Friday, January 28, 2011


This is probably a final blog on this topic. But it is important. Most children eat candy. The last thing parents want is for that candy to be contaminated with lead.

The current revelation of high levels of lead in candy imported from Pakistan is not the first - nor will it be the last incident. Throughout the years, there have been cases in the United States of lead-contaminated imported candy from various countries. In fact, in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration advised pregnant women and young children not to eat candy imported from Mexico because of this risk.

How do you know when the lead is there? The point is, you don't. The candy tastes the same. Nor will you (or your children) have symptoms at the lower blood levels. As the levels of lead in blood rise, symptoms will start to appear. The younger the child, the more he or she will be at risk because lead affects the child's developing nerves and brain. The fetus is especially vulnerable, which is why pregnant women need to be so careful. When symptoms do appear, they are often vague and easy to dismiss - irritability, sleeplessness, anemia, headaches, loss of appetite, low energy, and so on.

How does lead get into the candy? Spices could be the cause, especially chili powder which is extensively used in candies and soft drinks to give them that extra "punch." As explained in The Safe Food Handbook (section on "Can There be Lead in our Spices?), it could happen because of the way the chilies are dried, processed or stored. So is domestic candy any safer? It is hard to tell. It may also use imported chili spices as an ingredient. But both spices and candy are tested for such unhealthy substances, although such testing cannot cover or catch everything.



The toxic "Nuclear Sludge" candy that was distributed for years by Candy Dynamics (including the flavor in the photo - thank you, Candy Addict)is getting more publicity. As a result, people are also becoming increasingly worried. Especially all those thousands of people all over the world (as well as in the U.S. and Canada) who love this sour candy - maybe more for its edgy advertising and clever marketing than for its taste.

But lead is no joke. It is bad enough having it in some of that old paint in our homes. High levels of lead in the candy we and our children eat is worse. But just how bad?

As in almost all threats in our food (and in treats) it depends who you are and how much you eat. If you have eaten one piece of "Nuclear Sludge" don't worry. But if you or your members of your family have eaten it regularly, and eaten a lot of it, you may need to be. This applies particularly to:

• pregnant women,
• young children.

Your age and nutritional status can also affect how much of the lead your body actually absorbs from the food or treats you ingest (more on this in a future blog). Most health experts agree on these risk factors. But what if you believe either you or your children may have got too much?

To quote Mike Sicilia, a spokesman with the California Health Department. "If you had one piece of this, I wouldn't be too concerned." If you're pregnant, I would talk to your physician." Good advice. I would also apply this to your young children if they are regular munchers on "Toxic Sludge". A blood test for lead levels will probably be ordered as a first step. But before you do go to that doctor, take along the basic information - how much you (or your child) have eaten, over what period of time. And, in case he or she has not seen the recall data, which includes suspected levels of lead in the candy, print out the FDA's recall notice for today and take it with you. Here's the link: . (Yes, the first date on the notice is 2010, but the FDA seems not to have entered 2011 yet! ).

And in future, if you have a craving for something sour, suck on a slice of lemon - while watching those cute adds for Toxic Candy. Much safer.



I love the black humor in their branding, and can see why the products appeal to a certain age-group of children. Even my dog was excited by the odd noises emitted by their website. And the company's facebook site, with about 1,600 fans, offers $1,000 reward to the person who posts the funniest image of eating their candy (I am tempted...).

But I wonder if Circle City Marketing and Distributing (doing business as Candy Dynamics, Indianapolis), foresaw how the labels of "Toxic Waste" and "Nuclear Sludge" children's candy might play in the event that they really turned out to be toxic to children.

And they have. The FDA has announced some of "Nuclear Sludge®" brand ones contain levels of lead above the U.S. FDA's maximum tolerance level of 0.1 ppm). This could cause health problems, particularly for infants, small children, and pregnant women - and especially if they eat several pieces of candy, as many children (and, yes, guilty) adults do. The posts on their facebook site show that fans eat 20 or more at a sitting! In fact, some scientists are concerned that many American children's high levels of lead (not found to be linked to any paint issues), are indeed caused by what they eat - or suck on, such as candy. This is a serious health issue (I'll do a future blog).

The company is recalling all lots and all flavors of the smaller sized "Nuclear Sludge" candies that were distributed from the product's inception in May 2009 through January 2011. These candies were imported from Pakistan. They were distributed nationwide in retail stores and through mail orders in the US, as well as in Canada, and in limited quantities in Guatemala, Ireland, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, El Salvador, South Africa, and who knows where else. Thank you again risky imports.

I am pleased to say that the company is discontinuing the sale of Nuclear Sludge® products in the U.S. (Canada - take action too). Let's just stick to getting our toxic waste from the environment instead of from our candy!


Thursday, January 27, 2011


I am often asked whether washing ready-to-eat, that is, already washed salads will help to make them safer.

The experts - and the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of making sure that these kinds of foods are as safe as they can be - usually say it might, but then again, it might not. In other words, they don't come right out and say it helps. But they point out that it doesn't hurt either.

Let me explain this better. Ready-to-eat salads (in bags, plastic clamshell containers or other) are usually triple-washed by the distributor before they are sent to the store. It has been estimated that this will get rid of around 90-95% of any bacteria on the salad leaves (irradiation would get rid of an additional 5% or so). But notice - I said "on" - not "in." Research shows that some bacteria can get right inside the leaves. If so, washing prior to packaging, or washing in your own home won't get rid of them.

How about some cooked salad?


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Listeria monocytogenes bacteria commonly crop up in ready-to-eat (RTE) salads as well as other RTE foods. This bacterium can be present in the soil, in improperly treated organic fertilizer and in irrigation water. Animals who carry it may show no symptoms of illness.

The bacteria could also enter from packaging or plant equipment - and, in my opinion, one of the biggest risk factors - is that it is commonly carried by food industry workers. How often this happens, is difficult to say as estimates vary - let's say, somewhere between 5-20% of food workers may be carriers (that is of course, a broad range, but I bet it varies in different parts of the US.

And don't assume that this is just a US problem. It is not. For the readers of this blog in Canada, Australia, New Zealand (and my stats tell me there are quite a few of you in those countries) you have also had quite a few similar outbreaks and recalls - Listeria monocytogenes in RTE salads (as well as other foods). In fact, several occurred in 2010 in all these countries. At least one was reported in New Zealand about a week ago (Pams Fresh Express, and Living Foods Brands were involved).

And unfortunately, you can't assume organic produce is any safer. For one thing, it is handled just as much. For another, it is just as subject to environmental, animal and plant contamination. Take today's recall by State Garden, Inc. (see previous blog). One of the salad products on its recall list is Olivia's Organics. In fact, some 20 of the 90 (currently) recalled salad products bear this label. This organic line was launched with all kinds of great publicity by State Garden in March, 2006. I am quoting from the company's website at that time: "The mission of OLIVIA’S ORGANICS™ is three-fold: to encourage healthy eating by offering all-natural, organic products; to aide the local community though the work of its Foundation; and to protect the environment by endorsing earth-friendly, organic farming techniques." This sounds like a wonderful initiative - for a profit oriented company. But, unfortunately, bacteria don't discriminate - they are an equal-opportunity threat.

Listeria monocytogenes is not only a global food safety risk, but it can turn up just as much in organic as well as in conventional produce and other kinds of foods. Pregnant women - take special care (see my next blog).



A new salad product recall by State Garden, Inc. of MA, has just been announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some 90 different kinds of fresh salads are being recalled, many of them mixed, or with herbs, spices or dressing added.

There is nothing new about the type of contamination of fresh greens. It is that bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes again, which is so very common in ready-to-eat products of all kinds (just check back on the food alerts listed on this blog, and you'll see it everywhere).

Here are the facts for today's RTE salad recall.

Where products sold: a variety of retail stores on the East Coast, including AP, Giant, Stop & Shop and others.

Products recalled: a very long list of some 90 different RTE salads in a variety of sizes and packaging (bag, clamshell etc.) with brand names of Gold Quality, Hannaford, Natures Place, Nature's Promise, Roche Bros, Northeast Fresh, Noreast Fresh, Olivia’s Organics, Signature, Wegmans (gives you an idea of how complex our food system is, right?). Trace back codes 45693 and 45703. Go to this site for a complete list:

People at high risk: Pregnant women (risk to the newborn - including miscarriages, stillbirths, or serious health problems for the newborn), those with HIV/AIDS, anyone else with a compromised immune system, the very young and elderly. This bacteria can have fatal consequences in almost a quarter of cases of severe illness (compare to Salmonella - which has only about a 1% fatality rate).

Symptoms to watch out for:high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A few days ago, a friend asked me how we know that a food recall is over or "finished."That was a very sensible question from someone I consider to be one of my most sensible friends.

From what I have observed, the FDA and USDA (whichever one oversees that particular recalled food) posts an update to say the recall is now complete. But, notices are not posted all the time. Other times the product just quietly goes back into the food supply.

And don't think it is just a matter of days: often the recall of a contaminated food is not finished for months, or even a year, as one after another food product is affected. This is particularly the case when the contaminated item is used as an ingredient in a number of foods - as in the case of nuts, powdered milk, or something similar. At times, of course, the companies have to do time-consuming cleanups, and even to close down plants for a while.

By the way, another friend asked: "What happened to those egg producers in Iowa? Don't tell me they are back in the market." Yes, they are. For a while they were only allowed to send eggs for processing into liquid egg product (which is pasteurized, and therefore safe). Then Hillandale Farms was cleared for selling shell eggs again. About four months after the recall started (end of November, 2010), Wright County Egg was also given the "all clear." So yes, we are now eating their eggs again. But hopefully, a little safer than they were before. At least the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they are.

To quote the Commissioner, Margaret A. Hamburg: "During the outbreak, I said that FDA would not agree to the sale of eggs to consumers from Wright County Egg until we had confidence that they could be shipped and consumed safely. After four months of intensive work by the company and oversight, testing, and inspections by FDA, I am satisfied that time has come."

But don't hold your breath. Salmonella has a nasty habit of doing repeat appearances. It is safer to just cook your eggs well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


One of the many Mark Twain sayings that I like is: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." True - statistics are often misleading. You can interpret and use them in a variety of ways to make a point. That also applies to statistics about foodborne illness. A call-in question during my KQED Forum radio interview on Friday, made me very aware of this. But it is difficult to explain complicated issues well in a 10-20 second response on air (particularly if the show is live, and the question catches you "cold.") So I am doing it here.

The number of reported illnesses caused by one or other food or food group (such as produce, dairy, seafood, meat, grains) depends on several factors. They include:

• The contaminants that it carries
• Whether these contaminants are or are not checked for by the industry and government inspectors
• The food's popularity (how widely it is distributed, eaten or used as an ingredient in other food products)
• The point of contamination (farm, factory, distributor, transporter, retailer, restaurant, and so on).

The questioner was particularly concerned because I said that raw vegetables and fruits cause a large number of illnesses every year. They do - because most Americans and Canadians eat them, most of the contaminants enter at an early point (the farm), several bacteria are now tested for on raw produce, and some of the huge fresh produce companies distribute their products nationwide.

Yes, your lettuce or spinach salad may not be as deadly - strictly speaking as say, as raw oysters or sprouted seeds. But these foods cause a far smaller number of illnesses in the U.S. and Canada, simply because only a small percentage of people eat them. Raw produce causes many times more. But for the stated reasons.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Now beef is trying to make up for lost time last year. We are getting one beef recall after another. The latest - "FULLY COOKED BLACK ANGUS GROUND BEEF STEAK PATTIES,” (whatever that means). They were apparently contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria which is so deadly to people with compromised immune systems (see previous blog about Steve Jobs) - and, to pregnant women.

But try recalling beef patties, when that product "has been used and is no longer available in commerce." (I am quoting the company's recall notice). The Angus beef patties in question were produced by United Food Group, of California, on October 11 last year.

Why is this recall so late? It seems when the company was conducting its end-of-year inventory, it discovered that this large package of contaminated burgers, that had been placed on hold, had been accidentally shipped out after all. Oooops. A little slip-up. It went to a single distributor in California who apparently shipped the patties off to "institutional users." Hospitals? Schools? Nursing homes? NOT a good idea....



As of last night, the news has been full of Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, taking another medical leave-of-absence from the company. This comes about a year and a half after his liver transplant and earlier absence. Apparently he has only been coming in a couple of days a week recently anyway, and it seems that even this got to be too much.

I am not surprised at the news. Why? For one thing, because of what I know about food safety. People such as Steve Jobs are in a very high risk group for food poisoning, because their immune systems are not functioning properly. The medication given after organ transplants is a major factor in this (some other prescription and over-the-counter medicines can have similar effects).

This means that a very few pathogenic Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes or other bacteria, or of a comparatively mild virus such as Norovirus, which would not affect a healthy adult, can be deadly for them. They have to be very, very, careful about what they eat.

A lot of other people fall into that very high risk group as well. In fact, anyone with a weak immune system is more at risk for contaminated food. Food safety is not just about what you eat, but about who you are.

To your good health,


UPDATE: Like many people all over the world, I was saddened last night to hear about Steve Job's death. He was a brilliant man, who lived his dream, and changed the world in the process.

Monday, January 17, 2011


The USDA/FSIS which is in charge of the safety of American meat and poultry, has at least one inspector on the ball. As he/she (and I hope it is a woman)was inspecting the records of a Colorado producer of beef trim he/she found a problem. A large shipment of beef trim,labelled "for cooking only," should have been sent first to a federally approved facility for the "kill" step before it went into the food supply. But no - the company's records showed that it had been sent to the wrong place - where no such treatment of meat was done. This meant that this meat most likely entered our food system loaded with bacteria.

Why? Because beef trim is the worst, and most dangerous of beef, scraped off the skeleton of the cow, and trimmed off other cuts. It is used for making hamburger meat (no wonder hamburger meat is so risky). E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria are estimated to be present in 2-3% of US cattle (the cattle do not show signs of illness, so they are not eliminated at the slaughterhouse). These bacteria easily get into meat during the slaughtering process, in spite of precautions taken and in spite of inspectors keeping a round-the-clock eye on things.

Of course, the company's recall notice makes a point of saying that no illnesses have been linked to this recalled meat as yet. But, it is very difficult to establish links with this kind of product. Good luck finding any proof - or, recalling any of the meat, for that matter. It was produced on Dec. 2, 2010. The recall took place six weeks later. And your butcher or supermarket or some prepared hamburger manufacturer - maybe several - have used it long ago to make your hamburger meat (often it is made on the premises).

I just hoped you cooked those burgers well back there in December.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


This is a busy week for The Safe Food Handbook appearances, and may become more so.

• On KRON-4 TV News - Interviewed by Henry Tenenbaum on Sunday, Jan. 15, 9-10am.

• At Book Passage, Book discussion - The Ferry Building, San Francisco, California - 01/19/2011 6:00 pm.

• On KQED Public Radio's Forum - Friday, Jan. 21, 10-11am, Dave Iverson, host -

Listen in or come!


Thursday, January 13, 2011


Well, it looks more and more as though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been listening to all those critics who say it needs to stop acting like a wimp bureacracy. Now it is flexing its "food safety" muscles. A month or so ago (see earlier blog, it clamped down hard on a renegade alfalfa grower who had been refusing to clean up its alfalfa production practices for years. Then it was the turn of a rat-infested chili warehouse in New Mexico, that the FDA finally closed down - again, after it had repeatedly thumbed its nose at the government regulators (I have a feeling I am getting my metaphors in a mess here..).

Today, it was announced that the FDA had filed an injunction against a juice manufacturer in Jamaica, New York, which had been refusing to do as it was told for at least 14 months. It had been selling its products to food service establishments primarily in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

The company, bearing the wonderful name of "Mystical One LLC" or "Mystical One Juice LLC" manufactured Fresh Carrot Juice, Magnum Food Drink, Pineapple Ginger Drink, Sorrel & Ginger Drink, Sea Moss, and Peanut Punch - which were anything but clean. In fact, they could be downright deadly (as in "lethal" to anyone who drinks it) because of risks of Clostridium botulinum bacteria that can germinate in the carrot juice. The infractions cited by the FDA include failure by Mystic One to:

• adequately heat low-acid vegetable juices to destroy or prevent growth of dangerous microorganisms;
• properly clean food-contact surfaces; and
• maintain and monitor sanitation conditions at the manufacturing facility to prevent sources of possible food and water contamination.

Naughty, naughty....

The official statement said: "Mystical One failed to adhere to food safety guidelines and we have stopped their operation."
Congratulations FDA!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Even CNBC is announcing the latest ground beef recall - all of 200,000 pounds of ready-to-cook hamburgers. (By the way, I blogged this recall yesterday already). Of course - food recalls affect the health of companies as well as health of the public,so reporting recalls is quite natural for a leading business website.

But this is not really a case of exceptionally huge amounts of meat being recalled. Not in the day of mass-produced food. Nor is it that unusual a food recall. Hamburger meat and ready-to-cook frozen hamburgers are recalled all the time by different companies in the business.

But there are two interesting facts that CNBC and most other news reports are not telling you about this recall - yet. One is that this is a case of American business at its worst - that is, unethical, with no concern for public health (see yesterday's blog). The other interesting fact - and I am still checking it to make sure I have it straight - is that the OneGreat Burger Company is physically linked to the former Topps Meat Co. LLC. Topps was a nice family-owned company, which prided itself on its safety procedures. This obviously did not prevent E.coli 0157 from being found in its frozen hamburgers, resulting in their having to recall 21.7 million pounds of frozen hamburgers. (Now there's a big recall - in fact, the second largest beef recall in U.S. history). Topps was, up to that point, the largest manufacturer of frozen hamburgers in the U.S. It had been in business for 67 years, and this was its first recall.

That huge recall tipped Topps into bankrupcy back in 2008 (It already closed its plant in 2007). During the bankrupcy proceedings, an affiliate of Hawthorne-based Premio Foods, a sausage maker, then acquired the remainder of the Topps lease at its New Jersey plant, together with its flash-freezing equipment for $250,000. It set up the not-so-great One Great Burger, of Elizabeth, N.J.(The Topps name was bought by another company). Now IT is being faced with a huge recall, and not just because its burgers were smelly and spoiled - and could be contaminated. Because it broke the food safety rules.

What would be really ironic is if Premio Foods was then forced to sell off the meat plant, and the Topps former ownership bought it back at a bargain-basement price. Redux, with reversal of roles.


Monday, January 10, 2011


One of the great mysteries in our food supply is what food companies do with the products they so-called "voluntarily" recall (a note of sarcasm here - read: "That the FDA or USDA makes them recall."). I have heard and read all kinds of stories, and more-of-less reliable reports: it is buried, it is shipped overseas, it is used as fertilizer, it goes into animal feed (including pet food)...and it is recycled - to us.

But before I go any further, I want to say that there are some very ethical food companies that are truly concerned about their clients' welfare and make double sure that any "bad" products of theirs that have unfortunately got into the food supply, will never get in again. I am sure that the owner of the clover sprouts company that I spoke to the other day falls into this category. So do some others.

However... there are also the other kind. Their thinking seems to go more or less like this: "This recall is costing us a bundle. What we need to do is find a way to reduce the costs. Maybe we can just send these returned products back to customers and no one - including the FDA and the USDA - will be any the wiser. All we need to do is just repackage them, with a different label and/or different code, and off they go. Easy... "

Impossible? Not at all. It happens. If you read my recalls alerts about a year ago, you would have seen that a California nut distributor recycled its potentially contaminated and recalled almonds under a different (and very healthy-sounding) brand name - and, sent them right back into the marketplace. And today, well, another instance. This one was caught by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS), which is charged with the safety of our meat products in the United States. As a result of customer complaints about smelly and off-color meat products (note..not routine inspection) it found that One Great Burger, of Elizabeth, N.J., had repackaged and recoded their returned burgers and

sent them out for further distribution to institutional customers. Yummy....What's this about a "great burger"?

Also, you can bet that for all the cases caught, there are hundreds of others that slip through the net.


Sunday, January 9, 2011


I decided it was time to tell the truth about my success as an urban organic farmer - particularly when it comes to those super-organic vegetables. Unfortunately, things are not nearly as good as I would like them to be.

For one thing, not everything I plant actually grows well. Those "baby" veggies seem to be attacked by anything and everything - molds, insects, snails, squirrels, deer, and who knows what else. I suppose it is the same as with infant humans - they are simply more vulnerable - and delicious. Here is photographic evidence of what those cabbages that you see in my Facebook profile photo taken a couple of months ago look like today. Pathetic!

Was I neglectful? Probably. I never did get around to putting up that copper barrier around them, that I meant to. Somehow the holidays (and the book) just took all my time. Besides, who feels like doing gardening in icy rain?

The second truth is that when they do grow to an edible stage, those organic vegetables often do not look anything like those perfect mass produced ones that you can buy in the supermarket. But believe me, they taste a lot better - and are more healthy. And although I always believe in having food look visually appealing, I am telling myself that perfection is boring. They are simply an artistic interpretation -like those freshly picked carrots below, or the smaller broccoli, zuccini and herbs, or the last of those imperfect Heirloom tomatoes that date back a couple of months.


Friday, January 7, 2011


In the years I have been following food product recalls in the US, I have learned a few things. Here are five that may surprise you:

• The recalling food company is often not the one guilty of contaminating the food being recalled. They could be an innocent victim. The contaminant could have entered from their ingredient supplier, at their packer's, or during transport. Or, they could simply be a distributor or retailer, who bought bad food products, thinking they were safe.

• You cannot assume that the product being recalled is always the right one - that is, the food that has caused an outbreak of illnesses. Mistakes happen and trace-back is not that easy. Strawberries have been recalled, when it was really raspberries that were contaminated, tomatoes recalled instead of peppers, and more. Just keep your fingers crossed.

• Many recalls start small and expand, so the safest approach is to leave a wide margin around the food that is recalled for a while. That is, if peanut products are being recalled by one company, avoid all foods containing peanut products for a while to allow the FDA to do more testing. If certain alfalfa sprouts are being recalled, avoid eating any for a while until you hear more, as the problem could be in the seeds distributed to many growers. If three cheeses made by a cheese maker are being recalled, avoid the other five they make until the FDA does more testing in case the problem is contaminated equipment or something else they all share. And so on.

• Many recalls are a case of "too little too late." It is not unusual for the "Best-by" date to have expired by the time the recall is announced. That is, we have already eaten the food. So think back on what you ate - not just what is still sitting in your refrigerator or cupboard. Of course, this is even more important if you are ill.

• Many recalls go on for a long time, sometimes in a type of start, stop and start-up again pattern, as more testing is done (see the Alert column on this blog for a 6 mos. recall by Fresh Express, and remember the peanut product and pistachio recalls that went on even longer). So don't assume it will be over in a day or so. We have a complicated food system.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


Friends have been asking me to explain food recalls. So here are the basics on how they operate in the United States. But keep in mind that the actual situation is much more complex - and may be changing under the new food safety laws.

Why do food recalls take place? Because a food product that is contaminated, adulterated or mislabeled has got into our food supply, and needs to be quickly removed before it causes harm.

Who does the recalling? Recalls are almost always done by the food company responsible for releasing the product. They have to pay the costs of getting the products back, and suffer the negative publicity, damage to their brand and liability threats.

What does government do? At present, government can request, but not order a company to recall a dangerous food product (except in the case of infant formulas and foods which are "vectors of communicable diseases"). And yes, it can lean on the company pretty heavily at times, even to the point where it eventually forces the company to do the recall, or, go out of business. The two federal agencies involved are the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, depending which food product is involved. How they deal with the culprit company varies to some extent.

How voluntary are recalls? The game that is played - and the language often used in recall notifications - is that the recall is "voluntary" or even "precautionary, voluntary." Sometimes even words such as "out of excess of caution" are used. But let's face it - what company wants a recall?

What should consumers do if they hear of a recall? Yes, "if" is more correct than "when" - since many people don't hear about food recalls, and many food products that are recalled don't even reach the FDA or USDA public alert system. What consumers should do is to : 1) check whether these products have been sold in their state and their area stores; 2) check whether they have bought and/or eaten any recently; 3) avoid purchasing any until the "all clear" is issued. On the last point: don't assume that your stores always quickly remove recalled foods from their shelves , or have a checkout block that stops you buying them. Some slip up, or just don't hear about the bad news (usually smaller stores). All said and done, you have to take care of yourself.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I'm an omnivore. I have even eaten barbecued bugs in Asia, sheep's eyes in Greece, some very odd root foods gathered by Bushmen in Africa, and well...a whole lot of other things I would rather not think about these days.

But the other night someone I met at a party asked me if there are any types of North American dishes or meals I simply won't eat because I consider them too unsafe. Yes, there are. Here are five that I plan to pass on in 2011, both when eating at home and when eating out:

• Salads or sandwiches made using raw sprouts.
Sprouts are simply too easily contaminated, even when producers use best FDA recommended procedures, and even if you grow them yourself.

• Raw oysters in any form.
True, I don't care for their slimy texture, but there is also a major health risk: Vibrio vulnificus bacteria which can make you very seriously ill and even be fatal.

• Farmed fish imported from China.
Too many drug residues have been found in these fish, and the FDA probably isn't even catching a small fraction of the ones that are there.

• Cheeses made with unpasteurized ("raw") milk.
I love them, but the latest outbreaks are showing that the 60 day cheese aging rule is not working to kill all bacteria.

• Sunnyside-up eggs.
I don't consider eggs to be a very risky food, in spite of the 2010 large Salmonella-associated outbreak. But they're easy to give up. I mean, they're not like chocolate. So why risk it?


Sunday, January 2, 2011


1. Eat as few ready-to-eat (RTE) products as possible, because they are likely to be many times more risky than those you cook yourself (that includes sliced up and RTE fruits and vegetables, as well as deli salads, spreads, sandwiches, and others). The added convenience is simply not worth getting ill.
2. Remember that eating out is likely to be more risky than eating in your own home, or in the home of someone you know - so choose where and what you eat with care.
3. Check the country-of-origin of your food products and give preference to local rather than "remote" foods - that is, those that have travelled thousands of miles to your plate and been stored for long periods of time.
4. Avoid eating any undercooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish (that includes undercooked salmon, and those undercooked mussels and clams - not just hamburger, steaks and roast chicken).
5. Avoid eating undercooked eggs or dishes that contain undercooked shell eggs (unless the eggs used have been pasteurized).
6. Avoid raw dairy, including unpasteurized milk and raw milk cheeses - even those raw cheeses that have been aged for 60 days (as required by US government regulations). The latest outbreaks argue that this safety measure is not enough to kill all bacteria and it needs to be changed.
7. Avoid any food that is moldy, especially in the case of nuts and grains, nut-containing products, or grain-based foods. Although some will do you no harm, others could contain carcinogenic mold toxins. Who wants those?
8. Remember that poor handling, preparation, or incorrect storage of foods will also put you at more risk, so be careful, and discard foods that are past their expiry dates.
9. Hand washing may be old fashioned, but it is more important than ever. Remember to do it immediately after you handle any food that could be contaminated - not just human food, but also pet food, and especially pet treats. You would be surprised about the number of people who have caught salmonellosis from dog treats.
10. Never assume that any type of food, such as organic or sustainable or natural or anything else will be risk-free; it won't. Anything and everything can be contaminated with one thing or another. How safe it is, will be partly up to you. Be a smart consumer.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


The Safe Food Handbook
Heli Perrett (Author)
January, 2011

Trade Paperback • 368 Pages
ISBN 9781615190171

Now Available at (partial list):
Online Booksellers:,, Barbes &,,,,,,,,, and several others.
Local US booksellers: Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders, Book Passage, Chapters, Cole, Indigo, Hastings, Indiebound, Target, Walmart
Local Canadian Booksellers: Chapters, Coles, Indigo
International Online Orders: (England), and (Canada), (France), (Germany), (Japan), (Canada), (Australia), nz (New Zealand), (Zambia).
Domestic and International offline orders: For bulk purchases - The Perseus Books Group
Customer Service Department, 1094 Flex Drive, Jackson, TN 38301

Upcoming Bookstore Events in January, 2011:
• At the Green Arcade, 1680 Market St, San Francisco, California - January 12, 7.00pm
• At Book Passage, The Ferry Building, San Francisco, California - 01/19/2011 6:00 pm
• On KRON-4 TV News - Interviewed by Henry Tenenbaum on Sunday, Jan. 15, 9-10am.
• On KQED Public Radio Forum - Interviewed Friday, Jan. 28, 10-11am.

Reviews and News:
Perrett writes in a manner that clears the fog of claims surrounding food risks and safety. This book will be an eye-opener for anyone who has had questions about food safety.
—Ginny Wolter, Toledo-Lucas Cty. P.L."

USA WEEKEND MAGAZINE - Nov.21, 2010: ”They save time, but pre-washed, pre-cut, ready-to-go packages of fruits and veggies can be problematic. “Proportionally more outbreaks of produce-linked illness come from fresh-cut produce than from produce left whole,” says Heli Perrett, author of The Safe Food Handbook. Some studies found that slicing before packaging can multiply the risk by six or more."

RUTH WINTER, Award winning science writer, author of 28 books: “The overburdened, understaffed agencies that are supposed to inspect and eliminate contaminated food in the United States cannot do an adequate job since most of our edibles are imported. The best protection against unsafe food, therefore, is our own knowledge. Dr. Perrett presents well-balanced, solid information about foods we may choose to eat. She answers many frequently asked questions about pre-packaged food, organic products, and what precautions to take with dishes such as sushi and raw beef. She even answers questions readers may not think to ask such as how to avoid distasteful, contaminated spices.”
—Ruth Winter, MS, author of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives.

(Signing out with exhaustion)