Thursday, March 6, 2014
The cause could be a bacterium called Mycobacterium marinum. This bacterium is common in fish and aquariums but it rarely causes infections in humans – until now. Recently there has been a cluster.
You don’t get ill from eating a fish that carries M. Marinum, but from touching it when you have a cut or abrasion on your hands. If not treated quickly with specific antibiotics, the infection can spread to the soft tissue below the skin and then get into your tendons and muscles. If untreated for a long time, you may even end up having to have surgery to repair damage to those damaged muscles, nerves or tendons.
So which fish is the cause and where did it come from? At the moment, we don’t know, but the investigation is ongoing.
By the way, there is no evidence that eating the fish from any of those markets could make you ill – just touching it. And, it can’t spread to other people if you have an infection. At least, that is the current thinking.
So the advice for now – wear waterproof gloves when preparing your fish. Some cuts on your hands can be so small that you are not even aware of them – but large enough to let bacteria get in.
To your good health,
Sunday, January 26, 2014
So what else is new? It happens all the time. The latest to be hit by this kind of outbreak is a Royal Caribbean cruise ship named Explorer of the Seas. It was on a 10-day trip to the Caribbean. No more. The cruise is over. With about 10 to 20 percent of the passengers ill, the cruise line decided to call it quits.
It's probably thanks again to norovirus, sometimes called the "cruise ship virus." However, that still has to be confirmed. Inspectors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presently on board and laboratory tests are being done. I would bet that food has played a role in the spread of this virus, as it usually does.
Incidentally, the Explorer of the Seas scored 98 - pretty close to perfect - on its recent sanitation inspection by the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program.
I just checked back on this blog. It seems that I have posted 28 times on norovirus. About half of the posts dealing directly with outbreaks on cruise ships. So if you want to learn how to avoid it, there's plenty of information.
In the meantime ..To your good health!
UPDATE 1/28/14: I notice a lot of readers are clicking on a much older post "Hundreds Fall in on Cruise Ship." Even though this refers to a similar outbreak on a different ship, much of what it says also applies here.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Some examples of recent discoveries of such bacteria include the end-of-last year one by The Cultured Kitchen® of West Sacramento, California. It was suspected that Salmonella could be present in all flavors of their non-dairy cashew cheese product ( herb, Smoked Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Pesto or Peso Basil, White Cheddar). These non-dairy cashew cheeses were distributed in Northern California and Nevada at various natural foods stores and farmers markets in the Sacramento Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, and Reno. So much for healthy, small producer, farmers market food!
How did the Salmonella get in? The suspect was cashew nuts - imported from Southeast Asia. The special strain of Salmonella that was found only turns up in these so that was clear evidence. Yes, the products might be “local” but all the ingredients may not be.
Even more recently, Tyson Foods, Inc. had to recall some 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products because contamination by a Salmonella Heidelberg strain – one of the common ones – was found.
And back in October, Costco had to recall huge amounts of rotisserie (cooked) chicken because of Salmonella contamination.
And that’s only a few examples of Salmonella bacteria turning up in our food.
By the way, symptoms of Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramps, and (maybe bloody) diarrhea. Most people who become ill recover within a week. Some, like infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, may develop complications that send them to the hospital.
Be careful what you eat, especially if you are in a high-risk group!
To your good health,
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
For the last few days, the news in North America has been full of "swine flu" (H1N1v virus) reports, and even one about "bird flu" (H5N1 virus). My friends are asking me: “Can you catch these kinds of influenza from your food?”
Before I address this issue, let me say that I am glad I at least briefly covered both these topics (as well as “mad cow disease”) in The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food.” (For those of you who have bought the book: see the chapter on Meat and Poultry, pp.155-158). I had a nasty feeling that these weird kinds of flu might come back to haunt us. And, they have.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about half of the United States is reporting widespread influenza outbreaks, most of it apparently caused by the H1N1v virus – also called “swine flu” although it is really a variant of one that is common in pigs. Remember the worldwide pandemic in 2009-1010? The odd thing about this virus then was that it tended to attack younger people. We don’t know if it will the same this season.
As for "bird flu" – it has now arrived in a human in North America. Canada has reported its first death from "bird flu." But the victim had clearly caught it in China, and in fact became ill on the way back home. Before this most of the confirmed 648 cases (bound to be just a fraction of the actual ones) as well as the 384 or so deaths, have been in Asia.
So – to the main question: can you get either "bird" or "swine flu" from your food? The answer isn’t all that simple. Yes, you can catch "bird flu" from handling infected birds – including when you are preparing to cook them. Usually, chickens, turkeys or ducks have been involved. And as far as we know at present, it is not present in birds in North America - yet We are still not sure if you can catch it from eating infected poultry. As for "swine flu" – as the book says, as far as we know at present (things could change), you can’t get it from eating pork, particularly well-cooked pork. But it is possible that someone preparing your food (for instance, when eating out at a restaurant), could sneeze or cough on your slice of tomato or lettuce leaf, or otherwise land the virus in your meal.
There is still a great deal we don’t know about both these scary types if influenza, or, how they could change in the future.
By the way, in the meantime, don’t hug a pig. And if you are travelling in Asia, I would also suggest you don’t get too close to wild birds – or leopards and tigers which now sometimes also carry bird flu.
To your good health,
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I have just spent an unpleasant hour cleaning my small kitchen appliances. I don’t know why they don’t make toaster ovens so that you can easily take them apart to get those crumbs out. Crumb trays certainly don’t work. In the end, my most effective tools were a long wooden skewer, a pastry brush and several small screwdrivers.
All this is part of my preparing for a safe food 2014.
As I have written a book on food safety, I really thought I ought to blitz kitchen hygiene, even though I have to admit I would much rather be doing something else. I much prefer cooking - and do a lot of it. Or, for that matter, painting the kitchen rather than cleaning it. Listening to Beethoven while scrubbing away and wrestling with screwdrivers helped a bit.
Cleaning those small appliances thoroughly (yes, including turning them upside down and doing the underneath) is only part of this day’s agenda. Not all of it is strictly aimed towards a safe cooking environment, but some of it is.
Here is what else I still have to tackle (after finishing this post and getting a second cup of coffee to spur me on):
• Check all packaged, canned and frozen items for best-by dates; toss out any that have expired and make a note of those that are close to their expiry or best-by dates (a red magic market helps).
• Clean out the refrigerators thoroughly and wash with a bleach solution or vinegar to kill any mold spores (The Safe Food Handbook – the book, not this blog –recommends using one part bleach to one part water).
• Go through my huge number of herbs and spices to eliminate those that are too old (this is for flavor as much as safety).
• Check all cutting boards and either thoroughly scrub, sand-down, or, toss out if needed (as in the case of my favorite wood board). If you want other cleaning alternatives for your boards, take a look at what Martha Stewart suggests on http://www.marthastewart.com/272072/a-clean-kitchen-top-to-bottom.
And then, of course, I still have to cook that duck that is waiting for attention for tonight. Much more pleasant than all those other nasty – but necessary - chores. At least I will feel righteous after finishing them. That is, if I do.
To your good health in 2014!
Monday, December 30, 2013
Food poisoning is no joke. I would estimate that half the people I know well have had at least one episode of it this past year. All say that the last thing they want is to ever come down with food poisoning again. “Misery” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So can you make sure you don't get sick from your food? Frankly, you can never avoid all food risks because you simply cannot control all aspects of your food supply. But, no matter what kind of diet you prefer, you can definitely improve your chances, simply by:
• Avoiding the most risky types of food
• Limiting how much you eat out, take-out and consume ready-to-eat items (convenience foods)
• Preparing, cooking and storing foods safely at home
• Always practicing good hygiene, including in the kitchen
The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, covers all these topics, food by food. I also blog a lot about food choices and there are hundreds of posts you can refer to. There are also scores of posts that either directly focus on, or deal with problems in ready-to-eat foods or eating out. I don’t focus much on hygiene, because it’s basically common sense and most of us know what to do, although we don’t always do it, especially when it comes to a sanitary kitchen, either because we are too rushed, or simply forget things such as cutting boards (see my next post).
Let’s be smart eaters this year. No one wins if you get sick – especially you.
To your good health,
Saturday, December 21, 2013
If there is one thing in our food that scares me, it’s superbugs – bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics. Hopefully, the United States has now taken an important step towards reducing this very serious threat to global health. And it’s about time.
The Safe Food Handbook (section titled “The Superbug Issue" in the chapter on Meat and Poultry) argues that the common practice of giving regular low doses of antibiotics to food animals to promote more rapid growth can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What happens is that the tougher bacteria inside the animal’s intestine learn to live with the antibiotics, multiply and take over, while the weaker bacteria succumb. In turn, this creates a health risk for people who handle or eat the meat. This practice is particularly dangerous where the antibiotics given to animals are similar to antibiotics used in human medicine to treat bacterial infections.
Of course, the practice is profitable - not just for drug companies that sell huge amounts of such antibiotics, but for the farmers.
Europe recognized the dangers of such sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics back in 2001. Yes, a dozen years ago. The United States, on the other hand, under heavy industry pressure, has resisted banning the practice. However, this month the FDA took a step in the right direction, though I would certainly not call it an actual “ban.”
It is asking (yes, “asking” not demanding) that drug makers change the labels saying how antibiotics can be used. This, together with other measures, such as getting veterinarians to issue prescriptions for animal antibiotic use, is expected to stop, or at least, reduce this dangerous practice. It seems that animal drug makers such as Zoetis and Elanco will go along. Let’s see. Giving up profits is never easy.
If these measures are indeed implemented successfully, they could well lead to higher meat and poultry prices for the consumer. Personally, I think it is worth it. Let’s just eat less meat.
To your good health,