Thursday, September 30, 2010


I almost rear-ended a police car yesterday. It was the policeman's fault - really. He swung out in front of me suddenly to give chase to a speeding car. He did not use a signal, or switch on flashing lights until later. Police often seem to think safe driving rules do not apply to them.

What does this have to do with food safety? Well, I thought of this incident when reading today's New York Times (Business section) article about the FDA inspector who was supposed to train poultry farmers on how to avoid spread of bacteria on poultry farms, breaking one of the cardinal safety rules herself, when she repeatedly parked her car too close to henhouses. By doing so, she could carry Salmonella or other bacteria in cow manure lodged in her tires or even transport contaminated poultry waste from one farm to another. In fact, it is believed that internationally much of Avian Influenza spread (apart from that carried by wild birds) is due to vehicles moving between poultry farms.

Why is it that those meant to enforce laws are often the first to break such laws - policemen, lawyers - and FDA inspectors?

And if an outbreak had indeed occurred at one of these poultry farms, the culprit inspector would not have been blamed - any more than that policeman would have been if I hadn't managed to brake fast enough.

Bon appetit!

Monday, September 27, 2010


No matter what improvements are made in egg production, the likelihood is that SE will never be completely wiped out of our eggs. There will always be the chance that SE-infected pullets will slip through the net, that contaminated feed will turn up again, that SE-infected rats will contaminate the laying environment, or, that something similar will happen. As a result, we can basically assume that a small fraction of all our shell eggs will always be infected with SE. Given past experience, we can also assume that there will be periods of time when that number will increase dramatically as there is an up-surge in SE infection among laying hens.

Whether we get sick from SE in our eggs will depend on four basic things: how vulnerable we are, how many eggs we eat, where we eat them and how we eat them. Let's turn to the "how" and "where." As we know by now, undercooked eggs and undercooked egg-containing dishes are the risky ones. Studies suggest that fried eggs (sunny-side up) are about the riskiest of all. The safest - well done eggs, pasteurized eggs (even if underdone), and egg dishes and egg-containing dishes made with pasteurized egg product.

As for high-risk places, the worst ones are institutional food-service (such as nursing homes, residential dining rooms, schools, hospitals) and restaurants or other places such as conventions, receptions, where eggs are pooled and large quantities of food are prepared, often in advance. Many institutional food-services have begun to use pasteurized egg products - which are easier to store and use, as well as safer. So have a large percentage of restaurants, but not all. After all, whole eggs taste better. Some restaurants do use pasteurized eggs, but their higher price is a negative.

Studies of egg use in restaurants have also shown that a large percentage continue to have practices that would help any bacteria in the eggs to multiply (such as leaving an omelet mix, or egg-containing dessert mix at room temperature for a while). It could well be that it is getting increasingly less safe to eat out at a good restaurant (more likely to use whole eggs than is a cheap one) than to eat in a nursing home.

Hyvää ruokahalua! (as they say in Finnland)