Leftovers are the meal

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."

– Calvin Trillin, journalist and social commentator on things American

I love the leftovers. Stew, soup, Sorenne just had some lamb stock vegetable stew with lots of carrots and lima beans for lunch – ate it all up.

The New Zealand Herald reports tomorrow (today) that coked ham, with leeks and a mustard white sauce makes great pie filling and chopped into cheese muffin recipes makes for hearty transportable picnic fare at the beach or bach.

We love having Christmas in summertime. It’s part of the Kiwi way because summer is such a wonderful storehouse of seasonal fruit.

It is summer there.

New Zealand fruit and vegetable safety – good, but we’ll make sure we do better

Every time there is a food safety outbreak with fresh fruits and vegetables, some journalist or lobby group will call up and say something like, “we want to do some sampling for E. coli or Salmonella and fresh produce.”

And every time, Chapman or I will walk the person through the limitations with testing, especially in fresh produce.

New studies by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) highlight the limitations. In one, two out of 900 samples tested positive for Salmonella in lettuce, both from lettuces from the same grower.

In a related study, none of the chemical residues detected were of health concern, although NZFSA principal advisor for chemicals Dr Paul Dansted says he is disappointed with results from this year’s Food Residue Surveillance Programme (FRSP), which targets food likely to show up problems. This year’s focus was on spinach, celery, ginger and garlic.

“A significant number of samples had levels over the maximum residue limit (MRL) which is used for monitoring purposes, but it’s important to stress that dietary intake assessments on the non-compliant food showed none posed a health or food safety concern.”

Eight out of 27 celery samples and four out of 24 spinach samples had residues that were over the limit. There were none over the limit in 50 samples of garlic, but ginger had 11 samples out of 39 over the limit.

“Celery and spinach can be more vulnerable to persistence of chemical residues,” Dr Dansted says. “Because of their shape, residues that wash off in the rain can collect in the base of the plant. We expected to find some problems, but this is not good enough. We will take regulatory action to ensure better compliance in future.”

Properly structured sampling programs are essential to validate that food safety programs are working. But testing is not enough.

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."

K-State graduate student helping New Zealand with development of national restaurant inspection disclosure system — review paper published

This international research stuff can be challenging to co-ordinate. Not the supervision or the actual research, more getting all the various agencies, living arrangements and insurance lined up.

And I have to be more sensitive – I wanted to call this blog post, The shocking, untold, no-holds barred story of how Katie Filion went from Sault St. Marie, to Guelph, to Manhattan (Kansas) to New Zealand.

The Kansas State University press release that went out this morning said:

Katie Filion, a master’s student in biomedical science, has a thesis project with global implications. She is investigating New Zealand’s options for a national food business or restaurant hygiene grading system. She is working on the yearlong project with a $20,000 grant from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

Filion is doing her research in New Zealand and will return to K-State in May 2010 to complete her thesis with adviser Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety.

New Zealand’s piecemeal use of grading systems means that it’s difficult for diners to check out an establishment’s food safety record. Filion said a consistent grading system throughout New Zealand will make consumers less confused and will bolster confidence in the country’s inspection systems. And with a population of about 4 million, New Zealand is an ideally sized country for such a project, Filion said.

"No one has determined the most effective way to present inspection results to the public but a good system has several characteristics," Filion said. "It should have clear guidelines about what earns a good or bad grade and should communicate to diners the risk of eating at a particular restaurant."

Here’s some more of the tale:

Katie left the Soo to do undergraduate research in food science at the University of Guelph. There, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, she and another friend started working for Chapman while he was finishing his PhD.

We met a couple of times, talked a couple of times, but Chapman said she was good and interested in restaurant inspection disclosure stuff – and graduate school – so I gave her some additional work. Then she graduated she spent eight months visiting farmers in Ontario as part of an on-farm food safety program.

Katie decided graduate school was next and I said, come to K-State. Meanwhile, while Amy and I were in New Zealand last summer (Kansas summer, not NZ summer) I worked out a possible arrangement – that Ben had initiated — for a grad student to work with NZFSA on restaurant inspection disclosure procedures.

She was supposed to go in Jan. 2009, but too many details needed to be filled in. Rather than facing winter in the Soo, Katie ventured to Kansas, and helped out around here for five months. She started contributing to barfblog and her writing got better.

In May, it was off to Wellington, NZ, and she seems to be doing great; even got a review paper published, which just came out.

The ways restaurant inspection disclosure systems reach consumers with food safety information was the topic of a review article that Filion and Powell published recently in the Journal of Foodservice. Because diners choose restaurants in part for their perception of the establishment’s hygiene, Filion and Powell suggest that restaurants would be wise to market themselves to potential customers in terms of their food safety inspection records.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Atypical scrapie in single NZ sheep

Contrary to what the New Zealand Herald reported tonight (this morning in NZ), the animal in question was born in NZ, not the UK, because NZ does not import sheep from the UK.

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA)
today confirmed that a series of New Zealand and European laboratory tests on a single New Zealand sheep brain have detected the condition atypical scrapie (also known as Nor 98).

Atypical scrapie/Nor 98 is a relatively recently discovered brain condition of sheep and goats that is quite different from the classical form of scrapie. 

Neither atypical scrapie/Nor 98 nor scrapie is known to pose any risk to human health or the safety of eating meat or animal products.

MAFBNZ Principal International Adviser Dr Stuart MacDiarmid says global knowledge about atypical scrapie/Nor 98 is evolving.  The widely accepted mainstream scientific view is that it occurs spontaneously or naturally in very small numbers of older sheep in all sheep populations around the world.

“This positive detection of atypical scrapie/Nor 98 in a sheep from New Zealand’s national flock reinforces that view.  Every country that has conducted sufficient surveillance for atypical scrapie/Nor 98 has found it in their flocks.  This includes most Scandinavian and EU countries, the UK, the USA and Canada,” he says.

The detection does not change New Zealand’s status as free from scrapie.

Dr MacDiarmid says because of this scrapie freedom status, New Zealand supplies sheep brains to the European Union for use in the development of tests for scrapie. 

“The affected brain was one of a consignment of 200 brains sent for this purpose.  EU-authorised tests carried out in New Zealand prior to shipment had not picked up anything unusual.  However further tests in Europe and re-testing in New Zealand on different parts of the brain from the area originally tested have now established a diagnosis of atypical scrapie/Nor 98.

There is no evidence that atypical scrapie/Nor 98 can be transmitted naturally to other animals or to people, or that it in any way affects people.


“I wouldn’t be happy showering under a rat”

That from the landlord of a Palmerston North, New Zealand flat, who apparently let her tenants shower with water from a heater containing a dead rat.

The Manawatu Standard reports that the two flatmates are nervously awaiting the results of blood tests after they learnt the "smelly water" they had been drinking and showering in came from a tank housing a badly decomposed rat.

Having suffered bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting before becoming aware of the corpse, they still have to shower at their parents’ homes and clean cooking utensils on the front lawn.

The saga began in early November when a 19-year-old resident noticed the water was "smelly" and she began feeling ill.

Her mother, worried sewerage had seeped into the water pipes, contacted the council, which in turn flushed the home’s pipes.

Several weeks later the shower blocked up, which eventually led to a plumber finding what was left of the large rat.

Rather than remove it, he gave instructions not to use any water until someone else did the dirty work.

The landlord said, "I can’t believe they didn’t ring me to say it was still there. I thought it was gone. Oh, I just feel ill. I have barely slept thinking about rats in tanks. It’s just a dreadful situation, but I thought the plumber or sanitisers had dealt with it."

Cocktail sausages sicken kids, need to be reheated

Christchurch butchers handing out free cocktail sausages to children — a New Zealand tradition — have been linked to at least six cases of yersiniosis in kids under five-years-old.

Canterbury’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink, says cocktail sausages (also known as cheerios or saveloys) should be heated before they are eaten and should not be offered cold to children at butcher’s shops or delicatessens.

The cocktail sausages were given to most of the children over the counter – a common practice which has been associated with outbreaks of salmonella and campylobacter in Christchurch in the past.

While cocktail sausages are cooked during their preparation they are not ready-to-eat foods. Further heating before eating is required to destroy any bacteria that may have contaminated them after they were made.

Proper handwashing still requires proper tools

It’s a message that goes unheeded — at home and abroad.

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal found almost 20 percent of men, and 8 percent of women didn’t wash their hands after going to the toilet.

But what’s worse says New Zealand Public Health Association (PHA) Director Dr Gay Keating is that some schools have appalling washroom facilities, and it is often not possible for students to wash and dry their hands properly – even if they want to.

"Sometimes there is no soap, let alone hot water, and children are expected to wash their hands in freezing water, even in the middle of winter. There may be no paper towels, or hand dryers.

"This is a great disincentive to proper hand washing, and pupils who do not wash their hands properly are at greater risk of contracting illnesses themselves, or passing on bugs. They then have to have days off school, which recent educational research has shown often leads to them falling behind in school work. …

“Hand-hygiene is basic to maintaining good health.”

Dr Keating says all schools should provide pupils with soap, warm water and hand-drying facilities.