Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Test yourself: The egg carton has a label saying "Trafficanda Egg Ranch, Van Nuys, California. So where do you think these eggs were laid? California, of course. No...wrong. Actually, the hens they came from are sitting there at Wright County Egg farm in Galt, Iowa, and those eggs then travelled all the way to California, to be packaged and distributed here. And, they are now included in the shell egg recall - as of today.

How embarrassing for Trafficanda..and, annoying for us. We consumers in California were innocently buying and eating the eggs, thinking that at least they were California eggs, not Iowa eggs, so they were safe...And, local.

This is just one case. There are plenty of other examples. Moarc LLC, is another California distributor which is recalling over 24,000 eggs - received from the Iowa Hillandale farm, and re-packaged under the under the brand names Albertsons, Yucaipa Valley, Farmer’s Gems and Mountain Dairy, as well as sent to foodservice customers (unbranded). Similar things happened with the peanut product and pistachio outbreaks in 2008-2009.

Our food is distributed, and redistributed and repackaged and relabeled and repackaged and relabeled again. How do we know where it comes from? How will label reading help to keep us safe? We are constantly misled by the label, often confusing the location of the distributor with the place the food item was actually produced. During a recall, such as the present shell egg one, where the number of egg brands are constantly increasing, there is little we can do to make smart purchasing decisions, except to rely on the retailer to pull risky foods off the shelf...which some fail to do. The retailers also have a hard time keeping ahead of the recall-curve.

Of course, retailers could be extra careful, like one of my favorite and fairly safety-conscious local stores. Yesterday, when I walked over to get a carton of fresh eggs, I was met instead with what looked a group of stuffed hens (the correct size and with real feathers). If they hadn't been standing so still, I would have thought they were real. A sign below said something like this: "Our ---- (brand) eggs are not part of the recall, but we have removed them anyway to avoid confusion."

But they are correct: we consumers ARE confused. Who can remember all those different recalled brand names, "best-by" dates and Julian dates when they go to buy eggs? And keeping in mind that this is a constantly expanding list...

Eat beans instead.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


One thing we should never assume is that new food safety legislation is going to have an instant effect. Take eggs. Yes, the FDA has this year issued a new egg safety rule, meant to seriously reduce the chance that shell eggs could contain Salmonella bacteria - the main contamination risk in eggs. In fact, the majority of big U.S. egg producers and transporters are already doing most of the things proposed, and have been for years. Can they do better? Sure, there is always room for improvement, and hopefully, the legislation will help.

But if egg producers and egg transporters are being careful, how come more than half a billion eggs all over the U.S. have just been recalled because they could be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria? Everyone seems to be blaming the huge Iowa egg producers - Wright County Egg farms, and Hillandale Farms. Certainly, there is a chance that they slipped up. Let's face it, the violation record of Wright farms is not exactly great. If they break employment laws, maybe they have also been breaking the safety ones. And, there have been reports of rats...

But it could simply be that they were very unlucky. Maybe the chicks they bought were already ill, or the hen feed they bought was contaminated, or something else. The last think a food producer of any kind wants is a recall of their food products. The trouble is that bacteria are probably smarter at surviving than we are at catching them. Salmonella bacteria are proving to be one of the best. They are cropping up in almost every kind of food we eat - even in dry spices.

So, don't hold your breath and wait for things to get better. No matter what government does, or food producers and distributors do, things will never be perfect. There will always be a bad egg somewhere.

This is one type of food in which we consumers can really control our risks.



Bon appetit