Thursday, December 30, 2010


It has been a fairly quiet year for ground beef recalls. So I suppose it was time for one more before the end of 2010. The recalled product is "organic" ground beef - which we would like to think is a little better. This time it isn't.

The recalling firm is based in California. It has one of those quality-sounding names that are common in the food business - "First Class Foods, Inc." Unfortunately, first class or not, it is in trouble. Over the years several companies have folded because of E.coli 0157 in their ground meat. Recalls are very costly. And we may be in trouble too if we eat that meat undercooked. As we all know, ground meat is the most risky of all fresh meat products, because of the way it is made. E.coli 0147 can give you bloody diarrhea, and dehydration. In most severe cases, kidney failure can occur. No fun. Most likely to become seriously ill are young children, seniors and anyone with a weak immune system.

By the way, this is the fifth case in 2010 (12 mos.) of E.coli 0147 that testing has turned up in widely sold U.S. ground beef or raw beef products (such as raw patties, burgers). Plus two more in meat that would probably have been ground at the retailers, as it often is.

Here are the facts:

- Products were sent to retail establishments in Calif., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Wis., and Wash. State.

- The ones being recalled are:

---16-oz. packages of "NATURE'S HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK" sold singly with one of the following "USE or FREEZE by" dates: "12/30/10" or "01/08/11."
---16-oz. packages of "ORGANIC HARVEST ORGANIC GROUND BEEF BRICK" sold singly and in three-packs with one of the following "USE or FREEZE by" dates: "12/28/10" or "01/06/11."
---16-oz. packages of NATURE'S HARVEST GROUND PATTY" containing four (4) 4-oz. patties with the following "USE or FREEZE by" date: "12/30/10" or "01/08/11."
--- Each package label has the establishment number "EST. 18895"

If you have questions, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-MPHOTLINE) or Lucienne Adams -(310) 676-2500 at the recalling company. That is, if they are answering.

Remember, in many recalls, additional products and additional companies are added later, so you may want to be even more cautious. That is, if you don't want a bad start to 2011.

Cook those burgers well!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I have just done a food recall roundup for the last 6 mos. of 2010, using official FDA and USDA data. Alright, I should have done it for the year, but this analysis is taking ages to do, because the goverment sites are not well organized. I also did not want to get into counting those hundreds of shell egg and HPV-related recalls that occurred earlier this year (see previous blog).

The below information represents one way of looking at the facts. Remember - I do not cover allergens, mislabelling, or foreign material such as bits of plastic, metal, pins, nails, whatever that is frequently found in all kinds of food. Nor do I include any "maybe" cases of contamination - just proven ones. The statistics could also be analyzed differently (e.g. by number of products recalled, number of illnesses and so on). I would guess that accuracy is about 90%. I should really check this twice more, as I usually do with any data, but don't have the time. Maybe later.

OK so here is a preliminary overview of hazards in the US food supply, as indicated by food recalls:

Most common cause of recalls: Salmonella bacteria (see earlier blog again). But remember, this is NOT counting those huge Salmonella-caused recalls earlier in the year. That would make it even worse. Salmonella caused some 30 recalls in the past 6 mos. Foods contaminated ranged from produce and meat to unexpected ones such as black pepper, sesame seeds, chocolate, nuts, cereal and soup bases. Well, just about anything and everything you could put in your mouth.

Most commonly contaminated type of food: Ready-to-eat foods, such as washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, deli salads, meats and other deli products and so on. The most common contaminant of these was Listeria monocytogenes bacteria (so dangerous for pregnant women because of harm to the fetus).

The single most often recalled food: cheese. Yes, this has been a bad year for cheese, especially cheese made from raw milk, which is always the most dangerous (see earlier blog). It has been the vehicle for E.coli, Staphyloccus, Enteroccus, Listeria and Salmonella bacteria. And yes, cheese has outpaced ground meat this year(which is usually contaminated with E.coli 0147).

Most unexpected contaminants: But note that I have covered these in the Safe Food Handbook (why? because I believe they are much more important than we believe). These are high levels of aflatoxin (a possibly carcinogenic fungal toxin) in white corn flour; high levels of lead in pommegranate juice concentrate.

Emerging contaminant nomination: Goes to E.coli 0145 (see earlier blog)in romaine lettuce. It was caught by the New York State Public Health Laboratory (I think I will send them a fan letter) when testing a bag of shredded lettuce that was shipped to a school district in New York. But it turned up in other states as well. I bet this very dangerous E.coli is around much more than we know - except food testing in most laboratories has only been done for E.coli 0147. My guess is that we will see much more of it in 2011.

How's that for a roundup?



I am doing some end-of-year thinking today. Among other things, I took a look at what the Food and Drug Administration considers to be "Major Public Health Threats" in our food. There are five food product recalls that the FDA presently classifies under this heading, taking place over the past two years (actually, less, since it is not up-to-date). The number of products recalled represents the latest information made available by the FDA (and also, may not be quite up-to-date, but it gives you the general picture).

Here they are:
Shell Egg Recalls (94 egg product recalled)
Hydrolized Vegetable Protein (HPV - a flavor enhancer) Containing Product Recalls (177 products recalled)
Pistachio Product Recalls - (664 products recalled)
Peanut Product Recalls (3918 products recalled)
Milk Cooperative Ingredient Recall (286 products recalled)

All except the first (shell eggs) were associated with ingredients used in processed foods (except for a few repackaged nuts). This kind of recall almost always tends to be more widespread.

And note - every one of these "major public health threats" was caused by one of the Salmonella bacteria. Of course, there were many other additional instances of Salmonella contamination of our food as well during this period (produce, ready-to-eat foods, spices, chocolate, pastries and more).

As I have said before - Salmonella is a major survivor, and it is everywhere in our food.

So I am giving Salmonella the "Worst Food Threat" award of the year.


Monday, December 27, 2010


The new US food safety legislation, finally passed by the Senate a few days ago(see earlier blog), is supposed to strengthens the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most importantly, it is supposed to make sure that the FDA focuses on preventing food borne illness, not just managing outbreaks once they occur. Of course, in theory that is what the FDA is supposed to have been doing all along. It just hasn't had the resources to do the job properly.

That prevention should include better public information - issued promptly if contaminated food does reach our markets, groceries and homes.

Unfortunately, the word "quickly" doesn't seem to exist in the FDA's prevention vocabulary. The FDA has to learn that each day counts. In fact, each hour counts. It doesn't take long for us to reach for that bad food and to eat it. But the FDA seems to think it just needs to protect the public 9-5 Monday to Friday, with holidays off. Unfortunately, food contaminants don't respect holidays. In fact, I almost get the feeling that they like to ensure at least one nasty seasonal outbreak just to yank our chain - contaminated Valentine's Day chocolates, contaminated turkey at Thanksgiving, nutmeg and gingerbread contamination just before Christmas day. You get the picture.

But over the Christmas holidays, the public was left exposed to food risk, with the FDA on vacation. Food alerts have been reaching me sooner through CNN (courtesy of news forwarded by my son, who is in the fashion business - nothing to do with food). The official FDA alert system, to which I belong, has notified me much later. That was the case with the recent outbreak in dog food, the one in nuts, and also, most recently, the one in baked goods.

Let me illustrate with one of the most recent food recalls. The very dangerous Staphylococcus aureus bacteria was discovered in Rolf's Pastry goods. The company is based in Chicago, but products are sold both on line and by major retailers, nationwide. One of the several contaminated pastry products found to be contaminated was Rolf's gingerbread houses, sold by Whole Foods in 23 states, decorated and packaged in clear plastic wrap, either under the Rolf's Patisserie label or Whole Foods' Market scale label. Naturally, they are often eaten by children, who are more vulnerable.

The FDA relayed the Whole Foods gingerbread and other Rolf's pastry recall information only today - Dec.27. Whole Foods had issued the recall on Dec. 24, which is when CNN reported it. That is, it was three days late. During those three days many children (whose parents and doctors did not catch the CNN alert) were more likely to become ill from eating gingerbread and pastries, and less likely to be correctly diagnosed and treated. That is not prevention. That is irresponsible!

I think I will give CNN the safe food award for 2010 - not the FDA.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


2010 has not been the best year for Whole Foods Market. True, the stock price has done very well - up by roughly 66% in 12 months. Now I wish I had bought shares last January after all, and held onto them. So maybe my singling it out is a bit of "sour grapes." But I do want to make a point: even the best and most popular higher-end food retailers, including those which specialize in organic and healthy-lifestyle foods, can be caught out selling dangerous, contaminated food.

In fact, it has been a pretty dangerous year for those who shop at Whole Foods - like dodging a bacterial bullet every time you buy food. In January, Whole Foods had to recall a number of Listeria bacteria-contaminated ready -to-eat products (along with some other large retailers such as Target, Shop-Rite, Wal-Mart) such spreads, cheeses. This bacterium is particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause stillbirths and health-problems in the newborn. In early April of this year, it has to recall frozen yellowfin tuna steaks, because they were found to have elevated levels of histamine - a natural fish toxin which in high levels can cause scromboid poisoning. The fish was sold in its stores in 29 states.

Then in early Sepember, Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic Region had to do a recall of Morningland Dairy and Ozark Farm's Raw Goat Milk Mild Cheddar Cheese - which carried not one, but two kinds of bad bacteria (Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus) . In November, Whole Foods was again found to be selling about 7 kinds of contaminated Cheddar cheeses in five states, manufactured by Bravo Farms. This time it was the more common Listeria bacteria again. Then, later in November, it found it was selling recalled Dagoba Organic chocolate made by Artesan Confections with a touch of Salmonella. In late November, it had to recall nutmeg sourced from a New Jersey supplier, again because of contamination with Salmonella. Later in December, it had to recall a number of cheeses manufactured by another of its suppliers - Sally Jackson - with yes - that awful E.coli 0157 bacteria this time. Then, just in time for little kids eating them, right on Christmas Eve, Whole Foods had to recall Gingerbread houses produced by Rolf's Bakery from its stores in 23 states.

I am getting rather tired of listing the recalls, so this is not a comprehensive list. But before I sign off - three things. One, Whole Foods Market sold many of these products (such as cheeses, nutmeg and others) under its house label. Secondly, I have noticed that several of these Whole Foods suppliers have sent it contaminated food before - that is, this wasn't the first time. Thirdly, I have noticed that the supplier involved announced its recall several days earlier, before Whole Foods got around to notifying its customers. Delays are dangerous. Maybe "healthy' Whole Foods needs to start being a bit more health conscious in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


This has been a very bad year for cheese. We used to think of it as a safe food. But not after the last few months! And it is no longer just those Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes bacteria that are cropping up in cheese. It is E.coli 0157:H7 as well and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (which can also be deadly, particularly if antibiotic resistant). Recently there has been "an outbreak of outbreaks" linked to our cheeses.

Almost all the contaminations have been in raw soft or semi-soft cheeses, many of them produced by higher end artisanal cheese makers, sold in the more expensive stores and served in upper end restaurants. In the United States, raw milk cheeses are only supposed to be sold if they have been aged for 60 days (which is expected to allow most bacteria to die). Well, after this year, the government certainly has some ammunition for extending that time period, or, prohibiting raw cheese sales altogether.

Let's take a look at a six month period, July through December, 2010. In July, there was a recall of - yes, aged - raw milk cheddar cheese made by Milky Way Farm in Pennsylvania. Staphylococcus aureus and enterotoxin bacteria were found in samples of the cheese. Also in July, Azteca Linda Corp. of New York, had to recall a number of fresh cheeses and string cheeses because of Listeria monocytogenes contamination.About 5 weeks afterwards, they had to do another recall for the same reason. Then in August Queseria Chiplo of New Jersey had to recall a huge variety of their fresh and string cheeses again because of Listeria. This was followed in early September with a cheese recall issued by Morningland Dairy of Missouri, which had a double contamination of its cheeses - Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus, distributed under both its own name brand and that of Ozark Hills Cheese. The "healthy" Whole Foods Market admitted that it had sold the recalled Morningland Dairy Cheese and the Ozark Hills Cheese, and conducted its owns recall.

Also in early September, Estrella Family Creamery of Monstesano, Wash. was found to be selling Listeria contaminated cheeses, but resisted recalling them (this is an interesting side issue for a future blog). Things were quiet for a month or so, but then in early November we got a new cheese contaminant - E.coli 0157:H7. And guess what - Costco found it was selling Gorganzola Cheese distributed by DPI Specialty Company which carried that deadly contaminant. Even worse, it had offered the cheese in store tastings. This was followed by a cheese recall by Del Bueno which included a range of cheese types (fresh, Ricotta cheese, dry cheese and more) again because of Listeria. In mid December, Sally Jackson Cheese was forced to recall all its soft cheeses made from raw cow, goat and sheep milk. To complicate matters, these cheeses apparently did not carry codes. Whole Foods was caught out again. It had repackaged the cheeses when cut up and placed its own store label on them.

If I have counted correctly - and haven't missed any - that makes some ten incidents associated with cheese in the last six months of this year. Well - not quite six months yet. A few days to go. Will there be more?


Saturday, December 18, 2010


Well, finally, the FDA is flexing some muscle. And in a good cause. That cause is rats in food warehouses. Apart from those nasty rats eating things, they also spread disease.

Unfortunately, rats are everywhere, together with their less unpleasant cousins, mice(See my previous rat post). My son, who just arrived home for the holidays, was entertaining me today by saying that he has accepted mice as a kind of permanent Tuesday through Thursday guests in his New York apartment (apparently the apartment is too clean the other days for them to feel interested. I hate to think what happens in between).

The FDA has also put down its bureaucratic foot on another rat-contaminated food wareheouse this time in New Mexico, owned by Duran and Sons LLC in Derry. Reportedly U.S. Marshals, acting under a court order sought by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, today seized chili pods, ground chili, crushed chili, and other chili products from the premises and made off with them so they couldn't be sold.

Quoting from the FDA notice: " FDA investigators found rodent nesting material and dropping on and around food, several rodent gnawed containers of food, and stains indicative of rodent urine. In addition, they saw a live cat, live birds, apparent bird nesting, bird droppings, feces and urine from other animals, live and dead insects, and insect larvae throughout the entire product warehouse."

It sounds like a veritable zoo. I assume the cat was after the rats, and the birds were just seeking housing. As for the rats...eating chili? Those poor rats must be really hard up.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


Well, it did and it didn't. What I mean is that, yes, the Senate did pass the Food Safety Modernization Act (S510) by a sizeable majority a few days ago, but no, it didn't really pass it. Bottom line - it has to go for another vote because of (politely called) "a technicality." A less polite description(as my husband would say) is "a screwup."

Here's the American Public Health Association summary of what happened (I can't improve on it):

"After Senate passage of the bill, House lawmakers from the Ways and Means Committee discovered revenue raising provisions that would raise fees for various enforcement measures were included in the Senate bill. The constitution requires that all revenue raising measures originate in the House of Representatives. House leaders are working to try to identify options to move the bill forward including potentially attaching it to a House bill and sending it back to the Senate for a final vote. However a potential road block awaits as all 42 Senate Republicans recently sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowing to block any future legislation until all of the expiring Bush tax cuts are renewed and all FY 2011 appropriations bills have been passed by the Senate."

Frankly, I find it very hard to understand how they missed such an obvious issue - unintentionally, that is. And I don't like the blackmail either. Our politicians are playing with the American public's health and lives. The current basic food safety legislation dates back over 80 years. Our food supply has changed, hazards in our food have changed - and other countries, such as Canada and the EU nations have updated their key laws ages ago.

No, this is not Big Brother telling us what we can and cannot eat. Such regulations exist in all modern countries, and much of what this law is proposing is actually already taking place, except that our government agencies have very little clout and money to enforce food safety standards.

Let's move it!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Well, I am glad I highlighted the risks of Salmonella bacteria in spices in The Safe Food Handbook. It has cropped up again. This time it is in ground nutmeg - including the Whole Foods non-organic one and the Frontier Brand ground nutmeg.

Yes, they came from the same source, and my guess is that this is not the end: other brands of nutmeg will also be found to be contaminated soon too. The recalled nutmeg was distributed by Frontier Natural Products Co-op, which got it from Mincing Overseas Spice Company of Dayton, New Jersey, which imported it from Indonesia, and supposedly sterilized it (sterilization is not always 100% successful, but some of us prefer it to fumigation, which is more commonly used).

You may want to go easy on using this very seasonal spice unless you cook it thoroughly (which will kill the bacteria). But, as one of my friends said, "We don't use much nutmeg, so is it enough to make us sick?" Yes, bacteria are tiny, and if it is contaminated badly enough, 100 or more Salmonella can be sitting on that one small pinch.

By the way - this same importer was involved in a recall of Salmonella-contaminated black pepper in March, 2010. Why does Whole Foods keep selling their products?



The description of Dogoba chocolate reads like poetry. Just take a look at their website ( Besides, it is organic, Fair Trade Certified, Kosher, and at least some of the cocoa ingredients are purchased from eco-friendly farmers in places such as the Dominican Republic. You would be tempted to buy it even if you didn't love chocolate, which I certainly do. A chocolate and coffee first thing in the morning, to get me moving.

But Artisan Confections, the U.S. makers of Dogoba chocolate, is currently recalling one of its products - Dagoba Organic Chocolate new moon organic Rich Dark Chocolate -74% cacao. The reason - yes, again - is that Salmonella bacteria have been found. This chocolate is sold at specialty stores and health and organic food retailers such as Whole Foods Market, and has been distributed throughout the U.S. So far only one lot is being recalled, but don't bet that this is the end.

Nor is this the first time that Dogoba chocolate has been involved in a recall. It was Salmonella problems again, back in March, 2006, resulting in the recall of a large number of Dogoba chocolate products. Then there was that lead contamination in May/June of 2006. The company upset a lot of people - especially Dogoba-Chocolate consuming pregnant women - by not being more forthcoming with information and coverage of testing. What is causing these problems at Artisan Confections? Is it contaminated imported ingredients (maybe the nutmeg used in some - see next blog), poorly cleaned equipment at the plant, ill workers, contaminated packaging? Whatever it is, Artisan Confections needs to take action to quickly identify and solve the problem or it will lose its healthy image -and its loyal customers. I think Whole Foods Market should be reconsidering selling their products.