Thursday, March 31, 2011


I just realized that since I began this blog, January 2009, I have published 102 posts. There are now roughly 100 views a day, and increasing rapidly.

The blog has also changed during this period. Initially, I focused only on the U.S. and Canadian food supplies. But I began to realize that the readership was global - with quite a large segment of readers in various Asian and European countries. There are less hits from Latin America at present except for Brazil. Because of this wide readership, I have begun increasingly to focus on global issues, and plan to do so more in the future.

Recently, several posts have focused on food contamination by radiation in Japan, and its implications for other countries as well. This will probably be an ongoing topic as the situation develops further.

In the future, I would like to try to respond more to comments and questions, and generally make feedback both a key factor in choosing what to discuss and also a part of the posts.

Please comment!


Monday, March 28, 2011


If any candy has an unfortunate name at a time like this, it is "Toxic Waste®" candy and bubble gum. And, right on cue, there is another recall announced (although quickly deleted, probably by the company). This time it is for Toxic Waste® Short Circuits™ Bubble Gum - see image below. ( Lot #15070SC12 which is located along the left side of the bag).

This product is imported to the U.S. from Pakistan, as are the various equally threatening-sounding candies that are distributed by Circle City Marketing and Distributing, doing business as Candy Dynamics, in Indianapolis, Indiana. They have an amazing website which kids would love (I have to admit, even I love it).

No, the cause of the recall is not nuclear waste from Japan or anywhere else. It is excessive levels of lead in the candy (almost double the allowed maximum amount). How did it get in? Probably through one of the ingredients, though we still don't know which one. Here's the ingredient list (courtesy of Walgreen's website,which sells it) and it doesn't sound very healthy for us, does it, even apart from the lead:

Sugar , Gum Base , Corn Syrup , Dextrose , Citric Acid , Artificial Flavors , Coconut Oil , Artificial Colors , (Yellow 5 , Red 40 , Blue 1) , BHA and BHT.

The distributors had another recall of candy recently also because of high levels of lead (see post for Jan. 28, 2011). This time the hazardous bubble gum product was distributed nationwide in the U.S. both through retail stores and mail order, as well as in Canada and in Switzerland (in more limited quantities).

Nor is this the only recent recall or warning for lead-contaminated children's candies.

Just a few days ago, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) warned consumers not to eat Hans Brand Santra Candy, this time imported from India, because of high of lead (almost triple allowed levels).

Wake up FDA! Let's stop importing this risky stuff for our children to eat. We have plenty of great candy makers right here in the U.S. who use safer ingredients. Many of these are struggling small businesses that could use some more market demand right now. Lead is no joke. It's dangerous, particularly for young children and pregnant women. As The Safe Food Handbook points out, as many as one in six U.S. children have been found to have very high levels of lead with no known lead paint cause for about a third of them. Lead in candy (and bubble gum) could be one of the causes. We don't need it!


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Radiation in food is becoming a big issue. People everywhere are becoming nervous - not just in Japan. Even in America. Radiation fears are slowing sales of fish from Japan, and sushi restaurants are finding their customers disappearing. But is the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant really likely to result in radiation-contamination of fish as well as of vegetables and milk?

The experience of Chernobyl, as well as of smaller incidents at power plants (including in the U.S.) would argue that it is. And it is not just a question of contaminated marine fish. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 showed that radiation can also enter rivers and lakes and show up in the fish living there. Fish is very important in the Japanese diet. Fish is also a major export commodity. It comes from a variety of sources: wild-caught ocean fish, marine aquaculture, inland fishing and inland water aquaculture.

After plowing through a number of research studies and scientific papers, I concluded that the levels of radionuclides entering a particular water body will not be the only factor in determining which fish are most likely to become contaminated. A number of other factors are also likely to be involved. One is whether the water is flowing rapidly or not. Another is the type of fish: whether it is predatory, and whether it is a bottom feeder or a surface feeder. The experience of Chernobyl suggests that fish in lakes and ponds will have higher build-up of radionuclides than the same type of fish from fast-moving rivers and streams. Predatory fish will have higher levels than fish which were not predatory. Benthic fish (those that like to lie on the bottom, such as carp - Japan's most popular fish) are more likely to pick up contamination than those fish which tend to live near the surface.

As far as I know, no contamination of seafood from Japan has been reported so far. But the chances are, that it will be soon. If so, don't panic. As I keep saying, in most countries, any radiation-contaminated fish is likely to be caught before it reaches the market. Even if it does get there, a few meals are unlikely to harm you. But if you are pregnant, and for young children, it is still better to stick to the safer fish.


Saturday, March 26, 2011


Radiation has now been found in exported Japanese vegetables. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore has found traces of radiation in Shiso (perilla leaves), Mitsuba (wild parsley), Mizuna ('water' green vegetable), and in Nanohana (green rapeseed blossom) that were imported from Japan. In fact, Singapore has now suspended import of milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, seafood and meat from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures (note - food in all these areas has shown higher levels of radiation). There is also concern about certain processed foods from Japan, such as infant formula and yoghurt.

Consumers in other countries, including in China, the United States and Canada are also becoming concerned that their food may become radioactive. Some of this worry is overdone. First - as I have said before - the levels of toxic substances such as iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 that have been found in some exported food so far, are not likely to harm you if you eat a few meals of it. Secondly, radiation in food is easily detected, unlike some toxic chemicals in our food. Thirdly, radioactive iodine has a fairly short life, so levels will decrease quickly, and cesium 137 is excreted rapidly from the body if we ingest it.

I am not saying radiation in food is not unhealthy or not to be avoided if at all possible. It is. But at the present time at least, you don't need to lose sleep over it.



While I was cooking breakfast and waiting for houseguests to get up this morning, I decided to check on how the U.S. was doing in terms of reducing Salmonella bacteria in raw meat and poultry. This sudden urge was motivated less by obsession with Salmonella bacteria at 5am in the morning than by the fact that the latest report on the topic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just happened to pop up in my morning's E-mail.

A little background: the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has been regularly testing for Salmonella bacteria in raw meat and poultry (carcasses and raw ground meat and poultry products) since 1997 (for large establishments) and 1998 for smaller ones. This regular testing for Salmonella is operating alongside one for E.coli bacteria and another for general fecal contamination of raw meat and poultry. So, you could say it is just one indicator of overall meat and poultry contamination in the U.S. But it is still an important one: Salmonella bacteria are fairly common in all our foods, and quite deadly, especially to children and older adults.

I won't go into details on the various categories and procedures used, but here are a few interesting 2010 facts about chicken that I dug up from the USDA/FSIS data (and please don't think that I am prejudiced against either chicken or small producers):

• Raw ground chicken is more likely to carry Salmonella than raw ground beef.
• Since the Jan.-March 2009 quarter to Oct.-Dec. 2010 quarter, the incidence of Salmonella in ground chicken has risen dramatically (from 13.1% to 22.8%).
• It has risen in ground beef too, but is much, much lower than in ground chicken (1.7% to 2.8% for those same periods. Compare this to the above).
• Broilers (young chicken) carcasses have also shown a big increase and the latest findings have shown that almost a tenth are contaminated with Salmonella.
• Ground turkey isn't as bad as ground chicken in terms of Salmonella (the latest findings show 9% to be contaminated, compared to 22.8% in ground chicken).
• Very small establishments producing ground chicken are twice as likely to have contaminated ground chicken as are large ones (45.5% compared to 22.6%). It is even worse in the case of broilers (38.3% compared to 3.7%).

Cook your chicken well and be careful handling it. We can't just rely on the industry and government to keep our food safe.


Thursday, March 24, 2011


The good news today is that radiation levels in Tokyo are slightly down from yesterday. But they are still many times what they should be. We can't really be sure just how high radiation is in Japan's food and water. But we do know that soil, irrigation canals, drinking water systems and growing crops, grass and food animals as much as 100km away from the affected Fukushima power plant are picking up radioactive iodine and other contaminants such as caesium 134 and 137. And, we also know that at least some radiation-contaminated food and water is even reaching Tokyo.

Japan's Ministry of Health has warned about risks for infants, but has not issued warnings for pregnant and nursing women. They should have. Pregnant women also take up more iodine-131 and this dangerous substance does cross the placenta to the fetus. Animal testing and studies of human atomic bombing victims and those exposed by incidents like Chernobyl have shown that such iodine may have disasterous effects on the fetus. It can not only cause childhood cancers, but also miscarriages, malformations (such as neurological and motor problems), growth retardation, reduction in IQ and even mental retardation.

Two main risk factors are: the radiation dose, including whether it is acute ( a single dose) or chronic (small doses over time) and the stage of pregnancy when exposed. Exposure during the first trimester is the most serious. Pregnant women need to take extra precautions to avoid exposure to radiation from any source. That includes food and water.

If there is a shortage of bottled water in the home, priority needs to be given to the pregnant woman. She should also be careful what fresh milk she drinks and what vegetables and fruits she eats. This might be a good time to resort to tinned and powdered milk and to tinned and frozen produce, on the assumption that these were produced before the recent tragic earthquake, tsunami and associated nuclear power incident.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So the latest news is that above-safety radiation levels have been found in 11 types of vegetables (as well as in milk, water) in Japan. Some of these veggies are growing 60km or more away from the Fukushima power plant. I am not surprised. As testing continues, it will find more - also in fruit, and eventually in meat, fish. As in the case of Chernobyl, rain is speeding up such food contamination.

The World Health Organization says that there is no evidence of radiation-contaminated food reaching other countries. Let's hope. Japan does export certain fruit, vegetables, dairy products and seafood to Hong Kong, China and the United States, as well as to other places.

China has now announced that it is monitoring food imports from Japan and South Korea has also said that it is expanding inspection of Japanese food. So far, Australia and the U.S. seem to feel there's no need for extra precautions. This may change.

In the meantime, remember that although the levels of radioiodine are above those considered safe, you still won't get much from just a few meals to hurt you.


Monday, March 21, 2011


Remember that large 2008 outbreak in the U.S. caused by Serrano and Jalapeno peppers (and maybe, tomatoes)? Well, we have another one. WorldVariety Produce, Inc. of Los Angeles, CA has announced a recalls of Serrano peppers, because they may be carrying Salmonella bacteria. No, Jalapenos are not being recalled at the moment. But don't hold your breath. They could be, particularly if contaminated irrigation water is to responsible for the problem (which is likely). As occurred in 2008, the peppers were imported from Mexico.

So far we don't know whether Salmonella Saintpaul is involved again (as it was in the 2008 case) or it is another of the more dangerous Salmonella. Either way, Salmonellosis is not something you want. Special risks exist for children and the elderly, and for people who have weakened immune systems or issues such as poorly operating kidneys.

Here are the facts (so far) as announced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

The recalled Serrano peppers were distributed by World Variety Produce to Walmart stores in Montana, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and to Jewel-Osco stores in Illinois. They were sold in open bulk displays between March 1 and March 18.

If you have some peppers at home, don't eat them (I would apply that to Jalapenos as well, just to be extra safe). And don't eat fresh salsa when dining out for the next few weeks.


Saturday, March 19, 2011


It was simply a matter of time. As I have been arguing for the past few days, the spread of fairly high levels of radiation in Japan will contaminate growing food. And, I said that the experience of Chernobyl suggested that vegetables like leafy greens and milk would be first to be affected. I was right.

Today Associated Press, Reuters and other news sources reported that the levels of radiation contamination found in spinach and milk on farms near the affected nuclear plant (some as far as 60 miles away) now exceed government safety levels. Further tests are being done and shipments of food from the area may be stopped and people advised not to eat them.

If that does happen, the same thing could occur as did after the Chernobyl: the food will be sold informally and eaten locally anyway, in spite of government warnings. Why? Because there is food scarcity in many disaster-affected places. People who are faced with a choice between hunger and the risk of a little toxic food, will often opt for the latter.

The good news is that a few meals will be unlikely to affect them. But eating it over a period of time - say a year - could do so, especially in the case of children, and with people also exposed to radiation directly.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011


With the ongoing disaster in Japan on my mind, I spent some time today trying to find out about how radioactivity could affect Japan's agriculture and how long contamination could last. I looked to UN and other research done on the Chernobyl incident for answers, although hopefully, the amounts of radioactive materials released will not be as bad in the case of Japan. At present we simply don't know. Here are some potential lessons from Chernobyl for Japan's food production and consumption that emerge from these studies.

In the early months after the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, food contaminated in areas with high radiation exposure was mainly due to radioiodine. It turned up in high levels in plants and grass and plant eating animals and their products (such as milk, including goat and sheep milk) and in fish in certain waters, with special risks for children and pregnant women. But iodine-131 is short lived. After a couple of months, most of it decayed. After that the main hazard for food crops was the uptake by root vegetables of radioisotopes from the soil (where rain had deposited it), especially the dangerous caesium.

What I found interesting in the Chernobyl case was that apparently the levels of radiocaesium in food crops and in animal feed were not just affected by how much of it floated around in an area and landed on the soil, but by factors such as the type of soil and type of agriculture and livestock management practices that area people used.

Problems persisted longer in the extensive type of agriculture system (think "traditional" or "subsistence") where the soil is not ploughed much, there is a lot of organic content, and where animals graze in open "natural" pastures. The Chernobyl case suggests that forest foods and animals grazing in forest and mountainous areas can retain high levels of radiocaesium for decades.

In sum, as I understand the findings (and I hope I have got it right) in the short term (about two months) the main food hazard in agriculture areas after radioactivity is radioiodine in fresh fruits and vegetables (e.g. leafy greens) growing above ground, and in milk and dairy products from area cattle. For the next couple of years or so after that, caesium contamination of root vegetables would be the main risk to avoid, particularly on organic farms and where traditional farming practices are still used. Over the still longer term , caesium contamination in milk, meat and forest products (wild mushrooms, berries and game) could continue to be risks.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


With the ongoing reports of increasing and spreading radioactivity from several of Japan's nuclear reactors, a lot of people are becoming worried about radioactivity in their food. Yes, it's true that radioactive material in the air can not only get into the body directly, but also indirectly, through food and drinking water. Radiation can be washed down by rain into the soil where food grows, into waters where fish live, and onto grass where cows graze.

The experts say that cow's milk, dairy foods and fresh fruits and vegetables will be especially vulnerable in this sort of situation. Those most at risk are young children and unborn babies. Radioactive materials in sufficiently large doses can cause various types of cancer and abnormalities to the fetus.

Right now, people living in Japan are of course most likely to be at risk both from direct exposure and from their food. However, it is likely that the radioactive plume will be carried to other countries as well, though with lower levels of radioactive materials.

But what about countries which import fresh and processed foods from Japan? Reuters reports that Asian nations nearby, such as India, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore and the Philippines have ordered that imported Japanese foods be tested for radioactivity. It looks like China may start to do the same.

What about nations in Europe and countries such as Russia, Britain, the U.S. and Canada? I haven't seen any reports yet, but it is likely that similar precautions will be taken. If anything is found, such imports will be banned.

In the meantime, I don't see any reason for those of us living outside Japan to worry about imported Japanese foods. We don't need to avoid eating in a Japanese restaurant either. (I have noticed that some in my neighborhood seem to be emptier than usual.) Anything from Japan that they are serving currently would have come before the recent earthquake, Tsunami and related radiation leaks (there are too many logistical problems at present for much export to take place). And as for irradiated food, it has nothing to do with irradiation.


Monday, March 14, 2011


Every once in a while, something keeps cropping up in the U.S. food supply called "foreign materials." It probably does in other industrialized nations as well. I haven't been listing the recalls, but maybe I should.

So what is this stuff? Well, it could be anything - bits of plastic, bits of metals, human hair, fabric. Even glass, which is the most common cause of injury. These unexpected things won't give you foodborne illness (which is why I haven't been covering them) but they could harm you in other ways. And no, they are not "foreign" as in "from another country." At least, they need not be. They can come from any food plant anywhere, and sometimes from packaging as well. Where food is partly processed locally - say, at your local meat or fish store, such materials can also enter there.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) these small non-edible items in your food can give you: esophageal laceration, esophageal perforation, fistula formation, laceration or perforation of other parts of the digestive tract (such as the pharynx, stomach, intestine), choking (blockage of the airway, with children under 3 at greatest risk), lacerations of the mouth, tongue, and of course, broken teeth and dentures (if you have them). This isn't even the end of the list. Reportedly, the most common type of complaint received by the government is injury to the mouth or throat.

And of course, there have been all those fingers or bits of fingers that have been found in food: the planted one in Wendy's chili and the apparently actual pieces of finger found in TGI's burger, in a chocolate popsicle and a ham sandwich. Accidents happen, and who knows where that bit of finger went to?

A couple of months ago, I found a piece of hard plastic in the Dungeness crabmeat I bought at my usual retailer's. Once I found (yes, true) a small rusty nail in my dessert at a local French restaurant (it recently caved in to the economy and I can't honestly say I shed any tears although they did not charge us for the meal). And a couple of years ago there was a piece of metal in my bread. The large majority of these types of incidents are not reported.

But some are. Here's a recall from today: bits of hard plastic in "Lean Cuisine Simple Favorites" frozen spaghetti and meatball entrees sold by Nestle Prepared Foods Company, Gaffney, S.C.. They are having to recall about 10,260 pounds of product. Maybe it will be recycled into dog food. Given the rubber toys, cell phones, rugs and eye glass frames that my new puppy has been consuming, it probably won't be any worse.

Another reason for chewing your food better.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The problem is that Norovirus is very infectious. You only need to be exposed to about 100 particles to catch it, whereas in the case of seasonal flu it's around 10,000 - quite a difference. It's also a survivor. Norovirus can live outside the body much better and longer than many other viruses.

Virus-contaminated food is only one of the vehicles for catching it, but an important one. You can also inhale the virus from the air where someone has vomited, or

get sick from touching an infected surface, or a sick person. You can even catch Norovirus from contaminated ice, as occurred a few decades ago at a football game between University of Pennsylvania (where I went to graduate school) and Cornell, or, at a museum fundraiser for that matter.

Here's what happened (my source is the Centers for Disease Control - CDC report on the incidents). Within 48 hours of the University of Pennsylvania-Cornell football game in Philadelphia in 1987, a large number of band members from both universities, Cornell football players, and spectators, including visiting students and university staff and faculty, all started having symptoms of gastrointestinal illness, especially projectile vomiting and nausea. A smaller percentage had diarrhea, headaches, chills and additional symptoms. These were typical of Norovirus. Almost all had bought soda with ice from the stadium vendor.

Oddly, many of the Pennsylvania football team members became ill several days later. Apparently this team had used ice from a different source at the September 19 game, but had used the contaminated ice at practice a few days later.

Just a couple of days later there was an outbreak of gastroenteritis among 750 people who attended a museum fund-raiser in Wilmington, Delaware, not far away. The ice was traced to the same Pennsylvania ice supplier. It turned out that its wells had been flooded by a creek (obviously contaminated) following a torrential downpour of rain. Probably, in all, about 5,000 people became ill from this Norovirus contaminated ice.

There is no reason why this kind of outbreak can't happen again anytime, anywhere. And there's no way to know that ice is contaminated. Opt for a warm soda?


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


An odd mix, isn't it? But these are the latest recalls of contaminated food (and drink). Here they are.

--Tea? Yes, nice herbal teas - in fact, one I drink regularly myself. Peppermint Organic Herbal Tea, produced by Aromatics Inc., Basin City, WA, is being recalled by RemedyTeas because it may be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria (No, this is not the first case of herbal tea recall because of contamination).

--Bologna products are being recalled by Zweigle's Inc., of Rochester, N.Y., because they could be carrying Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin, which can be fatal. The problem is apparently linked to a smokehouse failure. The bologna was recooked once the failure was discovered, but the toxin that built up in between wasn't destroyed. These Staph toxins are very hardy.

And finally - pig ears dog chews, recalled by Jones Natural Chews, because of Salmonella risk. Alright, I hope no one that reads this blog chews on pig ear treats, but we care about our dogs too, right? Particularly in America. And pig ears are about the most dangerous thing you can give to your dog. From nice healthy North American pigs? Oh no...the majority are imported. Maybe I should blog this sometime. Any requests? In the meantime, find another treat.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Well, here's another U.S. ground beef recall because of E.coli 0157:H7 contamination. This is the fourth ground beef recall this year, not counting mislabelling or allergen issues, and it won't be the last. A note of sarcasm: the fact that most of the products sold were "natural" did not help at all (If you have read the book, you'll know what I think of the "natural" label the way it is currently used).

These potentially contaminated ground beef products were produced a couple of weeks ago by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, of Arkansas City, Kansas and sold as cases of large 10lb chubs to firms in Ariz., Calif., Ga., Ind., Iowa, Mo., N.C., Ohio, Pa. and Wash. for further processing and/or distribution. This, of course, makes it worse. It means that the ground beef was most likely repackaged and is being sold to us consumers in smaller packages under who-knows-what label.

The USDA (which regulates meat in the US) says it will let us know once it finds out (Read..when all those firms that received the product get over their panic attacks and put out their own recalls). Great..In the meantime, maybe we should just not eat ground beef of any kind unless we are sure that it was ground on the premises of the store from whole meat.

For the record, here's the list of what is being recalled, although it won't do you much good to look for these huge cases or chubs in your local store:

--Approx. 40-pound cases of "BEEF FINE GRIND 81/19 NATURAL," containing 10-pound chubs. These products have an identifying product code of "80185."
--Approx. 40-pound cases of "BEEF CHUCK FINE GRIND 81/19 NATURAL," containing 10-pound chubs. These products have an identifying product code of "80285."
--Approx. 40-pound cases of "BEEF SIRLOIN FINE GRIND 91/9 NATURAL," containing 10-pound chubs. These products have an identifying product code of "80495."
--Approx. 40-pound cases of "BEEF FINE GRIND 90/10 NATURAL," containing 5-pound chubs. These products have an identifying product code of "85165."
--Approx. 60-pound cases of "BEEF FINE GROUND 93/7," containing 10-pound chubs. These products have an identifying product code of "86191."

The best way to be safe is still to cook your ground meat very well - and be careful when handling it too.


Monday, March 7, 2011


This seems to be a bad week for anything "nuts." Not only do we have a recall of hazelnuts (nationwide in the US and fairly wide in Canada), but we also have contaminated peanut butter.

Unilever United States, Inc. has announced a limited recall of Skippy® Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread and Skippy® Reduced Fat Super Chunk Peanut Butter Spread. This time apparently the company itself found the contaminated product during routine sampling. It turned out to be Salmonella. No illnesses that we know of so far.

The affected product, which is packaged in 16.3 oz plastic jars, is as follows:

UPCs: 048001006812 and 048001006782 (located on the side of the jar’s label below the bar code.)
Best-If-Used-By Dates: MAY1612LR1, MAY1712LR1, MAY1812LR1, MAY1912LR1, MAY2012LR1 and MAY2112LR1 (Stamped on the lid of the jar.)

Oh well...maybe not quite as bad as E.coli 0157:H7 (the hazelnut contaminant - see previous posts), but can be very dangerous for children and the elderly.



The recent DeFranco & Sons (of LA, California) recall of E.coli 0157:H7 contaminated hazelnuts (also known as "filberts") involves Canada as well as the United States (and, for all we know at present, may also spread to other countries).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued an alert to Canadian consumers, noting:

"If you have purchased bulk or unlabelled, in-shell hazelnuts or in-shell mixed nuts containing hazelnuts after Nov. 16, 2010, and are unsure if you have the recalled product, check with your place of purchase to determine if you have the affected product."

The affected nuts are known to have been distributed in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, but, as the CFIA said, they could also have been distributed elsewhere in Canada (because some of the big bulk bags of hazelnuts have probably been re-packaged into smaller ones by other distributors and shipped elsewhere - see earlier blog).

So far, two Canadians have fallen ill with a strain of E. coli 0157:H7 that matches the genetic fingerprint of the strain responsible for the hazelnut-linked illnesses in the United States.

For a list of recalled products - also relevant to Canada - see earlier post. And the warning I gave earlier also applies in Canada: some of these hazelnut could have been used as ingredients in finished foods (such as chocolates, baked goods and so on), so avoid such foods for the time being until we see where this recall ends.



Here are the details on the DeFranco & Sons hazelnut recall (see previous post). Apparently they received the nuts from various suppliers and growers. This is one of those "Ah-ha, I told you so" moments. The Safe Food Handbook not only has a whole chapter on nuts, but stresses throughout that one of the reasons our industrialized food system is risky is because it mixes products from a range of growers and suppliers. Case in point. It is going to take a while before we trace the bad nuts back to their grower.

Some of the DeFranco products were hazelnuts alone, some contained hazelnuts mixed with other nuts. The 50-pound bags of in-shell hazelnuts or mixed nuts with in-shell hazelnuts were probably repacked by other companies into smaller packages with different labels or sold from bulk containers to us. (Read - any kind of hazelnuts could be contaminated).

The affected products listed below were distributed between Nov. 2, 2010 and Dec. 22, 2010, so we could have been eating them for months.

Brand Size Product Sell by Date UPC
Sunripe 1 lb Large Hazelnuts 6/30/11 070533 000167

Sunripe 1 lb Mixed Nuts 6/30/11 070533 000143
Sunripe 2 lbs Mixed Nuts 6/30/11 070533 001003

Sold as “Season’s
Greetings” Gift
Pack) 4 lbs Mixed Nuts 6/30/11 070533 101024
Sunripe 50 lbs Imperial Mixed Nuts -- --
Sunripe 50 lbs Supreme Mixed Nuts -- --
George Packing 50 lbs Hazelnuts -- --

Take them back or toss them out!



E.coli 0157:H 7 contaminated hazelnuts (and, I bet, a growing list of hazelnut-containing processed foods). Yes, you read correctly.

DeFranco & Sons of Los Angeles, California, is recalling in-shell hazelnuts and mixed-nut products in bulk and bags. They were distributed nationwide in the US and to Canada. (I wonder where they were grown? California or imported? I'll find out and let you know). These nuts have already been linked to seven cases of E.coli 0157:H7 illness in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. There will be more.

E.coli 0157 contamination of nuts is very uncommon. Usually it's Salmonella bacteria (as it was in the case of past peanut and pistachio outbreaks we had). And, we all know by now that this nasty bacteria can cause very serious illness, especially in young children and the elderly who could develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) just as they think they are getting over the diarrhea.

If you have eaten hazelnuts recently, or, any product containing hazelnuts (such as peanut butter, chocolates, baked goods, ice creams) watch out for symptoms of bloody diarrhea, in case you were unlucky. Onset of symptoms is usually 3-4 days (but can be 2-8) after eating the nuts. Get yourself (or your child) to a doctor if that happens.

And my advice - avoid any brand hazelnuts or hazelnut containing product for the moment, until we find out where this outbreak ends up.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


Well, you can't win all the time. Nor can you like every review of your book. The serious reviews of The Safe Food Handbook to date have been gratifyingly positive. The media ones are OK.

I don't really expect much from a reviewer (and I have been one myself) - just three things: 1) read the book; 2) spell my name correctly; and 3) balance the need to be witty and profile yourself with a fair take on what the book actually says.

The review by the National Public Radio (NPR) Health Blog ("Shots") is certainly the shortest to date: (

Here goes speed dating meets literary criticism.
The Safe Food Handbook by Heli Perrret
Food is scary. "Risky food is everywhere." Deal with it.

By the way, I rather like the ambiguity of the NPR blog title "Shots" as it could mean a "shot of medicine", shooting down (as in a put-down), or "a shot in the dark." I do wonder in this case whether the reviewer actually read the book, or just "speed dated" it for a few minutes, before he indulged in his "literary criticism." In his hurry, he spelt my name incorrectly. I don't mind the "Dr." being left off as I don't use it 99% of the time anyway, but "Perrret" spelt - yes, with 3"r"s and one "t" is sort of cute, but not correct.

Whereas I like the fact that the review is punchy and witty, I wish it had also given a fair view of the book. The review says "food is scary." This is not an alarmist book. As Carole Marks, of the radio program "A Touch of Grey" recently said in introducing me on her program, it is an "empowering book." I was so pleased that she saw it as such. Yes, risks in food are mentioned, food group by food group, but always as a starting point for solutions. The consumer can take charge. And in fact, one of the mains reasons I wrote it is because I felt there was a need for a food safety book that is written by someone who loves food - growing it, cooking it and eating it.

I don't know about the final "deal with it" part of the review. It depends how you read that phrase. If you read it as "you can deal with it," then that's good. As the book says, you will never be able to avoid all the risks that could crop up in your food from time to time, but you will be able to avoid many of them if you are an informed consumer.

But there's the problem of the heading of the whole review "Five Books You Don't Need to Read Because We Did." I am afraid that is not going to help you be an informed consumer who avoids food risks. This review certainly does not give you the answers. And there's more to eating safely on a daily basis than avoiding Salmonella bacteria, and more to safe practices than washing your produce. Read it and you'll find out.


Thursday, March 3, 2011


I just took a look at the World Health Organization's "Guide on Safe Food for Travelers." I don't like it. Apparently it was adopted by China for the Beijing Olympics. No wonder several members of the US track team came down with food poisoning.

As you gather from several recent posts, travel has been on my mind lately (is it spring coming?) and I have certainly done enough of it in my life - mainly for international assignments. Anyway, here's my own guide, which I now always follow except in Europe and certain Asian cities:

• Eat only cooked food, except in the case of fruit which has been grown high on a tree and you can peel (such as bananas, mangos, oranges).
• As far as possible, avoid large catered affairs and buffets.
• Avoid street vendor food, and food sold by small roadside places or in markets, unless it is simple food, cooked in front of you (such as a roasted corn cob, roasted chestnuts).
• Only eat cheese or other dairy if you are certain it is pasteurized.
• Avoid shellfish, unless you are certain that it comes from safe waters and never eat fish or shellfish on a plane.
• Drink only bottled water and drinks, or hot coffee, tea, and avoid ice in anything you drink unless you are sure it is made from bottled water.

And, of course, always wash your hands before you touch food.



Last night a good friend told me had recently had a miserable case of food poisoning. Since he reads this blog, as do several other mutual friends, let's just call him Joe. Joe is over 65 years old, owns and runs his own company, physically active, and relatively healthy. Here's the sad tale he told me.

Joe had gone to his usual pastry shop for coffee and a custom-made pizza after a bike ride in San Francisco. He asked for the following on the pizza: egg whites, smoked salmon and fried onions. Three hours later, just as he was starting a very critical meeting with an important new client, he started to have stomach cramps. All he wanted now was for the meeting to finish. As soon as the client walked out the door he began vomiting and continued to vomit violently all night. He recovered in about a day. Joe was convinced that there had been salmonella in the eggs on his pizza. But was it the eggs, and was it Salmonella bacteria?

Let's look at four possible causes in Joe's case - all of which are commonly associated with restaurant food, starting with Salmonella. Since he did not go to a doctor, we'll never know what it was, but have a guess. By the way, his case will not be reported as a food poisoning statistic either - as most aren't.

Salmonella bacteria can get into almost any food and at any point between the field and plate, although they are most likely to be in foods of animal origin. Food workers may also carry Salmonella and pass them on. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. Onset of symptoms usually occurs 12-72 hours after eating. Luckier victims recover in as little as 48 hrs, but usually it's 4-7 miserable days. It can be even longer if complications set in (that is, if it gets into bloodstream, requiring hospitalization).

Listeria monocytogenes is also becoming a major public health problem. Unlike Salmonella, the onset of symptoms can be very slow - 3 to 20 days, and occasionally even longer. Victims tend to have fever and muscle aches (like flu) and sometimes a stiff neck. Gastrointestinal symptoms aren't always present. Like Salmonella, L.monocytogenes is found in soil and water, but can get into food at any point. It is often present in ready-to-eat foods, most likely because a high percentage of food workers carry it - some estimates are as high as 30 percent.

Staphylococcus aureus is another bacterium that commonly causes food poisoning, especially in restaurants. It could get into food from the nose or skin of a food workers (it is believed that up to 25% may carry it without symptoms). Onset of symptoms is caused by the Staph toxins and occurs very quickly - in perhaps as little as 30 minutes, but usually, 1-6 hrs and normally includes several of the following: nausea, retching, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, lasting about one day, but sometimes up to 3 days.

Norovirus is the most common cause of food poisoning and is a very contagious virus. It usually gets into food directly from food handlers, and sometimes from contaminated surfaces or kitchen tools. Onset of symptoms is usually 24-48 hours after eating contaminated food, but occasionally it is earlier, and includes very bad vomiting, watery non-bloody diarrhea with abdominal cramps, and nausea. Luckily, recovery is almost always within 1-3 days (and, miserable nights).

A final thought - we tend to think that we got food poisoning from the last meal we ate. This could be true, but it may not be. As you see from the preceding, the onset of symptoms could range from 30 minutes to 20 days - just with these four possible causes. And there are others. Could Joe have got the food poisoning from something else he ate?


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Hazardous broccoli! Yes. This time it seems that healthy vegetable is the culprit. But don't blame the poor vegetable. My guess is that the source of the problem was a sick worker who handled the broccoli or badly sanitized equipment. Ready-to-eat (RTE) food is always more risky than fresh - as I have stressed in the book, and in several blogs, particularly in terms of Listeriosis risk.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which causes Listeriosis, is becoming a major public health threat in many countries, including in the US and Canada. That's why I am blogging this recall - to make the point yet again: RTE foods tend to be more risky and should be avoided by people who are particularly vulnerable to Listeriosis. If you fall into one of the following groups - don't eat them: pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, those with HIV/AIDS, elderly. Young children are also at more likely to become seriously ill.

This bacteria has a high fatality rate (around 25%). Some people won't even know they have been exposed to it. Some will have mild symptoms. Others will die. In the case of pregnant women, it is the unborn child that is at risk.

Back to the latest Listeria - linked outbreak and food recall: Taylor Farms Pacific, of Tracy, California, has just recalled 64,000 pounds of various RTE food products sold at supermarket chains of Safeway, Raley's, Vons, Pak N'Save, Pavilions in the US states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington because of suspected Listeria contamination. The recalled products include a range of healthy-sounding snack trays, pork and chicken dinners with broccoli and apparently deli salads. For a full list of recalled products, go to:

The USDA points out that some of the salad mixes were only available for sale through deli counters (and, I would assume, did not carry a Taylor Farms label). They are no longer for sale but check your frig in case you still have some deli salad with broccoli, red onion, bacon bits, raisins, sunflower seeds and dressing ingredients. If so, return it to the store or throw it out. Don't eat it!