Food Bloggers – a duty to Follow Through
“Yes, it tasted as fabulous as it looked.” “Cute, quirky cakes and a hot Barista” “The evening promised a celebration of life.” Great descriptive writing, however, food blog reporting should not end there.
Food bloggers are a wonderful tribe, championing quality and innovation among small food businesses throughout the land. They thrive on sharing pleasure and exude the spirit of hospitality. They encourage, they praise, they support and they report. Few of them have a malicious typing finger on their hands and they are generally a happy bunch. Aren’t you?
(That paragraph is more than a caveat to ensure Crackling’s acceptance the upcoming Eat Drink Blog conference in Perth).
Food bloggers also eat out a lot which ups their odds of contracting a food borne illness.
(There aren’t many nice pictures to go with this post – Food Bloggers, if you would like to supply some of your favourites Crackling would be very grateful and give you credit in big letters)
So what happens when you have finished uploading to Instagram, wiped the Boudin Blanc from your cheek and pressed publish in WordPress (other blogging platforms are available) and suddenly you get a rumble? Not yet seismic, no cloth has been touched but it’s not nice. What if it develops in to any of these symptoms?
You retire to bed, betting you feel better in the morning, but instead of keeping that brunch date in the new Ecuadorean Ceviche Bar in the Laneway you have become what the Environmental Health Officers, your new best friends, call an Ill Case.
Foodie bloggers, you need to report it. You may feel like you’re dobbing not blogging, that you are being untrue to your mandate to report pleasure to your readers and that this report will be less than exquisite. You are a vital stakeholder in the quality of food in this country and reports like this count. Those of us who peep outside the rim of the plate have learned that not every link in the Food Chain is Pretty.
Miss Froo-Froo’s Maccaron Bordello, where you dined last, will not necessarily be wrapped in yellow and black incident tape nor will Miss Froo Froo be hauled off to culinary lock-up hanging her head in shame. On the contrary, investigations of food borne illness outbreaks by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) can be an opportunity to improve hygiene standards and best practises and maximise profit and positive reputation. Honest.
So once you can raise your head from the toilet bowl what steps should you take to fulfill your responsibility to the Community and the Food Service Industry? Come with me to the world of Food CSI and bring a faecal sample with you.
Pick up the phone. Call your Local Government Health Department, or if you are in Australia call OzFoodNet– “a health network to enhance the surveillance of food borne diseases”. You are now a different kind of food reporter and now your personal information gets really important. You will be asked for your contact details and:
- Your age – EHOs need to find out if you fall in to the vulnerable category of the very young and the very old as your immune system may be compromised.
- What your symptoms are and when they began – this data helps the EHO to rule out certain types of pathogens and the types of food that harbour them e.g. Listeria monocytogenes can take weeks to manifest while Bacillus cereus can have you projectile vomiting in an hour.
- If you suspect a single meal or food business caused your symptoms – EHOs are canny enough to separate the drunks who got short changed at the takeaway on the way home and want to get even from the genuine. Vindictive reports of food borne illness are very frequent.
- If anyone else you know got sick? The EHO needs to know if you are a single case or an outbreak – that is more than one person from different households with the same symptoms. EHOs have to piece together clues and they will ask their contacts if any similar ill cases were reported at the same time.
Can you provide any evidence?
Before Miss Froo-Froo gets a visit, the EHO would love to identify what pathogen caused your illness. There are two ways and the first, while not pleasant, is the most effective:
- Do you have a faecal sample? Whilst gathering this kind of evidence in to a screw top jar may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it is a gift to the EHO and, the ultimate follow-through of your blogging mandate. Laboratory analysis can identify the pathogen if present and streamline the investigation.
- Do you have any of the suspect food left? Did you take a doggy bag? The trail of the pathogen or the toxins it produced can begin with the type of food you ate.
- As a food blogger, you know your stuff so you will be asked if you noticed any unusual food service practices? You may have to admit it was a pop up naked-slider bar under the railway bridge although you termed it differently in your last post – this is now an investigation of a Food Borne Illness and a Public Health Concern.
The Investigation begins.
Between you and the EHO you reckon the headache, fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea you experienced after eating a Pomegranate Maccaron and Geranium Foam Tower has given you and 12 other diners Salmonella. The EHO pays a visit to Miss Froo Froo, with velvet gloves and a gentle manner and begins to observe and investigate. The EHO is also an Auditor. No longer an inspector, the EHO will ask questions and listen to the answers about how the Geranium Foam, so full of unpasteurised free range eggs and triple cream was prepared, stored and handled.
- What recipe was used?
- What quantity was made at one go?
- How is the dish made up and what happens to the foam base between use?
- Is the dish made to order or displayed before service and if so what kind of temperature and time controls are applied?
The EHO (response in brackets) discovers that Miss Froo-Froo is
- Using eggs from her granny’s farm and that granny with her failing eyesight is not rejecting the feathery and faecal flecked specimens. (Oh Dear)
- The eggs are displayed in a delightful wicker basket in the dining room all day. (Sharp intake of breath)
- 4 litres of foam base are made up at a time, and stored in the fridge at 5 degrees C. (enthusiastic nodding, the EHO wants to hear good things like this as well)
- One litre is put in to a saucing bottle and kept on the pastry chefs’ bench throughout service (Barely perceptible frown)
- While the dish is usually made to order, the night you dined was packed and the chef made 12 portions in advance. (Very hard try not to roll eyes)
- The super keen but new waitress displayed them on the front counter, next to the eggs from which they were created, at the beginning of service. She rearranged the egg display first. (Suppressed tutting)
- There is some foam base left from the night you dined and the lab report shows Salmonella was detected in a 25g sample. This is Potentially Hazardous according to the Guideline levels for determining the microbiological quality of ready-to-eat foods published by the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Food (1986). (Holds out hand to receive winnings of bet with EHO colleague)
So what happens to Miss Froo-Froo?
Does she throw you the side-eye for busting her and fill your comments boxes with obscene spam for evermore? Can you ever show your face in her Maccaron Bordello again? Well, no and yes. This was a Point-Source outbreak, traceable to one source and the poor practices which allowed the Salmonella from Granny’s eggs to thrive. This can be easily rectified. Miss F-F’s has no historical cases of food borne illness and her kitchen is spotless. Naturally, she is mortified and keen to comply with the EHO’s recommendations that from now on she:
- Uses eggs from a reputable supplier who has quality controls in place.
- Stores eggs in the refrigerator.
- Stores all unpasteurised egg preparations in the refrigerator between use, every single time.
- Makes all dishes using them to order.
- Disposes of anything older than 24 hours.
- Ensures wait staff are regularly trained in food safety and hygiene best practices.
And there you have it. Your insides are back to normal, Miss FF has benefited from the EHO advice, your reputation as a hearty Bourdain-Style mystery-meat eating blogger of exquisite taste and fabulous prose is still pristine and most importantly you have provided a public service.
This website from the NSW Food Authority is an excellent guide to types of food borne pathogens and their symptoms and likely causes. Bookmark it.
Food Bloggers, I salute you. (please don’t turn on me at the conference).