The neck of a goose and other devices

There’s been a bit of a stooshie in some of the social media arenas into which I dip an occasional sceptical toe. The news item that has been stimulating debate is the report in the UK Daily Mail newspaper of a curry house manager who was prosecuted for food safety offences. But what caught the xenophobic imagination of the press was the implication from the prosecuting local authority that a bottle in the kitchen was contaminated with faecal matter because it was used to carry water to the toilet for personal cleansing after defecation. And this must surely mean that the chef in question actually prepared food after defecating and cleaning himself, which is the worst offence of all.

Once I did wipe me with a gentle-woman’s velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable. At another time with a lady’s neckerchief, and after that I wiped me with some ear-pieces of hers made of crimson satin, but there was such a number of golden spangles in them (turdy round things, a pox take them) that they fetched away all the skin of my tail with a vengeance.

Frankly, the response to this story is racist self-justification of the worst sort. I doesn’t matter that the chef in question was convicted of food safety offences. What mattered to the gutter press was that he was dark-skinned, of Indian heritage, had the name Chowdhury and was bad enough to clean himself after defecating.

There is no need of wiping one’s tail, said Gargantua, but when it is foul; foul it cannot be, unless one have been a-skiting; skite then we must before we wipe our tails.

Now, this sort of thing fills the British with horror. After all, poo is dirty, nasty stuff and you never want the merest trace on your lilywhite fingers and, after all, we’ve got toilet paper so we don’t have to make the choice of washing or leaving unwashed in the absence of wiping. Surely only the heathen races of darker hues would ever dream of actually washing their bottoms after having a Donald? Even the French managed to invent the bidet, although that is equally foreign and unsettling to the chauvinistic Anglais mind.

Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it I wiped my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they scratched and exulcerated all my perinee. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter, by wiping myself with my mother’s gloves, of a most excellent perfume and scent of the Arabian Benin.

The report from the court is clear. Mr Chowdhury did use the bottle found in the kitchen for personal cleansing and did perform his ablutions with his hands. Frankly, so what? The council raised reasonable concerns that the bottle was refilled at the kitchen sink, which obviously has the potential to contaminated food preparation areas with faecal bacteria, which is a genuine Bad Thing. Most premises where this practice is carried out keep a discreet bottle in the loo itself for filling from the washbasin in the compartment.
The defence to the accusation was that Mr Chowdhury was following his own cultural practice in washing his backside with water using his hand. And he was. But culture is derived from locality and environment, and not from skin colour, family name or religion. The rather nasty backlash that I’ve seen to this story is seeking to associate the practice with Islam and muslims in general, leading to the inference that “these people” are dirty, don’t or won’t understand food hygiene and can’t be trusted to prepare food for white people. Frankly, that’s all balls.

After that I wiped me with sage, with fennel, with anet, with marjoram, with roses, with gourd-leaves, with beets, with colewort, with leaves of the vine-tree, with mallows, wool-blade, which is a tail-scarlet, with lettuce, and with spinach leaves.

My father told me many years ago that bacteria could seep through eight layers of toilet paper. I don’t disbelieve him. I wash my backside with water using my hands myself – in the bath or in the shower; sometimes I’ve even taken a poo immediately before said bath or shower. Everyone who doesn’t exclusively use a flannel glove at all times in the bath or shower is in the same category. I don’t consider myself unsuitable to be a food handler as a consequence.

Then with mercury, with parsley, with nettles, with comfrey, but that gave me the bloody flux of Lombardy, which I healed by wiping me with my braguette.

The use of paper for wiping faeces from backsides is a modern, western invention and isn’t that great at actually doing the job. I’ve been assured in the past by non-westerners who use water that they consider the western practice to be dirty and foul, because faecal matter can be left behind.

Who his foul tail with paper wipes,
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.

Actually, the rise in the use of moist cleansing wipes suggests that we knew that all along, but were too priggish to admit it.

But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.

My personal favourite material for the task, in the absence of a goose’s feathered neck, is moss, which combines the scrubbing and cleansing in one simple, natural facility. But you don’t get a lot of moss in middle-eastern deserts or the hot dry topics.

Personally, I don’t care how people clean their backsides, what matters is that they have good personal hygiene and clean their hands both after using the toilet and upon their return to food preparation duties. I’m not convinced that all the social media warriors who condemn Mr Chowdhury could necessarily say the same for themselves.

Note: the quotations are taken from Gargantua by François Rabelais, translated by Thomas Urquhart and Peter Antony Motteux. The direct source is

Rare burger risk warnings ‘not enough to save you in court’

From the “Morning Advertiser”, Britain’s trade magazine for the licensed trade:

Warning pub customers about the potential dangers of ordering and eating high-risk foods – such as oysters and rare burgers – is unlikely to be enough of a defence to stave off prosecution in the event of legal action.

Source: Rare burger risk warnings ‘not enough to save you in court’

A damehood for Margaret Whitehead

Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead From

Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead

This is good news for the public health and environmental health communities. The Crewe Chronicle reported last month (I’ve only just spotted this) that Professor Margaret Whitehead was awarded a Damehood in the New Year’s Honours List. Professor Whitehead is head of the University of Liverpool’s department of public health and policy and was recognised for her outstanding contribution to society’s understanding of health inequalities, with a significant influence on public health internationally.

Students of environmental health will recognise the Dahlgren and Whitehead model of the determinants of health which suggests the relationships between the individual, their environment and health outcomes.

It’s always nice to put a face to a name.

And if you’re interested, the model is visually represented thus:

Social determinants of health - Dahlgren and Whitehead 1991

Rare burgers – fad or folly?


Following on from my previous post here about the UK’s-but-not-Scotland’s Food Standards Agency giving a qualified green light to the commercial preparation and sale of undercooked burgers, I’ve made a short video setting out my objections. Click here to go to the video on YouTube.

And for those who insist on reading my turgid prose instead of listening to my sparkling delivery, it’s below the fold. Continue reading

An amuse bouche of undercooked minced beef

This evening I’m giving a talk to a Google hangout of food safety professionals on the risks of eating undercooked beef burgers. And that’s on a day when we learn that Highland Game in Dundee have been implicated in an outbreak of E. coli O157 associated with venison products which may have been undercooked by consumers.

With good timing, Megan Rex, who blogs at, today posted a review of a burger she ate at Honest Burgers restaurant in Tooting, south London. As you can see from the photo on her blog, it was served rare.


I thought it would be interesting to get her views on eating raw minced beef and whether the restaurant provided any information to consumers on the risks, so I’ve left a comment on her post. She’s replied, just as I write this, and says:

Thanks for your comment Patrick. I actually did mention that I’d heard it wasn’t the best to eat burgers very rare but only briefly as I didn’t think it was the right kind of post for it. It’s an interesting point and I’ll look forward to reading your post on it. I think from my perspective as an average joe consumer, I’m prepared to take the risk as I like the flavour and texture. I’m probably an idiot for saying/thinking that, but you could ask the same of why people smoke or drink alcohol. I’m sure that Honest Burgers wouldn’t be putting people at risk as they’re a well established company so you would need to speak to them to get their take on it.

I had a wee look on Honest Burgers website, to see whether they provided any information about the risks of eating undercooked food along with their menu, and they don’t. However, their menu does include this statement:

honest_burgers_menu_statementThey also have a kids menu, but don’t say anything about whether children are served undercooked burgers or not. I’d be very worried if that was the case. I’ve emailed them to see what their views are as restaurateurs on the subject, so I’ll add anything I get from them.

Farmer says refrigerating raw milk as soon as it leaves the goat helps kill potentially harmful bacteria.

Er, no it doesn’t.

This news item comes from Alaska, home of such intellectual luminaries as Sarah Palin. Here, a couple of goat farmers have set up one of those infamous herd-share arrangements to supply raw milk to the small town of Petersburg. But why are people wanting to drink raw goats milk? According to the farmer, Tabitha Nelson, it’s because theirs is “quality milk that doesn’t have all that industrialized stuff in it”.

Tabitha Nelson, child and goats

Tabitha Nelson, child and goats

And people buy into this tosh. According to the same news report, Petersburg resident Gina Esposito owns a share of the milk and it’s worried about getting sick from processed milk. “The more you learn about where food comes from, the more paralyzed you feel about what you want to buy,” she said.

For those who haven’t heard of it before, herd-sharing is one of the ways some American states allow people to get around food safety laws prohibiting the sale of unpasteurised milk and milk products. All you have to do is buy a share in the herd and bingo! you’re no longer a customer but an owner and you’re merely sharing the products as a dividend of ownership.

I’ve written before about a cow-sharing scam in Tennessee:

The shocking story of an outbreak of E. coli O157 infection associated with the consumption of raw milk came to my attention as a result of a story on US Food Safety. Nine children became ill after drinking raw milk from a farm in Knox County, in a state where it is illegal to sell unpasteurised milk. Five of  those children require hospital treatment and three went on to develop the severe, and irreversible, consequences of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS). [read more here]

And in February this year I also wrote about the risks of drinking raw milk.

Later this evening I’ll be posting a link to a YouTube talk I’ve prepared on suchlike nonsense in the realms of rare beefburgers and the dangers of E. coli O157. Watch this space.

By the way, thank to Doug Powell and the excellent for the story. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

The Hajj disaster and why it’s not a stampede

google_snipThese disasters at the annual Hajj in Mecca occur with awful regularity. As the crowds have got bigger, the Saudi government have introduced more infrastructure for coping with large numbers of people, and larger numbers of people go to the Hajj because more can be accommodated. Attending the Hajj is a duty for observant muslims and there’s only one week a year in which you can make the pilgrimage. And with the increasing ease of air travel, the annual attendance goes up.

I’ve written before about crowd disasters which the media have labelled stampedes. On the 31st December 2012, a number of people were killed in a crush at a fireworks event in the Ivory Coast. In January 2014, 18 people were killed in a crush at the funeral of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin in India. In those posts I set out my objections to the use of the term stampede, which I’ll briefly repeat here:

  • The word stampede provokes in the mind images of people running mindlessly in free space; all crush events happen in highly-compressed crowds.
  • Stampede implies that people are trampled underfoot; again, people die standing up of compressive asphyxiation. The photos the media tend to show are of the bodies gathered away from the place they fell and separated from living victims. For instance, this still from a video of the Hajj 2015 disaster clearly shows how people have collapsed forward when no longer supported by the crowd – they’ve died on their feet.


  • Stampede is a term that is generally applied by the western media to crowd disasters that happen in darker-skinned parts of the world, or in situations such as the Thanksgiving Day, 2008 disaster at Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Island USA, where the poor and disadvantaged could be discounted and described as animals. Fundamentally, I consider the use of the word to be racist.
  • Stampede is a convenient description for the authorities, because it allows them to blame the victims rather than take responsibility for their own actions (Saudi Arabia, the world is looking at you).

Liz Borkowski at the excellent Pump Handle blog wrote on this disaster on the 28th September. Rather than repeat her whole article, I recommend you go over there and read it for yourself. I am going to borrow one quote from that piece, which is from John Seabrook In a 2011 New Yorker article on crowd disasters, which comments on the manner in which the media report such disasters:

In the literature on crowd disasters, there is a striking incongruity between the way these events are depicted in the press and how they actually occur. In popular accounts, they are almost invariably described as “panics.” The crowd is portrayed as a single, unified entity, which acts according to “mob psychology”—a set of primitive instincts (fear, followed by flight) that favor self-preservation over the welfare of others, and cause “stampedes” and “tramplings.” But most crowd disasters are caused by “crazes”—people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear, and, if you’re caught up in a crush, you’re just as likely to die on your feet as under the feet of others, squashed by the pressure of bodies smashing into you. (Investigators collecting evidence in the aftermath of crowd disasters have found steel guardrails capable of withstanding a thousand pounds of pressure bent by crowd force.) In disasters not involving fire, panic is rarely the cause of fatalities, and even when fire is involved, such as in the 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, in Southgate, Kentucky, research has shown that people continue to help one another, even at the cost of their own lives.

It is likely to take some time before a complete picture of what happened at Mecca emerges, but I can guarantee it will be a failure to control the foreseeable risk of crushing in very large crowds. The Saudi authorities must act to reduce the sheer numbers of people attending Hajj in the future, even if that means leaning on the religious authorities to update their doctrines about when the Hajj pilgrimage can be made. Because the religious authorities themselves have to take responsibility; it’s not good enough to say that people’s deaths are the willl of Allah. If they can (and because religion is a man-made thing, of course they can) declare that pilgrimages to Mecca can be made at any time of the year, then immediately the sheer numbers of people likely to be there at any one time are drastically reduced. If the Saudi authorities introduce absolute limits on the numbers of people attending on any one day and ticketing to ensure that the numbers entering any particular area are controlled by time slots, then the numbers of people in any particular area will be at much safer levels and dangerous crowd concentrations are unlikely to arise. There are other factors as well, such as ensuring that crowd flows don’t mix, but all of this is manageable.

Stick it in: No more pink in the middle for Worthy Burger after 7 sickened

This case, reported from the other side of the pond, shows just how dangerous it is to serve undercooked burgers. STECs are not trivial infections. As the report states, you can’t rely on colour to be sure cooking has killed all those nasty pathogenic E. coli bugs; only a thermometer will do.

Source: Stick it in: No more pink in the middle for Worthy Burger after 7 sickened

I’m citing Hugh Pennington against #RareBurgers – just to save lives, you understand

(This is a re-post of my Storify article, which follows on from this one)

Following the FSA’s decision to recommend potential controls for serving rare burgers to consenting adults, I’ve been getting a little cross about this. Here’s an update.

I was travelling back from France over Tuesday and Wednesday so hadn’t caught up with whether the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) had considered their public health position on the FSA proposals.

Just got back to UK; have @The_CIEH and @TIFSIP come up with a public health position on #RareBurgers since last week? Happy to provide one!

Just got back to UK; have @The_CIEH and @TIFSIP come up with a public health position on #RareBurgers since last week? Happy to provide one!

It turned out they had. … Comment on #RareBurgers from @The_CIEH recognising complexity of "controls". I'll still have mine well-done thanks. … Comment on #RareBurgers from @The_CIEH recognising complexity of “controls”. I’ll still have mine well-done thanks.

And in the online newsletter for the environmental health community, Professor Hugh Pennington was cited in support of the CIEH’s position: … Concern for public health brings @The_CIEH out against #RareBurgers and @EHN_Online cites Hugh Pennington in support. … Concern for public health brings @The_CIEH out against #RareBurgers and @EHN_Online cites Hugh Pennington in support.

EHN Online has written articles on the topic previously, and again Professor Pennington offers his unequivocal advice. And it’s not in support of the faddish and foolish:

"Professor Hugh Pennington told @EHN_Online in July that the risks could not be managed safely." Only thorough cooking will do #RareBurgers.

“Professor Hugh Pennington told @EHN_Online in July that the risks could not be managed safely.” Only thorough cooking will do #RareBurgers.

The only safe burger is thoroughly cooked or irradiated, Hugh Pennington tells @EHN_Online #RareBurgers @foodgov …

The only safe burger is thoroughly cooked or irradiated, Hugh Pennington tells @EHN_Online #RareBurgers @foodgov

Personally and professionally, it remains my opinion that for the FSA to even hint that it is possible for rare burgers to be safely prepared and sold to the public will only encourage the less capable and competent sectors of the catering industry to think that they’re safe to prepare and sell without bothering with all the rigmarole. After all, what can possibly go wrong?

Hugh Pennington: "maybe every thousandth meal will kill you, but that is too many."  #RareBurgers @EHN_Online @foodgov

Hugh Pennington: “maybe every thousandth meal will kill you, but that is too many.” #RareBurgers @EHN_Online @foodgov

The proposed controls suggested by the FSA read more like sophisticated theology than a simple set of rules to ensure the service of safe food. And that’s the clue folks! If it’s that bloody hard to do safely, it almost certainly can’t be done safely.

Pennington: just a matter of time before potentially fatal E.coli outbreak following trend in #RareBurgers  @foodgov

Pennington: just a matter of time before potentially fatal E.coli outbreak following trend in #RareBurgers @foodgov