Monday, April 24, 2017
McCain Foods USA, Inc. has had to recall their frozen hash brown potato products because of bits of golf balls (can you believe it?) hiding in them. I have been trying to figure out how on earth this could have happened. But I can see where it is possible. If a potato field happens to be near a golf course, a large mechanical harvester of potatoes could pick up a ball or two.
Anyway, throw out any 2 lb. bags of hash browns in your freezer if they are Roundy’s or Teeter brands, and if you live in Illinois and Wisconsin (Roundy’s brand) or in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Maryland (Harris Teeter brand).
By the way, McCain Foods also supplies restaurants with vegetables and distributes to some 160 countries around the world. Who knows where golf-ball hash browns will pop up? You may want to be careful if you are biting into some hash browns at your favorite restaurant.
And you had better pass on the potato chips too if Jalapeño Flavored Frito-Lay‘s Kettle Cooked chips or Jalapeño Flavored Miss Vickie’s Kettle Cooked potato chips are your favorite. In this case there could be Salmonella bacteria in the Jalapeño seasoning that was used. Yes, as I discuss in The Safe Food Handbook (the book, not this blog) Salmonella bacteria are remarkably hardy. They can live in very dry conditions – as in spices – for months.
Remember, Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and anyone who has a weakened immune system, such as people receiving cancer treatment.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
The chances are that President Trump will cut the budget of the FDA and USAID, which in turn will limit expenditure on keeping America's food safe.
In a way, it’s odd, because I would guess that Trump is at least very concerned about the safety of the food he personally eats. After all, he is a germaphope. He hates shaking hands, afraid that he will catch something. And one of the reasons he gives for eating junk food is that he claims big franchises are safer and more clean.
Of course, given that he eats his burgers and steaks well done, he should at least be able to avoid bacteria in meat unless there is cross contamination. And as far as we know, he doesn’t care much for vegetables except for potatoes.
But even cooked potatoes can sometimes carry risks. I wonder, for instance, whether he eats hash browns? If so, he had better be careful.
Today McCain Foods USA, Inc. issued a recall of widely distributed frozen hash brown products because they may be contaminated with golf ball materials. And some of these products were distributed in Florida where his “Winter White House” is located where he seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time - at taxpayer expense. If such hash brown potatoes are eaten, there is the risk of choking or injury to the mouth.
Of course, Trump is very keen on golf, but all the same, I doubt he is so keen he wants to eat the golf balls!
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Not good news for Trump’s “Winter White House.” Mar-a-Lago’s restaurant didn’t do well on the latest inspection on January 26. Inspectors found 13 health and sanitation code violations.
Is this a case of paying $200,000 membership fee for a nasty case of food poisoning? Maybe even worse if the victim is a visiting head of state being wined and dined there. Talk of embarrassing!
All U.S. restaurants are inspected on a regular basis by inspectors from local public health departments. There is some variation between how often they do it and what they look for, but usually it covers things like cleanliness of the kitchen area and food handling, cooking and storage procedures. They also try to make sure that food is not cross-contaminated or contaminated by employees or by cockroaches, flies or rodents running around. I checked out the actual list for Florida. It has fully 50 “high priority” categories on it, meaning that failure on any one of these could pose a risk of food poisoning for diners.
At Mar-a-Lago raw meat (chicken, duck, beef and ham) were stored at temperatures that were far too high for safety. What, they are now trying to save on their electricity bills? Or, was it because their refrigerators were not operating properly and needed repairs?
Also, it seems that the restaurant's fish that was to be served either raw or undercooked had not undergone proper inspection for parasites. If you have been reading the news or this blog about the recent unpleasant experience of two California newlyweds with rat lungworm disease (which they probably caught from food in Hawaii) you will know that parasites can be very nasty indeed.
Even some of the lesser violations at Mar-a-Lago (such as inadequate hand-washing facilities for employees) have been found to often lead to food poisoning. It seems that not only do they have paying for refrigerator repairs and for replacing rusting shelves, but also can’t afford to heat the water!
Maybe Trump should take a break from playing golf and go back to checking the kitchen himself. Apparently, when he used to do so in the past, Florida’s “Sanitation and Safety Specialists” (that is their proper name) cited Mar-a-Lago with far fewer violations. Or should he sent Ivanka down there? She seems to get things done.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
So what are parasites? We've all heard of people being called "parasites." The chances are that you may have called your unemployed son a "parasite" at some point. A parasites is an organism that lives on or in a "host" organism and gets its food from it. In the process it can cause a lot of agony and damage to its host.
Parasitic diseases are most common in tropical, low-income countries, especially among the poorer people of those nations. I spent much of my professional life working in such areas, including on health and environmental problems affecting the poor. So guess what? Although I was very careful, I caught a number of parasites. I missed this one, thank goodness. Believe me, any parasite is not much fun at all.
So are we really at risk from them in countries like America and other industrialized nations? The answer is yes. A major reason is the increase in global travel, including to some pretty poor areas where in decades gone by, tourists generally did not go.
And yes, usually you get it from your food or water. In the case of the unlucky couple who are currently in the news, they probably caught the rat lungworm parasite from eating badly washed fruit or a vegetable such as lettuce, which carried this parasite-infected slug, a piece of the slug, or maybe just even just the slime of an infected slug. Or perhaps they got it from undercooked or raw crabs or freshwater shrimps.
What is the food safety lesson from this? Don’t eat raw vegetables (especially lettuce) while in tropical areas and make sure that any shellfish you eat is thoroughly cooked.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
I received sad news this morning. An elderly friend of mine had died. She became ill while on a cruise. The official cause will probably be listed as “congestive heart failure” or something similar. But although that explanation will be much more acceptable to the cruise line, it is not the whole story.
First, a bit of background. My friend is (I typed “is” as I am still having trouble using the past tense..)..was in her 80’s. Like many people of that age, she had a few chronic conditions, one being arthritis, and another, a “weak” heart. But she had never had a heart attack and her doctor in the UK considered her well enough to go on the cruise with her caregiver.
I was told that she really enjoyed the trip up until day 22 of this 44 day cruise. At that point there was an outbreak of food poisoning on the ship. She became very ill, dehydrated, and had to be sent to a hospital in Jamaica, which was the closest port. Several of the passengers ended up there, especially those who were over 60. At least one died soon after she was hospitalized in Jamaica.
Along with a few of the others, my friend was confined to the intensive care unit. After a few days she seemed to be better, but because she was still weak and considered at risk, she was sent to a hospital in Florida, and then to one in England, where she now lived. She died there.
If you have been following this blog, you will know that food poisoning outbreaks on cruise ships are common, with the majority of them caused by norovirus – a highly contagious group of viruses which often infects both passengers and crew. Usually an outbreak starts through contaminated food (perhaps contaminated by a crew member), but you can also catch it directly from someone who is ill (by taking care of them, using the same eating utensils or even from sprayed vomit), and, from surfaces.
Most people recover after 1-3 thoroughly miserable days. However, passengers who are older frequently develop severe dehydration which can aggravate or lead to other serious conditions as seemed to have occurred in my friend’s case. It is not unusual for relapses to happen a couple of weeks or so after the food poisoning incident itself, even after the patient seems to have recovered and has been released from hospital.
The Safe Food Handbook (available on Amazon) discusses how you can protect yourself, as do other posts on this blog. Be careful if you are going on a cruise!
Friday, March 24, 2017
I want to say right at the outset, that I believe in the value of school lunch. When I was a poor malnourished refugee child, I really appreciated that food. It is very hard to pay attention in class if you are hungry. But food poisoning outbreaks at schools are not unusual, simply because institutional food, prepared and served in bulk, is always more risky. And of course, such outbreaks get a lot of media coverage.
Recently there was a very large outbreak in Egypt caused by a school lunch (see earlier post), in which some 3,300 children had to be sent to hospital. In all, it is estimated that there have been 4,650 school lunch associated food poisoning cases nationwide in Egypt just this month (March, 2017). But Egypt is not the only country where such outbreaks occur. I have read case studies of school food poisoning outbreaks in India, Canada, UK, Japan and elsewhere. How the school lunch is organized and how sanitary the conditions are, varies in these and other countries.
In the United States, the National School Lunch Program is carefully supervised, but even then, food poisoning outbreaks occur. It is estimated that between 1991 and 2000 (I don’t have later statistics) there were 300 outbreaks of food poisoning in American schools, which made at least 16,000 students ill. The largest during that decade affected school children in seven states in 1997-1998. It was unusual in that it was caused by a toxic mold in frozen burritos.
But there have been many different types of causes over the years. Bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli and Staphylococcus strains have been found to cause food poisoning in school lunches. Even agricultural chemicals have been involved, though less than they are in Third World countries. Several incidents have of course been caused by the common norovirus. That was the cause of the recent outbreak of food poisoning at the St. Charles East High School in Illinois, USA, in which some 800 students became ill.
As of this past Wednesday, the Ministry of Education in Egypt suspended school lunches, which feed some 9 million students a day. It plans to set up a committee (the usual bureaucratic solution) and conduct an investigation of why school lunches are so unsafe. I can hazard a few guesses.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
So far the causal agent or specific lunch item has not been identified. I would lay my money on norovirus. One reason I suspect norovirus is because the symptoms are typical. Another is that norovirus was also suspected in one of the food poisoning outbreaks at Al-Arbak University in Cairo in 2013 and is quite common in such mass meal programs all over the world (see next post).
In all, Egypt’s food has had a bad run of luck over the last few years and it is commonly known that national hygiene in food processing, packaging, preparation and food service is poor. The world is beginning to wonder whether it is safe to eat at all, particularly since it has caused havoc overseas as well as domestically.
The worst case of such exported food was that large outbreak of E. coli 0104 food poisoning which originated in Northern Germany in 2011. It made some 4,100 people ill, mainly in Europe, and killed at least 50. After many false turns by investigators, it was finally traced to fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt that had been sprouted in Germany (see the several posts on this blog).
You may also recall the Salmonella-contaminated organic celery seed that originated in Egypt. I had to pat myself on the back for predicting correctly on this blog that these seeds had been imported from Egypt.
Then over the last few months there has been that Hepatitis A problem with frozen strawberries imported from Egypt, which were used to make not-so-healthy smoothies in the U.S. They have given 143 unsuspecting people in 9 states a dangerous liver disease.
Of course, this isn't the end of the list.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
I was dining with friends at a highly recommended local restaurant a few years ago, when I bit into a nail in my dessert. Of course, I sent it back. A pity. The dessert tasted delicious. That is, until I crunched into that nail. I was lucky I did not break a tooth. Although they brought me a replacement dessert - the least they could do - it just didn't taste the same afterwards.
Metal in food is not that unusual, although it is usually small pieces of metal shavings – not the size of the nail that I almost ate. For instance, a few days ago there was a recall in the United States for some nine meatballs and chicken fried steak products that were produced by King’s Command Foods, LLC., of Kent, Washington.
And it doesn’t just happen in the U.S. I did a quick search to see what I could find out about similar incidents in other countries. In the UK for instance, there was a recall last month of “meat free mince” and of “crunchy biscuit spread” because of pieces of metal, both sold by that large UK supermarket Tesco as well as by other supermarkets. And last year there was a recall of biscuits in Germany by the Verden biscuit and wafer factory Hans Freitag. The company in the German case noted that its metal detectors had unfortunately not picked up the “metal hair” (metal detectors used on biscuits? That's something I didn’t know!)
Now if the restaurant I ate at had used a metal detector on my dessert, that nail would certainly have been picked up before the dessert landed on my table. I was thinking of going by and suggesting it to them. But I noticed that the restaurant has closed. No wonder, if that's the kind of food they served!
Saturday, March 11, 2017
I have posted 32 posts on this blog relating to this incident, starting shortly after the disaster, and correctly predicting the food contamination that occurred. I have to admit that I was surprised to find that the most popular of the posts dealt with contamination of seaweed, with almost 10,000 views.
Looking once again at the sad photos from this incident in today's New York Times, my heart went out to the victims of this tragic incident.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Why these places? True the virus is highly contagious. But there is another reason - these are all places where food is prepared by food service workers. Low income food service workers, with no health insurance, often turn up for work when they are ill so that they don't lose the wages they need to live on. In fact, if they have been ill with this virus, they should actually stay home for at least two days after they feel fine, because they could still be contagious. But of course, they don't. Can you blame them?
It estimated that at least 21 million people in the U.S. get sick from Norovirus every year, and some 70,000 or so are sick enough to end up in hospital. Those who die are often already ill or are older people who become very badly dehydrated. That is why I have often warned seniors not to eat at salad bars, which are a common place for the virus to hide out.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
So here’s some bad news and good news about this virus.
The bad news about Norovirus is that it is a very contagious virus which you can catch not just from food (especially salad bars) but also all kinds of surfaces such as hand rails, countertops and even plastic bags. Don’t suck your thumb or bite your fingernails and wash your hands thoroughly before eating (Is my son reading this?). What is more, you can feel truly awful if you have it. Also bad news is the fact that it is often caught in places where you go to have fun – not get sick – such as cruises, restaurants, weddings, parties and celebrations of all kinds (I won’t put schools and nursing homes on that “fun” list). Another piece of bad news is that you can catch it more than once. Having been ill with Norovirus once will not protect you from getting it. As in the case of the flu, there are many types of noroviruses.
The good news is that while you may feel absolutely awful for what seems like a million years, you’re likely to get better quickly – usually between one to three days. Another piece of good news is that if you are fairly healthy to start off with and keep yourself well hydrated while vomiting all over the place, you will be OK once it’s over. This could be another plus - you may find that you have just undergone a crash weight loss program. And the final good news is that if you work outside your home, or are in charge of cooking for your household, you will have a couple of days of rest afterwards, as no one will want you anywhere near them or preparing any food while you could still be contagious.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
And yes, there was a recall. For some reason I had missed it in my mailbox (I am on the FDA recall mailing list). So I checked the jar of Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce I had sitting in my kitchen – not yet opened – and sure enough it had been recalled.
I really need to do a better job of reading my mail.
Anyway, three types of apple sauce are being recalled in the U.S. In Canada, it’s just the first two:
• Trader Joe's First Crush Unsweetened Gravenstein Apple Sauce with a barcode of 00015905 and best before date of Aug. 8, 2018.
• Trader Joe's Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce with a barcode of 00194877 and a best before date of Oct. 6, 2018.
• Trader Joe's All Natural Unsweetened Apple Sauce with a barcode of 00014359 and a best before date of Dec. 16, 2018. This brand of applesauce is not sold in Michigan.
So will you die if you have eaten some glass-laced applesauce? Ground glass has been used as the murder weapon in any number of mysteries. This method of murdering your enemies (or, your unwanted relatives) dates way back, at least 500 years. No doubt it's even longer since glass has been made for some 3,500 years.
But relax. Apparently it doesn’t work well. If it is ground too finely, it will do nothing to you, and if it is too coarse, you’ll probably notice it before you swallow. A cut in your mouth can be painful, but it won't be lethal. But if it does get into your GI tract, you might have a bit of bleeding, and in the worst case, anemia, but not much else. Getting the glass just right is very, very, difficult. So stick to arsenic or something more reliable if you want to do away with your mother-in-law.
But all the same, don’t eat that applesauce. Take it back to Trader Joe’s or Pirate Joe’s and complain.
Friday, February 24, 2017
And I know this sounds mean, but I am kind of wishing for an outbreak of food poisoning at Mar-a-Lago, particularly at a time when he was entertaining a head of state there (hopefully President Putin of Russia, or Kim Jong-un of North Korea) which would really ensure that it hit the global news.
I think a first-hand experience is the only way President Trump will understand the importance of food safety, and hopefully begin to grasp the importance of regulations and inspections of our food. True, such regulations will never eliminate food risks completely, but at least they will reduce them.
Today, when announcing the drastic scaling back of federal regulations – something he had been threatening to do for months – he paved the way for exposing the American consumers to even more outbreaks of food poisoning than we are already having.
Even if regulations are not completely eliminated, Trump and Congress can financially starve the Federal food safety agencies from doing anything much to protect our food supply. Want to bet it will happen?
Today President Trump signed an executive action aimed at eliminating “costly” regulations so he can generate some savings for building his dream wall. He said that the United States does not need "75 percent of the repetitive, horrible regulations that hurt companies, hurt jobs." Big food companies, chemical companies, lobbyists and restaurants and are delighted. But what about ordinary consumers like you and me?
As Scott Horsley wrote on NPR website “Of course, one person's job-killing regulation is another's lifesaving rule.” The corporations are in the driver’s seat. Not us.
Each Federal agency has to set up a task force to identify which regulations get the axe. That includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which are trying to make our food as safe as they can. Alright, they are not perfect and at times contaminated food still slips through. The task is huge, and food safety has been chronically underfunded.
Do you really think this won't happen? That Trump really cares about our food? This is the man who is overweight and has high cholesterol from eating too much junk food ( but had his doctor lie about all this).
And don’t forget that, during his campaign, Trump also threatened to get rid of the FDA’s “food police” with their “inspections overkill.” Of course, he quickly retracted that statement. Hum, hum…What else is new?
Sunday, February 19, 2017
In fact, appearance of symptoms can range from a few days to 70 days, and occasionally even longer. Or, you may have Listeriosis but not really feel sick at all. So what should you be on the lookout for?
If you are a relatively healthy adult, who is not pregnant, you may come down with fever, nausea, stiff neck, weakness, diarrhea and muscle aches. You may not have all these symptoms and you could dismiss it a case of the flu. In fact symptoms of a Listeria infection can be so mild that you won't notice them at all. That is the case if you are pregnant. Sadly, the baby may die before birth or come down with a life-threatening infection soon after birth. The symptoms in a newborn may be quite mild too and easily confused with some other problem. Perhaps nothing more than a little irritability, fever, little interest in feeding and some vomiting.
While most Listeria infections in adults tend to be very mild, they can get serious for older people or those with a weakened immune system, leading to complications such as septicemia or meningitis. So do be careful, particularly if you are in a high risk group. Right now, you should be checking any cheeses in your refrigerator against those that are being recalled (press the Recall link on this blog).
Friday, February 17, 2017
I am sure we have not reached the end of this particular wave of cheese and related product recalls yet. Cheese is a food product commonly used in a number of snacking and cooking products and in prepared foods of all kinds.
Here are a few of the companies issuing recalls “out of an abundance of caution” as some of them so self-righteously note (I hate that phrase). Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC of Middlebury, Ind. Is recalling its Colby cheeses that it supplied to a number of other companies. Sargento Cheese Company is recalling select Sargento branded cheeses (which it apparently got from Deutsche Kase Haus). Guggisberg Cheese Inc. is recalling various types of Colby type cheeses. Meijer is announcing a recall of its Meijer Brand Colby Cheese and Colby Jack Cheese, sold at deli counters.
And then there are companies such as MDS Foods Inc., of Massillon, Ohio, which is recalling multiple products because it unfortunately got the Colby cheeses it used in them from Deutsch Kase Haus and Choice Farms LLC which is conducting a small recall of stuffed mushrooms.
Press on the recall button on this blog and you will get more recalls. New ones are coming out all the time.
Yes, you may have kept these foods you bought in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, that won’t do you much good. Listeria can grow and multiply at those cold temperatures.
And if you are older, or have a weakened immune system, you are more vulnerable - along with young children and pregnant women (who may suffer miscarriages or stillbirths).
Friday, February 10, 2017
The previous post was about a recall by Ruth's Salads of one lot of 7 ounce containers of Pimento Spread in 5 states in the U.S. Well, no surprise. The recall has now expanded to many more of Ruth's products and to 8 states. So what else is new? After all, this is the usual pattern. Many food recalls start small but expand, and keep expanding.
That is why I keep warning readers to stop eating ANY similar products as soon as you learn of a recall. Living a few days without your favorite spread is not going to kill you. But a case of food poisoning just could do that, especially if you are a senior or someone else with a weakened immune system, or a pregnant woman (in that case, it would be your unborn child who is in danger).
And don't sit back and relax when you read that "no illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem." That phrase always sends my blood pressure up. If the tiny bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is to blame - as it is in this case - it could take up to 70 days for symptoms to develop. Dah....
So keep a watch out for any high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, especially if you are older. And while it is fresh in your mind, write down exactly what you ate and when, and keep the container if you still have it. In fact, you might be wise to give your doctor a call just in case.
And don't eat any of the below, or even anything similar, since we still don't know what ingredient in these or similar products was the contaminated one.
Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-00005 7 oz.
Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-12023 12 oz.
Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-24023 24 oz.
Ruth’s Old Fashion Pimento Spread74952-15005 16 oz.
Ruth’s Jalapeno Pimento Spread 74952-12014 12 oz.
Ruth’s Lite Pimento Spread 74952-12000 12 oz.
Ruth’s Cream Cheese w/Pineapple-Pecans
74952-12008 12 oz.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
If you have read The Safe Food Handbook (my book, not this blog) you will probably guess that one of my favorite agents of food poisoning is the tiny bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It is believed to be the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States.
Listeria turns up on a regular basis in our processed foods and in restaurant meals. Recently, it was suspected in Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is distributed in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
This blog has often highlighted how dangerous the Listeria bacterium is for pregnant women, that is, for their unborn child (causing miscarriages and stillbirths). But today I want to touch on how dangerous it is for older adults and anyone else with a weakened immune system (such as those receiving cancer therapy).
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, more than half of all Listeria infections occur in people age 65 and older. Why? The CDC points to the fact that as we age our immune system and organs aren’t as good at recognizing and ridding our body of harmful germs as they used to be. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer also tend to occur more in people who are older and also weaken the immune system. Add to this the fact that as we age, our whole body, including our digestive system, tends to become more sluggish and ineffective, allowing pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes to multiply and cause us more harm.
I suspect it also had something to do with the fact that older people who still live independently tend to eat more processed "easy" foods such as Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is a typical place for this nasty bacterium to hide.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Today seems to be “acrylamide” day in the United States. A long list of on-line sites have suddenly discovered this potentially cancer-causing cooking chemical (MSN, CBS, sciencefocus.com, fox13news.com, lifescript.com, wdef.com, news.sky.com, and many, many more). Most have associated it with burnt toast and/or potatoes. It seems that Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) started the ball rolling.
I hate to be doing a Trump and knock the media. But while it may not be fake news, it is very old news. European countries recognized acrylamide as a potential cause of cancer ages ago and have been educating the public well before Britain joined the chorus. And as for the United States…well. It has gone back and forth, but has been afraid to stick its bureaucratic neck out (the potato chip lobby at work?).
Now I am going to boast, which seems to be fashionable these days, at least in political circles. I did a thorough review of the issue about ten years ago. The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, has a relatively short section on it – much shorter than originally went to the publisher.
And if you read it, you may find some other surprising foods that can contain acrylamide, not just burnt toast and certain kinds of potatoes.
But let me finish on a positive note about toast. One or two slices is not going to do it, so don't worry too much.
TSF (By the way, for those who always wondered, that stands for "The Safe Foodie."