MSU’s E. coli Outbreak- not just MSU

The little E. coli breakout that was originally thought to be limited to Michigan State University’s campus has now been linked with several sporadic cases across the state of Michigan including 5 cases at the Lenawee County Jail.

Health Department officials are continuing the traceback effort to find the source of the bacteria. According to an article at WLNS (Channel 6 in Lansing), the school has stopped serving turkey and has also looked in to lettuce being served at the time of the outbreak. With these other cases apppearing, the source is probably something from off-campus that is delivered to the school versus the alternative: a campus dining hall or equipment in the kitchen(s) was contaminated.

Although the number of cases has grown, it is expected that everyone afflicted with the infection will recover. E. coli O157:H7 is scary stuff. I’m probably repeating myself but seriously, you don’t want any disease where the mildest symptom is bloody diarrhea, right?

The idea that the same strain of E. coli showing up in the MSU cafeterias is also showing up in a jail is a little disconcerting. I will say this though: I ate at MSU cafeterias for 2 years. I worked in school cafes for 2 years. I certainly ate way too much fried chicken (seriously, serving it 3 times a week is just not right!) but I never felt like the food wasn’t safe or clean. I never got sick and we never had an investigation of our kitchens. As employees, we weren’t always perfect but we never served food that looked spoiled or that hadn’t been refrigerated. I washed my hands regularly and this was in the days before every employee in every restaurant is supposed to wear gloves to handle any food. I actually think this is ridiculous. You are less likely to notice cross-contamination if food is stuck to a glove than to your skin. Oh yeah, my job? Making pizzas- I had my fingers in cheese, meats, toppings and sauce for my entire shift most nights. But I digress.

In fact, most of my non-Spartan friends were jealous of the quality of dorm food at State. MSU has a reputation for serving top notch food in the dorms. I’m sure having a nationally recognized Hotel-Restaurant Management program helps. At U of M on the otherhand, there were a lot of jokes about green-tinged lunch meats and hamburger marked grade “D- Fit for Human Consumption.” The grading system is nonsense (and meat isn’t graded that way anyhow) but my few visits to a University of MIchigan dorm cafeteria left me grateful for my normal daily options.

The point is, I wouldn’t be afraid to eat in an MSU cafeteria. There are risks everyday with eating food but I’m much more concerned about the source of that product than what it might come across in the kitchens at Michigan State University.

Tapeworm Tango

Saw this today and just had to write about it.

From CNN (link:

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — A man who contends he got a 9-foot tapeworm after eating undercooked fish has sued a Chicago restaurant.

In the lawsuit filed Monday, Anthony Franz said he ordered salmon salad for lunch from Shaw’s Crab House in 2006 and fell violently ill. He later passed the giant parasite, which a pathologist determined came from undercooked fish, such as salmon.

Franz’s lawsuit seeks $100,000 from Shaw’s and its parent company, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, contending the restaurant’s staff was negligent in serving him improperly cooked fish.

But Carrol Symank, vice president of food safety for Lettuce Entertain You, said the tapeworm didn’t come from Shaw’s.

“We have done a thorough investigation, and we’re confident the restaurant is not the source,” he said.

According to the Web site, tapeworms can measure up to 50 feet long.

Reasons why this is probably a crock:

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the larvae from a tapeworm takes several weeks to mature and begin laying eggs. My reading of this article (brief though it may be) leads me to understand that this guy became ill almost immediately after consuming the salmon.
  • I couldn’t find any information on how long it would take for a tapeworm to grown to 9 feet in length. BUT, I would guess more than 2 years when you consider that its not uncommon for tapeworms to live undetected in human intestines for years. Its really not in the worm’s best interest to outgrow its host after all.
  • The FDA requires that any fish which will be served raw must first be frozen and held frozen at a specific temperature for a specified number of days. This is required because it kills any parasitic worms present in the fish flesh. Even if this guy didn’t eat raw fish, i.e. sashimi, the restaurant does have a sushi chef and an oyster bar. Rather than keep their “for cooking” salmon and their “for sushi” salmon separate, I suspect they just use frozen fresh salmon.

On the subject of fresh frozen fish, much of the fresh fish sold in this country is actually thawed frozen fish. Besides the FDA requirements for fish that will be served raw, its more practical for the large-scale fisherman. A large fishing boat will have to spend days at sea to reach the good spots, collect the fish and return. Hopefully, they are catching fish everyday. They aren’t coming back in at the end of each night, right? So, they use dry ice or other flash-freezing techniques to preserve the fish on the boat until they return to port. There are some studies that have shown that this flash-frozen fish preserves nutrients and texture better than stuff that is fresh caught and flown across country on ice but not frozen.

A quick tip: Although fish with a strong “fishy” smell is not recommended and probably won’t taste very good, you sometimes get a faint odor after thawing fish at home. If this happens to you, try soaking the fish in buttermilk or even regular milk for 15 minutes first (the slight acidity of buttermilk does a better job).

E. coli for everyone!

The big news, its another beef recall due to E. coli. And not just any ole’ bug, but the O157:H7 variety of E. coli.   From the linked article:

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Friday said Omaha meat packing company Nebraska Beef Ltd is recalling 1.2 million pounds of beef because it may be contaminated with a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli.

The recall is of beef prepared for shipment to retailers but not yet cut up in supermarket sized portions.

The recall is “Class 1,” meaning there is a “reasonable probability” that eating the beef “will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death,” the USDA said. It is the most dangerous level of the three classes of recall.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said the beef was sent to processing establishments and retail stores across the United States and had been produced June 17, June 24 and July 8.

How likely is that the beef involved is still sitting in processing establishments and retail stores waiting to get broken down in to smaller packages for the consumer? In case you missed it, Nebraska Beef had a massive ground beef recall earlier this year. And the company has had some major compliance issues with USDA inspections over the last several years. 

Making bigger headlines today but related to the Nebraska Beef problems is Whole Foods voluntary recall of ground beef sold in stores since June:

Whole Foods Market, the top US organic foods supermarket chain, announced this weekend a voluntary recall of fresh ground beef it sold since June 2 due to potential contamination with E. coli bacteria.
The beef “apparently came from Coleman Natural Beef, whose Nebraska Beef processing plant was previously subject to a nationwide recall for E. coli 0157:H7 contamination,” Whole Foods said.

According to Whole Foods, they didn’t know that Coleman was sending their beef to Nebrask Beef for processing.

In a smaller recall, S&S Foods of California is recalling ground meat after a boy scout camp experienced an outbreak of E. coli. 

S&S Foods of Azusa, Calif., is recalling 30-pound boxes of ground beef that went to distribution centers in Milwaukee and Allentown, Pa. The company is acting on the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, agency spokeswoman Laura Reiser said yesterday.

The meat was intended for food service companies and institutions and was not being sold in stores, Reiser said. The Agriculture Department would not say where the beef might have gone, she said. “From a public health standpoint, that’s not going to help the consumer or the doctor to treat their illness,” she said.


Not in to E. Coli, how about some salmonella? A recent outbreak in the UK has affected approximately 90 people with at least one death.  The investigation there has found a possible source in Dawn Farm Foods in Ireland.  The meat was sold to Subway stores. This outbreaks is notable in that the average age of the people sickened is just 29. The strain linked to this outbreak, salmonella agona is rare, accounting for approximately 1.5% of salmonella infections.
More here and here.

Don’t forget the pets!
Mars Petcare US announced a voluntary recall of 100 of the 20-pound bags of PEDIGREE(R) Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites sold in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada to a limited number of Albertsons locations due to potential Salmonella contamination.

During the height of the tomato/pepper/cilantro/salsa/something from Mexico Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, there were news reports of an isolated poisioning by salmonella in Lake Garda, Italy. Approximately 30 people, mostly British tourists fell ill while on vacation at a hotel is this area. The onset of illness was very quick and one man died within 24 hours. An autopsy was carried out and eventually, the owner of the hotel was charged with manslaughter. Since early July, I haven’t been able to find any English-language updates to this story so I don’t know the current status of the hotel manager’s case or what the final determination for the source or type of infection. I was quite surprised to learn that the Italian authorities had charged the owner with such a serious crime. I guess here in America we just sue the pants of whomever has the deep pockets (i.e. Wal-Mart is the first to be named defendant after the outbreak here).

By the way, the Mexican authorities are rather insistent that their own testing has not found a positive pepper in conflict with the FDA’s claims that they found 1 pepper on a farm in Tamaulipas state that had the same salmonella which caused the S. saintpaul outbreak.
However, Agricola Zaragoza, the distribution center that provided the first real pepper clue, is recalling peppers distributed between June 30 and July 21 (the date of the press release) due to a possible contamination with Salmonella Saintpaul:

The jalapeno peppers were distributed to customers in GA and TX. The jalapeno peppers being recalled were shipped in 35-lb plastic crates and in 50-lb bags with no brand name or label.

The recall is a result of sampling by FDA, which revealed that these jalapeno peppers were contaminated with the same strain of Salmonella Saintpaul responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak. It is unknown at this time which, if any, of the more than 1,200 illnesses reported to date are related to this particular product or to the grower who supplied this product.

No name or label. Useful.

Hoomans iz stoopid

Since I was out of town last week, I didn’t get around to reading the June 25th edition of City Pulse until today.

I came right home and wrote this post after reading this article about the street food vendors in Downtown Lansing. The Council has instructed Clinton Tarver, who sells hot dogs in front of city hall, that he must get a peddler’s license at a cost of $90. This is in addition to the other 2 permits he has (that cost $180) and the $200 monthly fee paid to the City’s Principal Shopping District (a government entity, FYI).

Sandy Allen, 2nd Ward City Councilwoman has decided to have her committee, Public Safety, look in to whether all the street vendors are properly licensed. Because, she is quoted as saying “right now we really don’t have much in the way of protecting people healthwise, and we really need to look at what is available and what needs to be done.”

And a piece of paper is going to stop me from getting E. coli or salmonella or listeria or any other nasty bug that sometimes lurks in food? Hot-diggity, where can I get one of those papers? I’ll just carry it around all the time and I’ll be a-okay.

The article goes on to quote Andy Bunnell of the Ingham County Health Department. According to him, all food vendors are required to take classes about food safety and they must be inspected prior to licensing.

Now that, I believe, makes sense. At least the food safety class- again, slapping a sticker on my food cart does not mean I’m the most cautious, cleanest vendor out there. But as a seller, I can only be helped by understanding that foods should be kept at certain temperatures to slow or stop bacterial growth.

The article mentions that Clinton has been selling his dogs and accompaniments for 10 years in the same spot. I venture to guess that if Clinton was selling bad dogs, he’d have gone under a long time ago, license or no license. Think back to the last time you felt a little stomach upset after dining out. I can clearly remember several incidents of food poisioning in my own history.

  1. Served bad milk in first grade. Result: stopped drinking school milk. I wouldn’t even call this food poisoning, it wasn’t contaminated just soured. Either way, I learned that lesson real quick.
  2. Entire family fell ill after dining in a Flint coney island. Result: thanked our lucky stars as being sick sent us home instead of to the movies, where a tornado struck that night. Also, didn’t go back to the restaurant for probably 10 years.
  3. Several family members got sick after eating in a Greektown restaurant in Detroit. Never went back (its since gone under).
  4. Failed to properly refrigerate dill dip from an East Lansing cafe. This was a bad experience but I correctly blamed myself for eating a dairy-based dip that had been left out on the counter. The restaurant (now gone) was hardly one to inspire confidence when you glimpsed the kitchen but in all the years we ate there, never once did I get sick from their food, directly.
  5. Ate corn on the cob that had been reheated in its original cooking water, not hot enough. Again, my fault and I paid dearly for this one.

I mention items 4 and 5 to prove a point. Most of the time, if you get food poisoning, its your own fault. Either you didn’t properly clean the cutting board when going from raw meat to fresh veggies or something wasn’t properly stored or reheated. Bet you wish you had the piece of paper promising you won’t get sick now, don’t ya?

My questions then are this:

  1. If Clinton Tarver and other street food vendors are already meeting the Health Department requirements, why do they need someone else looking over their shoulders?
  2. Am I and all the other lunchers in downtown too stupid to make up our own minds about what is safe to eat?
  3. Since when is it the city’s responsibility to take care of me? And if they really want to take care of me, how about doing it in a way that doesn’t punish small business owners but instead provides needed and wanted services to the community as a whole (i.e. shovel/plow the streets and sidewalks quickly in the winter).
  4. When did Americans become so willing to hand over their freedom of choice to the government? Do you not recognize that by asking the councils and boards and legislatures and congress and president to make laws to protect us, you are simply limiting your choice. How is that Councilperson Sandy Allen is more suited to deciding what is best for me, than me?

Unfortunately, I recently moved outside the city limits of Lansing so my powers of influence as taxpayer are reduced. Not completely gone since I still work in the city and in fact walk by Clinton’s Hot Dog cart on a regular basis. I would note that I didn’t choose Ms. Allen nor did I vote for her opposition, as I never lived in that ward even when I did reside in the city.

I, like Mr. Tarver, am no fool. This peddler’s license is not about protecting the people. Its about money, plain and simple. The city wants to get as much as it can, wherever it can. In the meantime, no one looks beyond today’s check for $90.

The price of food is going up, Clinton may have to raise his prices especially now that his taxes have gone up too (a permit fee is tax with a different name, you know it and I know it). That may put off one or two customers now but in another 3 months, he may lose 10% as less people eat downtown as budget constraints lead downtown businesses (and the government) to lay people off. Pretty soon the restaurants are down 30% and people have to start making decisions about whether or not to continue running their businesses. Next summer, Clinton realizes that after expenses for food and permits, he will not make enough to continue selling his dogs. One more small business owner out, one less person paying income taxes, one more home lost to foreclosure.

Is it going to happen this way? I don’t know. But I do know we are kidding ourselves if we think a permit will protect us from getting sick. And taxing everything to death serves no one.

One last item, the official description of the Public Safety Committee: Reviews service levels and issues related to public safety, including police, fire, ambulance, emergency services, traffic environment and the building inspection program.

Where does it say food police?!?!?

Burgers Gone Bad

This was initially reported in the press last week. On June 18, the Michigan Department of Community Health noted a sharp increase in E. coli cases for the month of June. Normally reports for this time of year average 10 per month.  By the time of the press release, there were 29 cases and many lab tests indicated a link.  Ground meat was the suspected source.

The following day, the Detroit Free Press reported a link between cases in Michigan and Ohio but no source had been identified.  Today, the Free Press is reporting that Health Departments in Michigan and Ohio have traced  some of the infections to contaminated ground beef sold in Kroger stores.

Accompanying most of these stories are warnings to thoroughly cook hamburgers.  Its summertime, lots of people are grilling. Foodborne illnesses go way up in the summer, on a local scale.  Going to a neighborhood block party, you’ll be exposed to pathogens from every person’s kitchen.  Presuming they keep a clean kitchen, you still have to worry about undercooked meat and mayo that’s been sitting out too long.

E. coli is not one bacterium, its actually a group of bugs that vary in intensity.  Most cases of food poisoning come from E. Coli O157:H7.  Symptoms vary from a little “stomach bug” or the “24 hour flu” to severe diarrhea, vomiting and a mid-grade fever.  For some, particularly children, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems, E. coli infection can progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).  This complication occurs in approximately 5-10% of those with E. coli infections.  Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems.

E. coli is spread in animal waste, including human waste!  Besides not licking a cow’s butt, you might want to think about washing your hands often when near animals or handling raw meat, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.  Consider also not drinking the water from the kid’s pool.

If you want to keep E. coli from your ground meat products- you might want to buy your own steaks and grind it yourself. Or buy from a market that does the on-site grinding fresh when you request it.  This does not eliminate the chance of taking home some “extras” in your burgers but it does help.  In large animal processing operations, a lot of mess is made when the cows come to slaughter.  Its not always easy to keep all the waste products from the carcass so even a gorgeous t-bone can be contaminated with the microscopic critters.

And seriously, if you don’t know the quality or source of that burger, you ought to be sure its cooked thoroughly.  Save the medium rare or grill-kissed for a steak.

Salmonella and E. coli are the two most common foodborne bacteria that may cause illness.  Norovirus and Hepatitis A are viral contaminants known to show up in food or in food-serving areas.

For more info on E. Coli please visit the CDC’s website, here.