Friday, December 26, 2014


Bad food in the U.S. has been much the same in 2014 as it has been in preceding years. Looking back one month, I found a fairly typical array of Listeria and Salmonella bacteria- contaminated foods, as well as the usual number of undeclared allergens, foreign objects (such as bits of marker pen in canned soup), and a range of recalled uninspected products that contain who knows what.

As you will see from the below, prepared (ready-to-eat) foods and sprouts continue to be among the most risky items on the U.S. market. No amount of gourmet or health labelling guarantees safety.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which pose a major threat to pregnant women, young children and people with a compromised immune system, are still very much a problem. Most recently this bacterium has cropped up in Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream products (ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet). It also turned up again in December in sprouts. Kkot Saem Sprouts, Inc. of Spanaway, Washington, had to recall its Soybean Sprouts and Mungbean Sprouts for this reason. In late November, soybean sprouts also had to be recalled by Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, Virginia, because of Listeria.

Not surprisingly, this bacterium was also a suspect in prepared salads. Giant Eagle has issued a recall of Giant Eagle Apple Pistachio Salad and Apple Pistachio Salad with Chicken because of it. Global Garlic, Inc. of Miami, Florida, also had to recall a couple of its fresh curd products because it turned up. In addition, Acme Smoked Fish Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, had a nasty surprise when its imported (Product of Denmark) vacuum packs of Smoked Nova Salmon were found to be potentially contaminated with Listeria - another common location of the bacterium, particularly this time of the year.

Salmonella bacteria are also still present in our food, in spite of all the efforts to control them. During the past month for example, the company "Perfect Bar", had to issue a nationwide recall of large numbers of its Peanut Butter and Cranberry Crunch flavor nutrition bars due to potential contamination with Salmonella. And it has cropped up in cheeses too: Flat Creek Farm & Dairy of Swainsboro, Georgia, had to recall some of its Aztec Cheddar and Low Country Gouda. Another prepared food was also found to be contaminated: Overhill Farms, Inc. of Vernon, California had to recall its frozen Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas due to potential Salmonella contamination.

So...not much has changed. Let's enjoy our great food, but be careful what we buy and eat, especially if we are in a high-risk category for getting sick.

To your good health,


Friday, December 19, 2014


We have a bad “holiday spoiler” food outbreak in the United States. It’s caramel apples. Several people have died, and many more are seriously ill. So far there is no actual recall, because we don’t know what brand of caramel apple is involved.

Here are the latest numbers from this food threat according to the CDC:

o Case Count: 28
o States: 10
o Deaths: 5
o Hospitalizations: 26

You’ll notice that there aren’t that many conclusively identified cases, but of these, a very high percentage ended up in hospital, and the death rate is also high.

The bacterium involved is Listeria once again. For those of you who have read the book (The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food), or who read this blog regularly, you will know that Listeria monocytogenes is often present in prepared foods – especially deli meats, sandwiches, salads, cheese and similar. This is the first case I can recall of it turning up in caramel apples.

Unfortunately, this tiny bacterium is a huge danger to pregnant women. Young children are also at more serious risk. In fact, in this case, nine of the serious illnesses were pregnancy-related (that is, they occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant). Three of the very serious “invasive” cases were among otherwise healthy children, ages 5-15.

So what can we do to be safe? At the present time, the official CDC advice is for consumers to avoid all caramel apples – plain, with nuts, chocolate, sprinkles, or anything else. It could turn out to be one of the toppings, or the caramel itself. It seems that you can still keep eating caramels though. I am delighted that we don't need to give those up as well.

Investigators are hard at work trying to identify which ingredient in the caramel apples is contaminated, and the brand involved. I guess they won't have much time off this year.

To your good health,