Don’t eat dog poop, and don’t run around with sharp objects in your ear

Oh, the Brits.

don' science-based food safety agency won’t say, use a thermometer, but a local council tells kids not to eat dog poop.

Upon seeing this image, you tell yourself that this park can’t possibly be warning kids not to eat dog feces. As if it could ever possibly be a real issue. But then upon reading the sign, you find out you are wrong: the park is warning kids not to eat turds left by dogs because dog turds cause blindness.

Texas proposes changes to salmonella warnings for handling reptiles (another of my favorite reads) reports the Texas Department of State Health Services has proposed changes to the wording reptile retailers in Texas use on signs warning customers about salmonella. The deadline for the public to submit comments is Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010.

Current law requires all retail stores that sell reptiles to post warning signs and distribute written warnings about reptile-associated salmonellosis. The signs are to include recommendations for preventing the transmission of salmonella. The proposed changes, according to the department, allow for consistency with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

If approved, the warning signs would have to include the following recommendations, at minimum.

• Persons should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and running water after handling reptiles or reptile cages or after contact with reptile feces or the water from reptile containers or aquariums. Wash your hands before you touch your mouth.

• Persons at increased risk for infection or serious complications of salmonellosis, such as children younger than 5 years of age, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems have been weakened by pregnancy, disease (for example, cancer) or certain medical treatments (for example, chemotherapy) should avoid contact with reptiles and any items that have been in contact with reptiles.

• Reptiles should be kept out of households or facilities that include children younger than 5 years of age, the elderly, or persons whose immune systems have been weakened by pregnancy, disease (for example, cancer) or certain medical treatments (for example, chemotherapy). Families expecting a new child should remove any reptile from the home before the infant arrives.

• Reptiles should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the home or living area. Wash and disinfect surfaces that the reptile or its cage has contacted.

• Reptiles should be kept out of kitchens and other areas where food or drink is prepared or consumed. Kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe reptiles or to wash their dishes, cages or aquariums. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected with bleach. Wear disposable gloves when washing the dishes, cages or aquariums.

The signs would also have to include a statement notifying customers that even though reptiles may not appear sick at the time of purchase, they may carry salmonella bacteria, which can make people sick.

The entire proposal is available at:

Communication: the basics are sometime the best

With all the fancy iPhone apps and text notifications and Intertube what-have-youse, sometimes the basics work better.

CBC News reports fishermen in P.E.I. (that’s in Canada) say government emails and web postings don’t compare to flags in the water when it comes to warning them about high bacteria levels in shellfish.

The shellfishery in Charlottetown Harbour was closed on several occasions this summer when heavy rains caused the sewer system to overflow, creating high bacteria levels. Fishermen complained they weren’t getting adequate warning of the closures, which would enable them to harvest oysters and mussels ahead of the storm.

As Hurricane Earl made its way toward the Maritimes last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency emailed people in the shellfish industry. It warned the storm could bring heavy rains and lead to closures.

John White, a policy officer with CFIA, told CBC News this was the last time such a warning would be issued. CFIA is opting for posting a notice on its website telling the industry that fishers are responsible for checking the forecast.

The P.E.I. Shellfish Association suggests putting yellow warning flags in the water when there’s a possible closure and a red one when the fishery is shut down.

Just like a red or yellow or green sign on a restaurant. Because who wants to check a web site when you just want to grab a meal?

This probably means there’s an outbreak going on: Health Canada warns about raw sprouts

Health Canada is reminding Canadians that raw or undercooked sprouts should not be eaten by children, older adults, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

Health Canada used to say raw sprouts should be avoided if concerned about illness, but now they are more direct. That 2005 outbreak in Ontario involving more than 648 cases of Salmonella linked to mung bean sprouts may have something to do with the newfound directness.

Fresh produce can sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria while in the field or during storage or handling. This is particularly a concern with sprouts. Many outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli infections have been linked to contaminated sprouts.

Children, older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these bacteria and should not eat any raw sprouts at all. They should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless they can be sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked.

Has that Christmas steak been needle tenderized? Does that mean a higher internal temperature is required to kill E. coli O157:H7? People sick in 6 states

There’s nothing like three inches of freshly fallen Christmas morning snow to make me think … barbeque.

Before firing up the grill in a couple of hours, I now have to consider whether the T-bones I bought at Dillons were needle or blade tenderized, or not. The idea is that small needles are inserted into steak to inject tenderizers. All hamburger should be cooked to a thermometer-verified 160F because it’s all ground up – the outside, which can be laden with poop, is on the inside. With steaks, the thought has been that searing on the outside will take care of any poop bugs like E. coli and the inside is clean. But what if needles pushed the E. coli on the outside of the steak to the inside?

There have been 6-7 such outbreaks in the past, but only a couple appear to be linked to the consumer issue of – how do I cook this Christmas steak?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a press release last night warning that people in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington were sick with E. coli O157:H7 and the common vehicle appeared to be “non-intact steaks (blade tenderized prior to further processing).” Why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has not commented on the outbreak remains a mystery.

Minnesota lawyer Fred Pritzker was the first to publicly identify the potential outbreak linked to blade-tenderized steaks a week ago, on Dec. 18/09.

He also explained that in November of 1997, the Meat and Poultry Subcommittee of the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods concluded that standard beef steaks have a low probability of  E. coli O157:H7 migrating from the surface to the interior of the beef muscle.

Because of this, the cooking advice was to cook the steak at least enough to effect a cooked color change on all surfaces. Hence, it was officially safe to eat a steak rare.

Except color is a lousy indicator. How about some temperature recommendation, oh holy micro committee?

But the committee limited this advice to “intact beef steak” and then defined the term as follows: “A cut of whole muscle that has not been injected, mechanically tenderized or reconstructed.” Under the Food and Drug Administration’s 1977 food code, “injected” meant “manipulating a meat so that infectious or toxigenic microorganisms may be introduced from its surface to its interior through tenderizing with deep penetration or injecting the meat such as with juices.”

Based on these definitions, USDA’s Food Safety and Information Service FSIS proclaimed in early 1999 that the agency believes there should be a distinction between intact cuts of muscle and non-intact products, including those that have been tenderized and injected.

That was 1999. I don’t see any such intact or non-intact label when I go to the grocery store. Restaurants remain a faith-based food safety institution. And the issue has rarely risen to the level of public discussion.

The issue is not new, but may be new in terms of public discussion. Echeverry et al. wrote in the Aug. 2009 issue of the Journal of Food Protection that,

After three different outbreaks were linked to the consumption of nonintact meat products contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service published notice requiring establishments producing mechanically tenderized and moisture-enhanced beef products to reassess their respective hazard analysis and critical control point system, due to potential risk to the consumers.

The researchers found that application of antimicrobials to the steaks prior to packaging and shipment on day 0 was effective in reducing internalization of both pathogens in nonintact beef products stored for both 14 and 21 days.

Luchansky et al. wrote in the July 2009 JFP
that based on inoculation studies, cooking on a commercial gas grill is effective at eliminating relatively low levels of the pathogen that may be distributed throughout a blade-tenderized steak.

I hope they’re right. But there’s obviously something going on in the current outbreak.

Oh, and I know it was Christmas Eve and everything, but the USDA press release contained the tired and sometimes true advice for handling ground beef – hamburger – which has nothing to do with intact or non-intact steaks. I won’t be asking Karen anything (ask Karen is the supposed on-line help thingy that USDA keeps flogging).

There are many more details that will emerge as the story evolves, and people more knowledgeable than I — and others — pop up to speak. I’m sorry if you’re spending Christmas barfing because the food safety community did a lousy job providing information about risks that are out there. I’m still enjoying Christmas morning with the family. That’s Sorenne looking out our living room window this morning.

Canada reminds Canadians about the risks of eating raw sprouts – dos this mean there’s an outbreak?

When Canadian bureaucrats send out a food safety press release for no apparent reason other than to remind Canadians of something it usually means there is an outbreak going on.

Once again, it’s raw sprouts, and it’s not like it’s sprout season or something (unlike the often terrible turkey food safety advice the surfaces at Thanksgiving).

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
are reminding Canadians that raw or undercooked sprouts should not be eaten by children, the elderly, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

Sprouts, such as alfalfa and mung beans, are a popular choice for Canadians as a low-calorie, healthy ingredient for many meals. Onion, radish, mustard and broccoli sprouts, which are not to be confused with the actual plant or vegetable, are also common options.

These foods, however, may carry harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7, which can lead to serious illness.

Fresh produce can sometimes be contaminated with harmful bacteria while in the field or during storage or handling. This is particularly a concern with sprouts. Many outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli infections have been linked to contaminated sprouts. The largest recent outbreak in Canada was in the fall of 2005, when more than 648 cases of Salmonella were reported in Ontario.

Food safety Bill passes House – will it mean fewer sick people?

While the websphere, blogsphere and twittersphere were ejaculating electrons about the potential passage of new food safety legislation by the U.S. House– it passed — I was hanging out with some food safety dudes at Publix supermarkets HQ in Lakeland, Florida.

And I saw far more in Lakeland that would impact daily food safety than anything the politicians, bureaucrats, hangers-on and chatting classes could ever come up with.

When it comes to the safety of the food supply, I generally ignore the chatter from Washington, as well as the wasted Internet commentaries and conspiracy theories. If a proposal does emerge, such as the creation of a single food inspection agency, or the bill that passed the House today – and just the House — I ask, Will it actually make food safer? Will fewer people get sick?

As the General Accounting Office pointed out in a report a year ago,

“The burden for food safety in most of the selected countries lies primarily with food producers, rather than with inspectors, although inspectors play an active role in overseeing compliance. This principle applies to both domestic and imported products.”

Publix, with over 1,000 supermarkets, its own processing plants, and thousands of food products moving through its shelves, can’t afford the luxury of chatter.

After my visit, I went to the local Publix in St. Pete Beach to check out what the food safety type said – sure, the boss knows food safety, but do the front-line staff?

I ordered some shaved smoked turkey breast from the deli, and the sealable bag the meat was delivered in contained the following:

“Publix Deli
The Publix Deli is committed to the highest quality fresh cold cuts & cheeses
Therefore we recommend all cold cuts are best if used within three days of purchase
And all cheese items are best if used within four days of purchase”

(The picture isn’t very good. Note to Publix: The label warning about shelf-life is a great idea, but can’t read it if the price sticker gets slapped over some of the text.)

This is the first time I’ve seen a retailer provide information to consumers on the accurate shelf-life of sliced deli meats. It didn’t require Congressional hearings; it didn’t require some hopelessly-flawed consumer education campaign; it required a food safety type to say, this is important, let’s do it.

I also went looking for some bread for turkey sandwiches tomorrow as we move down to Sarasota, and then Venice Beach. I asked an employee in the bakery for some whole wheat rolls, and she pointed out what was available, said packages of six were pre-packaged, but she could get me whatever number I wanted. I asked for four. There was no bin for me to stick my who-knows-where-they-have-been hands in to and retrieve a few rolls. The bins were turned so that only staff had access. The employee said it had been that way since she started three years ago, and that “there’s just too much stuff going around” to let consumers stick their hands into bun bins (most commonly found item in communal bun bins? False fingernails).

It’s nice that food safety is once again a Presidential priority and that politicians are trying to set a tone. But chatting doesn’t mean fewer sick people – actions do.