A second E.coli outbreak at the Chipotle has food safety experts perplexed. NPR’s Linda Wertheimer talks to reporter Joanne Silberner about why it’s been so hard to identify the contamination source.
By Barbara Feder Ostrov
When a Shigella outbreak at a San Jose, Calif. seafood restaurant sickened dozens of people last weekend, Yelp reviewers were on the case – right alongside public health officials.
“PLEASE DO NOT EAT HERE!!!!” Pauline A. wrote in her Oct. 18 review of the Mariscos San Juan #3 restaurant. “My sister in and brother-in-law along with his parents ate here Friday night and all four of them ended up in the hospital with food poisoning!!!”
Research suggests that Yelp reviews may act as an early warning system or identify potential patients that public health officials might not otherwise have found in their food-borne illness investigations.
By Jenni Bergal
Many diners regularly click onto the Yelp website to read reviews posted by other patrons before visiting a restaurant.
Now prospective customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.
Local governments increasingly are turning to social media to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts. A few cities are even mining users’ comments to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely to have sanitation problems.
Customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.
Three Kansas hospital patients have died and two have been sickened by listeriosis linked to single-serve Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products since last year, health officials said on Friday.
The five adults became ill from January 2014 to January of this year with one of four rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria while hospitalized with unrelated illnesses, Kansas health officials said in a news release.
At least 39 Washingtonians report illness after contact with live poultry, during 2012-2014
From the Washington State Department of Health
The season for seeing chicks and ducklings tweet and quack their tiny ways into people’s hearts is officially underway. But it’s not always wise to follow the flock when a brood or clutch is concerned.
At least 39 Washingtonians have reported getting ill from Salmonella bacteria after coming in contact with live poultry in the past three years, according to reports reviewed by disease investigators at the state’s Department of Health.
These 39 cases were associated with three separate national Salmonella outbreaks that caused more than 1,200 people to get sick.
Contact with live poultry may also have contributed to more than 100 other cases of salmonellosis in our state in the past three years that weren’t associated with any known outbreak.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Siehe Lizenz under Creative Commons license
By Eyob Mazengia, PhD, RS, Food Protection Program
Public Health – Seattle & King County
When I started as a food inspector, I was assigned to the International District. And I liked it. It was almost like walking into a new culture, a new era.
What fascinated me was that as a public health worker, I had permission to walk into people’s personal spaces. I liked the smells, the sounds of their languages, their wall hangings and the way things looked.
It was a privilege, really, to be allowed into their personal spaces. Going on food inspections in the I.D., it was like walking into 3-4 different countries every day, without traveling outside the neighborhood.
Over the years, I established good relationships with the restaurant establishments. They were no longer just restaurant operators—they were mothers, fathers, grown kids. They’re not just businesses—there’s a family behind every door, people who had often gone through difficult times to be here.
And as I got to know them, I could recognize the sacrifices they made to give their children better opportunities in the U.S., and what they left behind. Even those born and raised here, you could recognize the sacrifices they were making. Continue reading
Pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems most at risk
Washington State health and agriculture officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on an ongoing outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to consumption of Latin-style soft cheese produced by Queseria Bendita, a Yakima, Washington firm.
As of January 16, 2015, a total of three cases have been identified from Washington in King, Pierce and Yakima counties. One illness was pregnancy-associated, two people were hospitalized and one death was reported.
The affected products made by the Yakima-based Queseria Bendita are subject to a voluntary recall and the firm has stopped producing cheese.
Health officials are warning consumers who may have purchased these three Queseria Bendita brand cheeses: Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson and still have it in their refrigerators to throw the product away and not eat it. Grocery stores and distributors should pull and not sell these products. Continue reading
Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of all ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet for all flavors and container sizes produced on or after January 1, 2014 until December 15, 2014 because these products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
The ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet were distributed in Arizona, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington may have been further distributed and sold in various retail outlets in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Continue reading
Public Health Insider: Behind-the-scenes of the agency protecting the health and well-being of all people in Seattle & King County
New York City has them, so does L.A. Even Toronto has them. So why aren’t there food safety inspection grades posted outside of restaurants in King County?
The answer? Food safety performance placarding is coming, and when it does, it will give patrons and establishments alike information that is meaningful, clear, and motivating.
Diners need to know actual risk
There’s a lot on the line: Studies show that restaurant placards influence consumer behavior. But research on the systems that give A-B-C grades shows that A-B-C placards don’t communicate what consumers are expect. Continue reading
State officials advise: be known for great grilling, not making people sick
Food safety experts from the Department of Health want people to know how to protect themselves and their loved ones from foodborne illnesses, especially when preparing foods for picnics and barbecues during warm weather.
“Bacteria in or on food can multiply quickly in warm weather,” explains State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “By making sure food is prepared, cooked, and served properly you can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and be well-known for great barbecues and picnics instead of for making people sick.”
Keep all your guests healthy by following these food safety tips from the Snohomish Health District.
Make sure your kitchen has everything you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for cooling and storage, paper towels and soap.
Store foods in the refrigerator at 41°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.
At the grocery store, bag raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t buy bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the store.
Always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours. Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or under cold-running water. Never defrost the turkey at room temperature.
Working in the kitchen.
Got extra helpers in the kitchen? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, visiting the restroom, or changing a baby’s diapers. Keep all work surfaces sanitized, too. Spray or wipe on a solution of 1 tsp of unscented bleach per gallon of cold water.
When baking holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Make eggnog with pasteurized eggs and pasteurized milk, or simply buy it ready-made with those ingredients.
Adding a nip of brandy or whiskey will not kill the germs. When making homemade eggnog, be sure to cook the mixture to 165°F, then refrigerate.
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the
harmful bacteria that cause illness. Cook your turkey to a minimum of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, including the stuffing.
The healthiest method is to prepare and cook the stuffing separately – outside the bird. Test the bird’s temp in the thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the inside. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer rest against bone.
Remember to keep hot foods hot (135°F or higher) and cold foods cold (41°F or below). To help keep foods hot wrap dishes in foil, cover them in heavy towels, or put them in insulated containers designed to keep food hot.
For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs, or use an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 41°F or lower, especially if traveling for more than half an hour.
If you set up food in a buffet line, take care to put spoons in each dish for self-service, and assist children in filling their plates. No fingers allowed!
Wrap it up!
Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with the date it was prepared. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.
Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 41°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an at-home food-borne illness.
Eat cooked turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days and gravy in 1-2 days. Cooked turkey keeps up to 4 months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, and bring gravy and sauces to a boil before serving. Microwaved leftovers shouldn’t have cold spots (bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.
Following these food safety steps at your house will make the meal a happy memory for everyone. Happy, healthy holidays from the Snohomish Health District!
The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit at www.holidayfoodsafety.org provides food safety advice and meal planning in one convenient location.
The kit includes information on purchasing, thawing and cooking a turkey; a holiday planner with menus, timelines, and shopping lists; and dozens of delicious (and food-safe) recipes. ]
The kit also has arts and crafts activities and downloads for kids so they can join the holiday fun.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.
Nothing can ruin a party quite like food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 31 pathogens known to cause food-borne illness.
Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States due to food-borne diseases.
Typical symptoms of food-borne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps which can start hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.
The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment.
But food-borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition or medication that weakens the immune system.
Hot summer temperatures and meals served outside can be a recipe for illness if outdoor chefs don’t follow a few basic guidelines to keep outside eating healthy and safe.
“It’s harder to keep food at safe temperatures when it’s hot outside and we eat food away from home,” said Food Safety Program Manager Dave Gifford. “If you plan your picnic or barbecue so that food is stored and cooked at the correct temperatures and served safely, you can avoid food-related illnesses.”
Foodborne illnesses can range from mild nausea to a serious condition that requires medical attention.
Young children, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system are at higher risk to get severely ill.
Making sure you wash your hands thoroughly and often during food preparation is one of many ways to ensure that foods served outdoors are safe to eat.
State health officials also recommend storing ready-to-eat foods separately from raw meat to prevent contamination, preparing meat for barbecues at home using clean utensils, and washing fruits and vegetables before slicing and serving.
When packing for an outdoor picnic or barbecue, make sure to bring a food thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a safe temperature; a cooler with plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold; and disposable wet-wipes, paper towels, and garbage bags for cleaning up.
Barbecued meat might look done, but only a food thermometer can show you if the food is safe. Recommended cooking temperatures:
- Ground beef and hamburger – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Hot dogs – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Steaks and roasts – 145 Fahrenheit
- Chicken breasts – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
- Pork – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
Food that has been kept chilled at 41 degrees or below and whole fruits, bakery items, chips, and unopened drinks can be used later. Throw away prepared food such as barbecued meat, salad, melon, and sandwiches that have been sitting out for more than two hours.
Extra food should be kept cold in a cooler that’s stored in the shade. Food left in a car, on a table, or in a picnic basket for more than two hours should be thrown out.
More barbecue and picnic food safety tips are available online.
If fruits and veggies have a ridged or uneven skin, use a scrub brush to remove dirt from the grooves.
Remember, even produce with inedible skin should still be washed as a first step.
This week, get into the habit of washing all produce thoroughly before serving.
Be sure to start with clean hands and a sanitary work station.
About the Monday Campaigns:
The Healthy Monday Tips is produced by a national health promotion initiative called the Monday Campaigns.
In one study, they reviewed the scientific studies that looked at ways to get people to adopt healthy habits.
In that review, they found that one of the most effective ways to keep people on track is simply to remind them from time to time to stick to it.
But when would be the best time send those reminders?
Fry and Neff decided to look at Monday, which many of us consider the start of our week.
To better understand how we thought and felt about Monday, they reviewed the scientific literature as well as cultural references to Monday in movies, songs, books and other forms of art and literature, even video games.
They noted that a number of scientific studies have found that we may suffer more health problems on Monday. For example, a number of studies find that Americans have more heart attacks and strokes on Monday.
There is also evidence that we have more on-the-job injuries on Monday, perhaps because we are not quite back into the swing of things, or are still recovering from our weekend.
Fry and Neff also found that while many of us, facing the return to work, may dread Mondays, Monday is also seen as a day for making a fresh start.
Fry and Neff concluded that Monday might be a good day for promoting healthy habits. Calling attention to the health problems linked to the first day of the work week, such as heart attacks and on-the-job injuries, makes Monday a natural day to highlight the importance of prevention.
And the Monday’s reputation as a day to make a fresh start offers the opportunity to help people to renew their efforts to adopt healthier habits.
Fry and Neff’s findings are put into practice by the Monday Campaigns, which helps individuals and organizations use Monday as a focus for their health promotion efforts, providing free research, literature and artwork, and other support.
To learn more about Healthy Mondays:
- Visit the Monday Campaigns website: www.mondaycampaigns.org
A record 24,000 Snohomish County residents earned a food worker card through online training in 2012, compared to less than 5,000 who earned their cards in a classroom, Snohomish County health officials report.
A food worker card is required for anyone who:
- Works with unpackaged food, such as in a restaurant or bar
- Touches food equipment, such as washing dishes
- Works at any surface where people put unwrapped food, including grocery store cashiers
The county began to offer the food worker card classes online in the spring of last year. The online course takes about one hour to go through the curriculum and take the test.
The popularity of the online course has reduced the need for in-person classes, officials said, so the Snohomish Health District plans to reduce the number of in-person classes to four a month in English and to one a month in Spanish next year. .
Starting January 1, Health District will offer four classes a month in English and one in Spanish at the Snohomish Health District auditorium in the Rucker Building, 3020 Rucker Ave., Everett.
- The in-person classes in English will be offered the first and third Thursday of each month at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
- The in-person classes in Spanish will be offered the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m.
- In-person classes will no longer be offered in Lynnwood.
The online training program also provides instruction in Korean, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Closed Caption
The cost of the training and test for a food worker card remains at $10.
Food worker cards are good for three years and are valid anywhere in Washington state.
The Health District accepts cash only for the in-person classes, and Visa or MasterCard only for online classes.
Find details at http://www.snohd.org/Shd_EH/Eh_FLE/FoodWorker.aspx#foodOnline.
To learn more about food safety classes and the food safety program, visit www.snohd.org, keyword search “Food Class.” Optionally, call 425.339.5260 to hear a list of class dates.
Food safety for Thanksgiving goes beyond the proper preparation and cooking of turkey, says Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County: cross-contamination and improper preparation and storage of other foods are other common causes of food-borne illnesses during the holiday season.
To protect yourself, your family and guests from Salmonella, E. Coli and other food-borne illnesses, follow these key food safety tips”
Wash your hands
- Wash your hands for about 20 seconds with warm water and soap to get rid of the germs that can get into food and make people sick.
- Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, and after taking out the garbage, sneezing, or coughing.
Keep foods safe from cross contamination
- Avoid cross contamination, which occurs when germs from raw foods get onto foods that will not be cooked or fully reheated to 165º F before eating.
- Put raw poultry, meat and fish in the “meat” drawer of the refrigerator, or put them on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator so the juices don’t drip on foods that won’t be cooked.
- Use a hard cutting surface with no splits or holes in it.
- Wash, rinse and sanitize the cutting surface and utensils after cutting raw poultry, meat, and fish, as well as melons. Make a sanitizer with 1 teaspoon of household bleach for each gallon of cool water.
Heat foods to their proper temperature
- In order to kill all bacteria, cook turkey, dressing containing turkey parts, other poultry and wild game to at least 165º F, ground beef and ground pork to 155º F, and fish, shellfish, lamb, other pork, other beef, and eggs to 145º F. (Most people will prefer turkey that has been cooked to an even higher temperature).
- Cold foods should be kept cold (lower than 41º F), and hot foods should be held hot (above 140º F).
Cool and reheat foods properly
- Cool food properly by placing it in uncovered shallow pans in the refrigerator.
- If you are taking prepared food to share with others, be certain that you keep it hot (above 140º F) or cold (41º F or below) during the trip and until it is served.
- If food has been sitting at room temperature for not more than 2 hours, refrigerate it or reheat it. If food has been sitting out for longer than 2 hours, throw it out.
- Take care with leftovers. Be sure the food has been cooled properly, then kept cold on the journey home.
Vegetables and fruit
- Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables under cold running water.
- Scrub the exterior of melons before cutting them, and then keep them cold at 41º F or below.
- Keep “starchy foods” like cooked beans (legumes), rice, potatoes and pasta at 140º F or above, or cold at 41º F or below. Be sure to refrigerate within 2 hours after the meal.
- Keep tofu and other plant protein foods hot (140º F or above) or cold (41º F or below).
- Sprouts must be kept at 41º F or below until used.
Meal programs and food banks see a large amount of food donated around the holidays, and this Thanksgiving is no exception. Public Health encourages your generous food donations, and stresses that the biggest need is for high quality canned protein foods, fruits and vegetables.
If you are donating fresh produce or a perishable food that has been kept continuously refrigerated at 41º F or less, call the donor agency before delivering to make sure that they have refrigerator or freezer space, and that they can accept what you would like to donate.
For additional information on food safety, please visit:
- Public Health’s Food Protection website
- Cooking Turkey Fact Sheet
- Public Health – Seattle & King County www.kingcounty.gov/health