Careful with that potting soil, Eugene; Legionnaires’ death in New Zealand

One person is dead and four others have fallen ill in a recent spate of cases of Legionnaires’ Disease, with health authorities pointing the finger of blame at a humble gardening product.

The person who died is believed to have contracted the illness overseas, while four others in Canterbury are thought to have become infected since September through contact with potting mix.

Legionnaires’ Disease is a pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that are commonly found in water and soils, including potting mix and compost.

Dr Ramon Pink, Medical Officer of Health for Canterbury, said recommendations for handling and warnings were printed on most bags of potting mix.

"It is very important to take care to avoid inhaling the dust when opening and handling the potting mix. Bags should be carefully opened in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, and away from the face."

Belgica mussels under the microscope; is New Zealand better than Old Zeeland?

A year ago Amy and I were sitting in a Wellington, New Zealand restaurant overlooking the harbor, pulling mussels from the shell (it was a holiday complete).

Consumers in Belgium are just beginning to enjoy the annual harvest of so-called Belgica mussels. According to a report forwarded by our European safe food correspondent, Albert Amgar:

Last year there was a lot of hubbub
around the so-called presence of toxic substances in Belgica mussels. This toxin would provoke Diarrheic Shellfish Poisoning, characterized by gastric and intestinal problems, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and intestinal cramps. Counter analyses could not confirm the presence of this toxin.

The mussels cultivated in Belgian waters underwent bimonthly bacteriological testing conducted by the Federal Agency for Food Safety. Weekly tests were also taken in order to detect the possible presence of toxins in mussels and the presence of toxin-bearing algae in the water where the mussels are raised. French authorities are responsible for testing the mussels raised in France.

Belgica was the name given to a Roman province encompassing parts of modern Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. These Belgica mussels are 20 per cent from Belgian waters and 80 per cent from French waters of the North Sea. Apparently, the less-fleshier Zeeland mussels, from the Zeeland waters of the North Sea – Zeeland is a southern province of The Netherlands – compete with Belgica mussels for the food dollars of Belgian consumers (apparently American and Canadian country-of-origin labels aren’t the only confusing – and largely meaningless – labels out there).

To continue on with the wiki-ized history, the name New Zealand originated with Dutch cartographers – Dutch explorers being the first Europeans to arrive — who called the islands Nova Zeelandia, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand.

Katie, enjoy some NZ mussels; cause as the poster says, New Zealand: Better than Old Zealand.

Trendspotting: Shopping cart sanitation

Some of you may remember the 2004 International Association for Food Protection meting in Phoenix. At a local supermarket I found this sanitizing system for shopping carts displayed prominently. That’s when I started to think, maybe food safety can be marketed.

A few months later and I was in the Gold Coast, Australia, for a food safety meeting. I told one journalist about this new trend I’d observed –always gotta be trendspotting – of more prominent use of sanitizers in grocery stores.

That turned into,

“Doug Powell, a food safety expert from Canada, says a decision to put hand wipes in supermarkets and provide sanitising towels for shopping trollies has been successful in reducing the number of food poisoning cases in the US and Canada.”

And it ran all over Australia.

So I wrote a letter which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and read in part,

“The use of hand wipes in supermarkets and sanitizing towels for shopping carts has been experimental at best in the U.S., and has not and cannot be correlated with any reduction in foodborne illness (Shoppers urged to clean hands to wipe out food-borne diseases, October 11/04, Sydney Morning Herald).

“However, as the Food Safety Information Council correctly noted, and as I stressed during the interview, any measure — whether on the farm, in processing, at food service, in the home, and yes, at retail — that can enhance food safety awareness should be explored and encouraged.”

Now it appears some such work has been done.

USA Today reports today that supermarkets and other retailers that provide shopping carts are increasingly looking to limit germ exposure for customers and their families.

“A ShopRite supermarket in Passaic, N.J., installed a push-through cleaning machine on Tuesday that sprays each shopping cart between uses with a misty peroxide solution to kill bacteria, according to Jim Kratowicz, president of PureCart Systems, the manufacturer of the machine. …

“Studies conducted in 2006 and 2007 by FoodNet found riding in a shopping cart beside meat and poultry is risky for infants under six months.

“Doing so triples the chance they may contract salmonella and quadruples it for campylobacter, a diarrhea illness, according to Olga Henao, an epidemiologist for the CDC.

“Infants can become ill when they transfer bacteria from the packaging into their mouths, Henao said. Also, if raw juices leak out onto the cart, it can create a bacteria risk for the next infant in the cart, she said.”

Trendspotting is just so hip. Here’s Demetri Martin with his own trendspotting.