as six unconfirmed cases, Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands announced yesterday.

According to Dr Sands, the exposure took place in the previous 72 to 96 hours with a number of the patients affected having eaten at Potter’s Cay.

Noting that an outbreak of conch poisoning is something the country can “ill afford” right now, Dr Sands was adamant the issue can be easily mitigated if proper hygiene is maintained.

Four cases have been confirmed via laboratory testing but Dr Sands said there are a number of unconfirmed cases – “possibly as many as six” awaiting laboratory results. He added the affected people are being treated at both Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital, and so far, all the self-identified patients are Bahamian.

Dr Sands said the steps to controlling the outbreak lie in proper hygiene and public and vendor awareness.

“Environmental Health teams (are speaking) directly with the vendors, not only at Potter’s Cay but throughout New Providence and anywhere else that we may have reason to suspect possibility of exposure,” Dr Sands said.

“We learned back in the 1990s that this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water. And that minimises, if not eliminates the possibility of transmission.

If it’s so simple, why do so many people get sick?

Food fraud: UK tourist scam version

Lucia Bohorquez of El Pais writes an investigating judge in Palma de Mallorca has lifted the seal on court records entered in the case of a scheme that may have cheated Spanish hotels out of as much as €60 million through phony food poisoning claims filed since 2014.

British law firms promised clients up to €18,000 and a 98% success rate in claims for gastric illness caused by the hotel food. The lawyers kept 60% of the payout, and the remainder was enough to cover the client’s entire holiday package costs. Clients were sent to them by a ring operating out of Mallorca, where “sales agents” were deployed to hotels in search of targets.

From January 2016 to the end of the summer, one hotel chain received 273 claims requesting compensation for 700 people

The Spanish Civil Guard arrested seven members of this ring, all British nationals, in September of last year. The suspects allegedly exploited lax British legislation by persuading hotel clients to file phony food poisoning claims against their tour operators.

Faced with high legal fees if the cases went to court, the tour operators would accept the claims, then pass on the cost to the Spanish hotels as per their contract, in which the latter accept responsibility for all damages.

The investigation was launched after several hotel groups filed police complaints. These hotels had hired private detectives who found that there was a network of agents sent out to hotels to persuade clients to file claims.

A Civil Guard report that shows up in court records mentions two individuals as the heads of the ring. These men operated out of Britain, where they channeled the claims through law firms “with low professional ethics.”

Back on Mallorca, the local leaders were two women – a mother and daughter – whose job it was to hire agents and train them to persuade hotel clients to simulate gastric illnesses. These agents were always native English speakers who dealt directly with their targets at the hotels.

Civil Guard officers followed the activities of the ring and found that it was also active on the island of Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim. One of the women would routinely drive to the hotels to supervise her agents, especially in Sa Coma and Puerto de Alcúdia in the north of Mallorca.

The ring was also active in Tenerife, where it made around €115 for every successful claim

All seven arrested ring members kept in touch through a WhatsApp group called “UK Holidays claims,” where they shared their clients’ names and addresses, contact information, holiday reservation number, checkout date and the best time to call the client back in the UK. Each agent added his or her name to the message, to ensure that they would get the commission.

40 sick: Tourism breakfast hosts Norovirus outbreak

The Door County, Wisc. tourism breakfast event held on Tuesday, May 3 resulted in 40 of the 117 attendees and employees at the Sandpiper Restaurant at Maxwelton Braes in Baileys Harbor stricken with Norovirus.

sandpiper3.20356Following the protocols required for a Norovirus outbreak, the restaurant has taken precautions to sanitize surfaces that may have come into contact with this virus, the Door County Public Health Department said in a news release. The establishment has since opened and continues to operate without further incident.

Alcohol fraud: bottles sold to tourists contained urine, feces for color

I’m not much of a hard liquor drinker but I’m sure there’s a cheap-whiskey-tastes-like-piss joke in here somewhere.

According to a fraudster in the tourist town of Blackpool, UK has been arrested after selling bottles filled with flat cola or water colored with urine and feces. Awesome.

A conman was branded a danger to public health after he was caught selling bottles filled with urine as whisky to tourists.

Nicholas Stewart was arrested after he was seen trying to sell the one and a half litre bottles of fake whisky and vodka to holidaymakers for £10, a court heard.

Scientific analysis revealed some drinks merely contained flat cola but in others they found evidence of human waste.670px-Pee-in-a-Bottle-Step-4

Blackpool Council prosecutor Victoria Cartmell said the drinks had probably been laced with faeces and urine to give the colour of whisky.

The 35-year-old, from Blackpool, was spared jail for the sickening offence and was handed a 70 day jail term suspended for 12 months after he admitted fraud.

The bottles were seized by security staff when Stewart was seen approaching customers in the massive Coral Island slot machine complex.

Dominican Republic food safety woes

In 2004 I visited the Dominican Republic, a popular Caribbean destination for Canadians attempting to escape the winter cold, wet and grey.  Dani and I took advantage of her spring break and Millennium Scholarship (probably not what they were meant for) and spent a week sitting on the beach, eating buffets and playing scrabble. It was pretty fun. My food paranoia was focused on ice cubes, foods held at the wrong temperature and fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t think I ate anything that wasn’t fried and stuck to beer all week. Dani wasn’t nearly as ridiculous as I was (she rarely is) and she tried lots of stuff.

The week was a success; not only did we get some Vitamin D, neither of us had any foodborne illness symptoms.

Not so lucky for many other visitors to that same Dominican resort over the next few years, foodborne illness outbreaks were reported in 2005 and a reported 2000 guests became ill with norovirus in August 2007. The 2007 outbreak resulted in a class-action lawsuit in the UK against the travel agency. Claimants say that the travel agency knew there were repeated food safety-related violations linked to the resort and they kept sending travelers for weeks of vacation dominated by bathroom trips.

According to the lawsuit:

Raw and cooked meats were kept close together at the hotel, food was not covered, the restaurant allowed in dogs, birds, mice and insects, the buffet area was covered in flies with birds picking at leftover food, and they saw mice on tables.

I didn’t see any mice, but none of this is really surprising.

The Dominican Republic relies heavily on the tourist-generated economy and today’s news about another huge outbreak is likely not what government officials are looking for:

More than 1,200 athletes participating in a sports festival in the Dominican Republic got sick from food poisoning, with 22 ending up hospitalized.  The athletes affected were among more than 6,200 young people between the ages of 9 and 18 competing in the 12th Don Bosco Salesian National Games in Santo Domingo.

The food served to the athletes on Friday “was not transported on time and, by the time they served it, seven hours had gone by since they cooked it and packed it in disposable plates,” Don Bosco Salesian National Games director Tomas Polanco said.

Whether the Dominican Republic’s food safety system is really all that much worse than what is seen in North America is debatable — but having multiple large outbreaks in a country that depends on reputation and perception of safety isn’t a good thing.