Friday, July 29, 2011


I am constantly irritated by a standard phrase in food recall notices "no illnesses have been reported to date," or, words to that effect.

It sounds so comforting, doesn't it? The reader of the recall is likely to think it just a false alarm. Or, assume that the pathogenic E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria or other bacteria (or, other kind of contaminant) are harmless in this case.

But these words are often misleading. They ignore the time delay for symptoms to occur and the fact that reports take a long time to reach and work their way through the government bureaucracy (not just the U.S. but every country: Remember the recent E.coli 0104 outbreak in Germany?). Yes, a piece of sharp metal or certain toxins in your lunch or dinner can affect you almost right away. But not so with most bacteria and other microbes.

Let's take an extreme case - the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which has turned up in a whole range of ready-to-eat food items in the U.S. during the past ten days. In fact, it was a recent expansion of one of the recalls (the second expansion of three) which got me going on this topic. The products were made by Flying Food Group of Georgia for Starbucks, Core-mark and Race Trac, for distribution in Alabama, Georgia, Florida. This latest expansion now lists 40 ready-to-eat items such as sandwiches, parfaits, wraps, plates, and salads. The recall notice repeats twice - yes, twice, not just once - that no illnesses have been reported as yet.

Yes, the incubation period for Listeriosis (the disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes) can be as short as a few hours - in very rare instances. But usually it is around 12 days for any signs of illness to occur. And, it could take as long as 70 or even 90 days. Bureaucratic processing of illness reports (once recalls are out and doctors know what questions to ask the patient) and laboratory confirmation, often takes weeks. In fact, most instances of food poisoning are never linked up to a specific culprit food at all - ever. So, of course, there are no reports of illness as yet.

In other words, this is basically a meaningless statement unless the foods were eaten at least three months ago.

To your good health,

Thursday, July 28, 2011


On July 19th, Flying Food Group of Georgia, recalled two kinds of ready-to-eat (RTE) products it had made for sale in Starbucks restaurants in Georgia and Alabama in the U.S. Testing had found Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

On July 26th, the recall was expanded to include more Starbucks items as well as foods sold to Race Trac and Core Marc, Atlanta. Today, July 28, the recall was expanded again, to now include 40 RTE foods, 21 of them made for Starbucks (see also posts of July 25 and July 19). As the last "enjoy by" date is July 26, most likely the majority of these items have been eaten.

But those who ate them may just be starting to become ill. The symptoms of Listeriosis can reportedly take up to as long as 90 days to develop, but usually it's around 12. Therefore, if you ate at a Starbucks in Georgia or Alabama, and especially if you are pregnant of have a weakened immune system, you may want to try to recall what you ate, and call your doctor if you are worried. But remember - just because they are being recalled, does not mean that all were contaminated with Listeria.

Here's the latest Starbucks list.

6.6 ounce packages of “Egg Salad Sandwich” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.9 ounce package of “Chicken Chipotle” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 7.5 ounce package of “Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.0 ounce package of “Roma Tomato & Mozzarella” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 6.4 ounce package of “Turkey and Swiss Sandwich” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.5 ounce package of “Ham and Swiss” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 8.1 ounce package of “Strawberry and Blueberry Yogurt Parfait” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/16-7/27
• 8.1 ounce package of “Dark Cherry Yogurt Parfait” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/16-7/27
• 6.1 ounce package of “Greek Yogurt & Honey Parfait” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/16-7/27
• 8.3 ounce package of “Sesame Noodles Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15 – 7/26
• 5.3 ounce package of “Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 6.8 ounce package of “Protein Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.9 ounce package of “Tuna Salad Plate Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.1 ounce package of “Hot Panini Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 6.1 ounce package of “Hot Panini Roasted Vegetable” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 6.1 ounce package of “Hot Panini Chicken Santa Fe” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26
• 5.2 ounce package of “Hot Panini Ham & Swiss” that have “Enjoy By’ dates of 7/15-7/26
• 8.4 ounce package of “Chipotle Chicken Wraps Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/16-7/26*
• 6.3 ounce package of “Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/16-7/26*
• 4.6 ounce package of “Salumi & Cheese Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26*
• 7.3 ounce package of “Chicken Lettuce Wraps Bistro Box” that have “Enjoy By” dates of 7/15-7/26*

To your good health,


The Safe Food Handbook (the book, that is, not this blog) makes what may seem like an odd statement when discussing parasites in meat: "Nowadays parasites in North American beef and poultry are much lower risk than they used to be, thanks to safety measures being taken by the industry. In fact, we may be as much at risk from getting a dose of an anti-parasitic drug from our steak as we are for catching a tapeworm." Recent events seem to agree.

Northwestern Meat, Inc., a Miami, Fla. firm, has announced a recall of some 6,240 pounds of frozen boneless beef products because the animal drug Ivermectin was found in a sample of it. This drug is a strong de-wormer, used in animals and poultry. Alright, it is also used for humans, but it can be dangerous for children under 5 years of age, and for those who react to it. In other words, it should be used in a selective and controlled way, under a doctor's supervision. We shouldn't be essentially dosing ourselves from our dinner. Particularly if we don't have parasites.

Nor is this the first time that Ivermectin has turned up in our meat. For instance, in 2010, Sampco, Inc., Chicago, recalled over 25 tons of cooked canned and frozen beef products (mainly corned beef) because this drug was found. There have been other instances as well. And you had better believe that many cases are not caught by inspectors - probably most.

The beef in this week's recall was imported from Honduras. The beef in the 2010 recall, came from Brazil. Is this telling us something? Yes, parasites tend to be more common in warm and moist climates such as these, and controls are weaker. This results is more parasitic infections in animals, which in turn leads to heavier use of anti-parasitic drugs such as Ivermectin since animals don't grow and fatten well if they are infected with parasites, which would undermine profits.

In the end, it's all about money. Our health may be a casualty along the way.

To your good health,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seems to be having a busy month. Two more meat recalls today. That makes fourteen recalls in July. This time, it is not ready-to-eat products (see my earlier posts of today and of July 19 and 20). Just beef. One of the recalls is because of a finding of that very nasty E.coli 0157 bacteria. The other is due to a finding of dangerous drug residues (the drug is Ivermectin - see next post).

Tri State Beef, a Cincinnati, Ohio, is having to recall some 228,596 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. But this E.coli contamination may not be as bad as it sounds since it was sold to other companies in Chicago, Ill., Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Iowa and Virginia for further processing and distribution.

Reportedly, it was not sold directly to consumers. The meat will undergo cooking before it ever reaches the consumer. Hopefully, such cooking will be done properly so that it will inactivate any bacteria in the meat. Since the facilities are federally inspected, such inspection should make sure that this was the case. Let's hope those inspectors are doing their job!

In sum, this is not expected to be a recall that the consumer has to worry about.

To your good health,


At least in the U.S., and no doubt elsewhere as well, there are regular recalls for ready-to-eat, or "convenience" food products. The reason is usually that testing has turned up dangerous bacteria in the food. Since they are "ready" for eating, and are therefore rarely cooked, such bacteria are also more likely to cause illnesses.

For instance, between July 5 and July 26 - a period of just three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued 11 recalls for meat-containing ready-to-eat foods. Two of the product recalls were simply for mislabeling or undeclared allergens (which I do not blog) However, nine recalls are taking place because testing by USDA turned up pathogenic bacteria in the food. Of these, 7 (counting two expanded recalls) were due to Listeria monocytogenes bacteria being found . The other two were for Salmonella bacteria.

You can see why I keep saying that pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should go easy on eating ready-to-eat foods.

To your good health,


If you follow food recalls, you will realize that they often start small and get bigger. What I mean is that originally we are told that a few specific products and lots of a food item may be contaminated. Then, some days or even weeks later, we are told that there are actually a few more, and then even more. It happens over and over again.

And it happened this past week. The recalls involved ready-to-eat meat products that were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. One recalling food producer was Flying Food Group, of Georgia, which produced these products for Starbucks and the other was the well-known Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation of Texas. Both had to expand their recalls six days after they were initially made, to include additional items produced at the same plant, which had not been named in the original recall.

What happens if bacteria are found, is that other foods produced at the same plant or using the same suspect ingredients, or, the same equipment, are tested as well. And that is when additional contaminated products often start turning up and more have to be recalled.

So what does this have to do with the health-conscious consumer? Actually, quite a lot. Say, for instance, that you are a pregnant woman who needs to involve being exposed to Listeria bacteria at any cost. In that case, as soon as a recall is announced for one of a company's products, avoid any similar ones for at least a week or two, in case they turn out to be risky as well - just in case. If you read my alerts, you'll see that I often advise this. Such precautions may sound a bit extreme. But they really aren't. Not if the life of your unborn child could be involved.

To your good health,

UPDATE: Flying Foods Group issued a third expansion of th recall on July 28. Here's a summary of how it has gone so far: July 19th - 2 RTE foods recalled (made for Starbucks only). July 26 - recall expanded to cover 10 items. July 28 - recall expanded to cover 40 items (with now 3 distributors). Ugh!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


A change of topic: this is an update on the blog itself. For those who don't know - the blog carries the name of my book on food safety, published in January 2010: The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food. The book is being sold in bookstores in the U.S. and Canada and on the internet, and is now also available in the e-book version.

This blog now has 204 posts on food safety, of which 161 have been written this year (phew..I've been busy - less than 7 months). It is being read by tens of thousands of people all over the world. Whereas the initial focus was food safety issues in North America, I realized that the audience was increasingly global and so are many of the issues that affect our food.

The blog does not repeat or extract from the published book, although several general topics or themes are also in the book where they are dealt with in more depth. Many posts focus on current issues.

The most popular post of all time has been: "Foods Pregnant Women Should not Eat." Next in popularity have been several posts on the super-toxic E.coli bacteria outbreak in Europe (originating in Germany, and eventually traced to sprouts) and those on radiation in food (and water) in Japan (following the March 11 disastrous earthquake, tsunami and problems at the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant).

My audience statistics show that the blog's main readership is in the U.S., followed (in this order) by UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia, India, Netherlands, France, Malaysia. I have also noticed good audience numbers on and off in such countries as Russia, China, Philippines, Jamaica, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -(not a complete list).

And finally - for those of you who want to know what "TSF" stands for, here goes:

To your good health,

The Safe Foodie (TSF)

Thursday, July 21, 2011


As I expected (see previous posts on this issue), more cattle in Japan have been found to have very high levels of radiation. This is bad news, but let me say right away for those readers from Japan: a few meals of this radiation-contaminated beef are unlikely to seriously affect your health. You would have to eat it regularly for a longer time.

The total number of cattle shipped now appears to be 648 from Fukushima Prefecture, plus about another 24 from Niigata Prefecture (this total is bound to increase further). At least 8 farms are involved. All are reported to have fed radiation-contaminated straw to the cattle. This straw was collected near the crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant after the recent nuclear catastrophe. That is, it was exposed to radiation from the atmosphere. Some of it has been found to have extremely high levels of the radioactive isotope caesium.

So where did the contaminated beef end up? Basically, it was distributed widely in Japan. According to The Mainichi Daily News, of the cows from Fukushima farms, 199 were shipped to Tokyo, 192 to Hyogo Prefecture, nine to Gunma Prefecture, eight distributed within Fukushima Prefecture, two went to Tochigi Prefecture and one to Saitama Prefecture. The authorities are still tracing these shipments further and finding out if the meat has actually been sold to consumers or to institutional clients.

What this incident is also showing is that farmers in Japan are out of the post-disaster information loop. Six of the seven from Fukushima Prefecture said they hadn't even heard that they weren't supposed to feed their cattle straw that that been stored outside! I hope this situation is being addressed. If these cattle farmers hadn't heard, most likely others haven't either, and there is bound to be more contaminated feed around - including for other food animals and poultry.

To your good health,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Yesterday I blogged the Starbucks ready-to-eat chicken products recall. Today there is another one. The reason is the same: the USDA testing turned up Listeria monocytogenes bacteria - the one that is so dangerous to pregnant women and certain other people (see previous post).

This time the company recalling the products is based in Texas not Georgia. It's Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation. Do you remember their huge recall of RTE turkey and chicken products for the same reason (Listeria bacteria) in 2002? (See the next post).

Here are the items being recalled:

- 10 lb. boxes containing 2 5-lb bags of “Sweet Georgia Brand Fully Cooked Breaded White Chicken Nuggets Shaped Patties”
- 30 lb. boxes containing 6 5-lb bags of “Pilgrim’s Pride Fully Cooked Grilled Chicken Breast Fillet with Rib Meat

But you won't find these products in U.S. stores. They were only sent to institutional clients through Ohio, New Jersey, and Texas distribution centers. Who knows where they ended up. Our food really travels around these days. And it is packaged and repackaged and repackaged and relabelled again and again.

The USDA notice of the recall does not say that the products were frozen, but they must be since the use-by date on the grilled chicken products is December 26, 2011. By the way, that is six months after they were produced. Ugh - antique food! No wonder it is contaminated. By the way, Listeria monocytogenes bacteria survive very well in the refrigerator, and, in the freezer.

To your good health,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Over the years, Starbucks has extended food and drink offerings way beyond all those wonderful varieties of coffee. This roaster and retailer of specialty coffee now operates in over 50 countries in the world. Share prices are up over 50% over the past year. But with an expanded menu also comes added risk. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a recall of two of its menu items. The USDA/FSIS again found that nasty bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, that keeps turning up in ready-to-eat food.

The items recalled are:

• 8.4-ounce packages of “STARBUCKS CHIPOTLE CHICKEN WRAPS Bistro Box”
• 6.3-ounce packages of “STARBUCKS CHICKEN & HUMMUS Bistro Box”

These ready-to-eat chicken products were produced for Starbucks by Flying Food Group, LLC, of Lawrenceville, Georgia on July 13, 2011. They were distributed to coffee shops in Georgia and Alabama. Most likely, they have already been eaten. No illnesses have been reported so far, but that's hardly surprising. The incubation period for Listeriosis (the illness caused by Listeria bacteria) can range from as little as 6 hours to 70 or even 90 days. But is usually around 12 days. In other words, not enough time has lapsed yet for people to get sick.

As stressed in The Safe Food Handbook pregnant women, people on corticosterioid therapy, and people with a compromised immune systems need to be aware of the extra risks involved in eating ready-to-eat foods and in eating out. Listeria bacteria are a common threat. Read the several earlier posts on Listeria in ready-to-eat foods and on how Listeriosis can be disastrous for pregnant women.

To your good health,

UPDATE: This recall has been expanded twice - July 26 and 28, to include additional products. See separate post.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


On July 7, I reported about high levels of radiation found in some beef cattle from Fukushima prefecture in Japan ("Why Radiation-Contaminated Cattle are Bad News"). These cattle were raised about 20-30km away from the radiation-spewing nuclear power plant. I also noted that testing had caught the problem before the beef reached the market. Not so. The initial reports were wrong. Some of this beef, with 3-6 times allowed levels of the radionuclide, cesium, has been sold - and eaten. At least 2,650 pounds of it. Consumers in Japan are not happy. With reason.

In fact, it turns out that the contaminated meat has not just been sold in Tokyo, but in at least 13 prefectures of Japan (maybe more). Japan's second-biggest retailer, Aeon Co. admitted today to selling the beef. It's not the only one. The cattle had been fed rice straw tainted with radiation, in spite of the farmer's claims that he was very careful about cattle feed.

New bans and better testing are in the works. Consumers are suffering, and so are farmers, distributors, retailers. As far as we know at present, the suspect beef has not been exported to other countries. Japanese food exports are already down as a result of bans on many products in a number of countries. This will make the situation worse.

Unfortunately, with food contamination events, the news invariably gets worse than in the initial reports: more products are found to be contaminated, hazardous food is found to have been distributed more widely than initially thought, more people become ill. And, on occasions, dangerous food has been sold and eaten when we believed that testing had caught it in time. As in this case.

Is more bad news to come? My guess: as testing is expanded, high levels of cesium will soon be found in more cattle and in other food animals and poultry (read the four questions I raise in the July 7th post).

To your good health,

Friday, July 15, 2011


And now it's smoked duck - delicious smoked, ready-to-eat, imported duck. Two U.S. importers have issued recalls because the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) - which is charged with keeping such meat products safe - found Salmonella bacteria in a test sample. They both got the duck product from Canada.

If you've read The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, you'll know that these products comply with two of the four high-risk criteria - "remote" (imported, travelling many miles) and "ready" (ready-to-eat, RTE, foods are more risky).

The recalling U.S. companies are: Sid Wainer & Son, Inc., of New Bedford, Mass. and Palmex, Inc., of Champlain, N.Y. They got it from a Canadian company named Charcuterie Parisienne (a private company, based in Montreal).

The product being recalled is "Magret de Canard Fume Seche - Dried Smoked Duck Breast, Produit du Canada/Product of Canada." I don't know yet whether any of this product was distributed in Canada itself by the original company, or, by one of the importers (oddly enough, sometimes food does a U-turn and goes right back across the border to where it came from - I discussed this in an earlier post).

The U.S. imports a lot of food from Canada (and visa versa). Comparatively speaking, it is fairly safe. But recalls do happen. This is certainly not the first instance. There have been several for deli meat or poultry over the years.

These duck products were sold for institutional use, meaning that they went to places such as restaurants, hotels, retailers and so on. The first company distributed them in in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. The second one sent them for on-distribution to sites in California and to the Dominican Republic (notice again, how the food we eat travels around these days). Who knows where it ended up.

We are not talking about huge quantities here (some 350 lbs so far, but there may be more). People just don't eat that much duck, particularly in this economy, since it is usually pretty expensive. But you may want to think twice before ordering an "away from home" smoked duck salad, or something similar, in the next few weeks, no matter how good it sounds.

To your good health,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I am facing a food safety dilemma. I did one of those rush food shoppings (mainly for dog food, but picking up a few other things as well) and ended up - accidentally - with some raw milk cheese. The dilemma: should I eat it or toss it out?

That's what happens when the so-called northern California "summer" is dark and gloomy and you feel like taking comfort in something delicious - and salty. When I picked up the cheese, all I read was "Product of France" and the word "aged." Just what I felt like. I didn't read the small print until I got it home: "Made from Raw Milk."

In general, I do not think that people who have compromised immune systems, are pregnant, or are over 50 (which unfortunately, I am) should risk their health eating raw milk cheeses when other delicious alternatives are available. The food safety regulations in the U.S. require that all raw milk cheeses be aged for a minimum of 60 days in order to be sold. This cheese met the current FDA requirements.

But I know that, while aging the cheese for 60 days is better than nothing, it is not enough. Such cheeses have been found to still carry live bacteria - enough to make you ill (see alerts column). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering tightening the rule (which is strongly opposed by the artisenal cheese industry). Getting food poisoning from Listeria monocytogenes or some other nasty bacteria is not what I had in mind right now. Right, this one had actually been aged 180 days, which is even better than 60 days. But, as a former microbiologist, I also know that some bacteria can survive very well in quite dry conditions for over 180 days. Even years.

So what do I do? I had an absolute craving for this cheese. The only other cheese I had available was a Chevre (made with pasteurized goat's milk), which didn't quite meet my need. Frankly, it had been a pretty rotten day, and I felt I owed myself something pleasant. Should I eat it and risk food poisoning, or throw it out (or give it to the dog) and be totally safe? It looks delicious..My inclination is to compromise..Maybe eat a little..

But there is another point here: not everything on a store shelf may be safe for YOU. We vary in terms of how vulnerable we are. In other words, just because a food is being sold, doesn't mean that you would be wise to eat it.

To your good health,

Monday, July 11, 2011


And it still isn't over - by far. The investigation of the deadly sprout-linked E.coli outbreak in Europe continues. Now there is a frantic search for tons of missing deadly sprout seeds. They have to be found before they cause more illnesses and deaths.

It turns out that there were some 16 tons of fenugreek seed in that single shipment from Egypt (how many seeds is that?). No one realized at first how widely they had been distributed. A search of the German importer's records has now shown that they went to dozens of companies in some 12 European nations. The European Food Safety Authority is having a bureaucratic fit. And with reason.

The seeds shipment dates back to December, 2009. Some of the seed has most likely already been used, but some of it is probably still in company supply chains all over Europe, who knows exactly where. It has been sold and re-sold, packaged under a variety of labels, and is very difficult to trace. To say the least.

And we need to find all this seed in case more of it is carrying this super-toxic E.coli 0104. That isn't necessarily the case, as no doubt this huge shipment came from several seed growers. Most of the seed might be quite safe. But the trouble is that we don't know.

At least 4,100 illnesses in Germany, 49 deaths, and some 16 related illnesses in France. Enough!

To your good health,

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Beef with high levels of radiation has been prevented from entering Tokyo's food markets. But only because the meat itself was tested during processing. The earlier pre-shipment external screening of the live cattle had passed them as "safe." According to a government official, this was the first time that excessive levels of radioactive caesium have been found in meat since the start of this Fukushima nuclear crisis in March (still unresolved).

Here are the facts: eleven cattle from a herd in Fukushima prefecture were found to have three to six times the legal limit of radioactive caesium (which can increase cancer risk) in their meat. And these cattle had lived outside the 20-30Km evactuation zone. In fact, they were reportedly moved there to be "safe" from radiation spewing out of Japan's crippled nuclear plant, raised indoors and fed safe food and water.

Alright, high levels of dangerous radionuclides in 11 cattle is not a big issue. Or is it? You could say, that it raises some very unpleasant - but important, questions. Here are some in my mind:

How many other cattle with such high levels of radionuclides actually reached the market? Some 3,000 beef cattle from the same area have also passed external testing for contaminants since April. None - as also in the case of this herd - tested positive for radiation during the initial screening. It seems that their meat was not tested before it was sold and eaten. Was it also above safe levels?
 Is the currently performed random testing of actual market-ready food items sufficient to protect the public? According to a Japan's Ministry of Health spokesman, less than 1% of actual food (including meat, fresh produce, and seafood) is being tested for nuclear contaminants.
 What about other food animals such as swine and poultry? The government of Fukushima prefecture has asked farmers in Minamisouma to refrain from cattle shipments (sounds a bit vague) but no action has been taken or advice given on other poultry or livestock.
 How did these cattle end up with such high levels if they were (as claimed) raised indoors and fed safe food? And what does this imply for other food animals - and humans?

To your good health,

Friday, July 8, 2011


If you are pregnant, you need to be especially careful about what you eat. Not only is it a question of eating the good foods you need, but of avoiding harmful foods. Both can affect the health and normal development of your unborn child.

On top of that "avoid" list is any food that can contain the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which causes an illness caused "listeriosis." L. monocytogenes is a very strange bacteria, in that it can be almost harmless for some people, and lethal for others. In the U.S., at least 2500 Americans catch Listeriosis each year. About a fifth of them die of it.

Pregnant women are about twenty times more likely to get listeriosis than are healthy women their age who are not pregnant. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about one third of all cases of listeriosis occur during pregnancy. Nor is this just a North American risk. The situation is likely to be much the same in other developed nations.

L.monocytogenes bacteria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta even if the mother is asymptomatic, that is, is not showing signs of illness. Listeriosis during pregnancy can result in miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, infection of the newborn or development problems.

I once happened to open a website which carried personal stories of women who had had listeriosis during pregnancy. It was really heartbreaking. If you are pregnant and have a hard time giving up foods that are more likely to contain Listeria bacteria (look at my alerts column for some of these and earlier posts), just think of what the cost might be. And, read what The Safe Food Handbook has to say.

To your good health,


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


It doesn't matter whether we call them "convience foods" or "ready-to-eat foods" (as I do in The Safe Food Handbook) the result is still the same: they are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria and to contain more unhealthy chemicals than are "simple" foods that have you slaving over the kitchen sink and stove for a while.

The most common risk is the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes (see previous post and several earlier ones for special risks for pregnant women and others). And, there is another recall in the U.S. This time it is by Warabeya U.S.A., Inc., based in Honolulu, Hawaii.It is recalling approximately 1,550 pounds of convenience meals that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Here's the list as in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) news release:

- "10.3-ounce packages of "7-ELEVEN FRIED CHICKEN BENTO"
- "11-ounce packages of "7-ELEVEN TERIYAKI CHICKEN BENTO"
- "10-ounce packages of "7-ELEVEN BREAKFAST SCRAMBLE BOWL"
- "17.75-ounce packages of "7-ELEVEN BIG BENTO"
- "7.25-ounce packages of "7-ELEVEN LITTLE SMOKIES SNACK PACK

The USDA seems to think the common cause was a contaminated food scale pan used for all these different RTE products. It might also be a common ingredient..The result is the same. Don't eat them - especially if you are pregnant!

To your good health,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


There have been two U.S. recalls of cooked ham products in the last couple of weeks. The reason in both cases was the finding of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. This bacteria causes Listeriosis - a disease which can be fatal for some people.

Pregnant women need to be particularly careful they don't catch this Listeriosis as it can cause miscarriages and birth defects. Other people with weakened immune systems are also at serious risk. If you are perfectly healthy, you may be lucky and have almost no symptoms. Effects vary considerably.

The first of these recent recalls took place late June (see the Alerts column) and was for Serrano ham products, imported from Spain. The company involved was Specialities Agro Alimentation, of Millington, N.J.

Yesterday's recall announcement involved a different company in another state - Carolina Pride Foods, Inc., a Greenwood, S.C. The recall was for 18,416 pounds of boneless, fully cooked ham products, distributed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The brands involved are: "CAROLINA PRIDE Smoked Diced Ham," "CAROLINA PRIDE Diced Ham" and "HARDEE's Smoked Diced Ham." If you think you may have eaten these products or are concerned, check the USDA news release for more detailed information -

Are these two recalls linked? I have not found any information yet on whether the ham in the second recall was also imported. If I find out more, I'll update this post. In the meantime, check your refrigerator. And remember that L.monocytogenes survives very well in the frig.

By the way, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we had some additional recalls of ready-to-eat products such as salads and sandwiches in the next few days.

To your good health,

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Summer is the time for outdoor eating and cooking. One of my regular readers asked me about how to avoid getting food poisoning at such events. She is right to be concerned. People all over the world get ill every summer from that wonderful picnic or barbecue. So here are some things you may want to keep in mind to avoid such problems.

Try to find a shady outdoor eating spot, or bring along your own umbrella so that food is not sitting in the sun, including when served.
• Keep food cold until you are ready to eat it (40 degrees F) in a good cooler, which is best left in the open in the shade - not in the hot trunk of your car. Make sure the ice or ice packs are on top of the food.
• If you are bringing already cooked and hot foods with you, or cooking outdoors, make sure that you don't let the food sit at a warm temperature for more than an hour. Keep it hot, and eat it quickly (bacteria multiply fastest at 40-140 degrees F).
• Make sure you keep uncooked meats away from other items that you plan to eat raw (such as salads or breads) and that you use different utensils for each, so that there is no cross-contamination.
• Wash your hands before handling food, and take special precautions when handling raw or partly cooked meat (use tongs). I usually take along an extra bottle of water on picnics, just for hand washing.
• When barbecuing make sure that everything is well-cooked to 165 degrees F (also see June 18 post - "Are Hot Dogs Safe to Eat?", no matter how hungry you are. (A meat thermometer is a small and light item to throw into your picnic basket).
• Throw out leftovers if they have been sitting outside for more than an hour or your ice has melted.

To your good health,


Sprouted seeds such as alfalfa, bean sprout, mustard or others, are common sources of illness-causing bacteria, if they are eaten raw. Even the amount of sprouts on that healthy-looking sandwich in the photo can make you ill. Or, that tiny sprinkling in your salad.

A common The reason is that the seeds used for sprouting themselves carry bacteria. These bacteria then multiply rapidly during the moist and warm sprouting process (see previous posts). So what, if anything, can be done at the sprout-farm level to reduce risks for people who eat sprouts raw?

Sprout growers are advised to use good seed harvesting and decontamination practices (chemicals, heat, irradiaton), and it has been shown that such practices can reduce the numbers of bacteria present. In the U.S., the FDA issued this advice to farmers in 1999 after a bad series of outbreaks in sprouts nationwide. These are recommendations - not requirements. Not all sprout farmers follow them (although it is believed that most do).

Research has also shown that they are not 100% effective even when followed. Some bacteria are likely to remain unharmed and ready to multiply, particularly if they are the hardier E.coli or Salmonella. Unfortunately, these are also likely to be more deadly.

For instance, even when alfalfa seeds carrying E.coli bacteria are treated for three minutes with a 20,000 ppm active chlorine solution, some of the bacteria have still been found to be alive. The same thing happens when solutions of other chemical sanitizers such as calcium hypochlorite, trisodium phosphate, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are used. Or, when seeds are heated to high temperatures.

The problem is that at certain temperatures or at high concentrations of chemicals it becomes a tradeoff between killing all the bacteria, and destroying the ability of the seeds to germinate properly.

Spraying of the sprouts with chemical disinfectant solutions during actual germination doesn't work completely either. The chemicals may not reach all the bacteria, which could be hiding in the roots or in clumps of sprouts.

Besides, who want "super-healthy" sprouts to be loaded with chemicals? Or, irradiated and limp?

So far we haven't found the ideal solution. So it's up to us to be smart consumers. Don't eat raw sprouts.

To your good health,