Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In the previous post I mentioned the renewed concern about Avian Flu -
"bird flu" - particularly in certain parts of the world. This is one of those frightening microbes that has crossed the species barrier. It is not only deadly for chickens, ducks and other domestic and wild birds. We humans can get it too - and so can our cats, by the way.

A large number of confirmed human cases are believed to have acquired their infection during the slaughtering, defeathering, cleaning or preparation of diseased or dead birds prior to cooking. So if you happen to live in one of those countries currently experiencing outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry, how do you avoid getting ill?

Here are a few facts which you may want to keep in mind:

• Only healthy-looking birds should be used for consumption. However, some poultry that carry the virus do not appear to be sick. You cannot assume that vaccinated poultry is safe from it.
• The H5N1 avian influenza virus can spread to all parts of an infected bird, including the blood, meat and bones.
• Keep raw meat away from any ready-to-eat foods or items that are eaten raw.
• Always avoid contaminating any surface with raw poultry or its juices: this virus can survive for weeks on a kitchen cutting board or counter.
• Wash your hands and any utensils used on raw poultry very well.
• Remember - refrigeration will not inactivate this virus.
• Cooking poultry at normal temperatures (70 °C) will inactivate H5N1.

To your good health,

Monday, August 29, 2011


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for which I have worked, has just put out a new alert on "bird flu" - correct name "Avian Influenza" . Remember how scared we were of it years ago? And then, we forgot all about it. Now apparently it is on the rise again, especially in Asia.

When I was writing The Safe Food Handbook, I debated whether to include bird flu in the discussion of risks in meat and poultry. In the end I did - because I became convinced that there could indeed be a resurgence of it and the virus could mutate. But the final section on it is very abbreviated because it is not currently considered a food risk in North America.

True, the most common way you can catch this potentially deadly kind of flu (which has about a 60% mortality rate) is not through eating undercooked chicken or other poultry or eggs. Rather, it is through handling diseased birds (including wild ones) or touching their saliva or droppings. And, even through breathing in contaminated dust. Many of the children who have caught it did so when cleaning out poultry cages - a chore I well remember having to do as a child.

But can you ever get it from food? I became very involved in researching this issue, spending weeks on it, reviewing all the global case studies and research I could find. Yes, there have been a limited number of cases recorded where people did catch it from undercooked poultry or dishes made with poultry blood. However, many more have caught it from preparing the raw poultry.

So, how worried should you be if you don't work on a poultry farm - just eat poultry? In general, I would say "not much" especially if you don't live in countries where it is presently most prevalent - Egypt, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia or Vietnam. But with bird migration and the globalization of our food supply, this could change. Occasional cases have indeed occurred elsewhere.

To my knowledge, there has been just one small - and quickly caught - outbreak of this H5N1 virus in the US - on an Idaho pheasant farm (in September 2008).

To your good health,

Friday, August 26, 2011


We almost never read news about parasites being found in fish. But don't let that fool you. They are there, much more often than you think. Hundreds of different kinds. In fact, I have just walked back indoors after chatting with one of my gourmand neighbors. The conversation started with the most recent burglary on our street, and ended on parasites in fish (a symbolic connection?). He told me about an experience he had a few days ago.

What happened was this: he had bought a whole halibut fish from Whole Foods Market for a dinner party. As he was in the kitchen with one of the guests, about to put the fish in the oven, the guest noticed a pinkish worm in the fish. What to do? The other guests were waiting. Should they just go ahead, cook and serve the fish and keep quiet about the worms, or go out for pizza? In the end, the guest who spied the parasite made a good suggestion. They called Whole Foods, which was still open and rushed down to exchange the fish for wild salmon. The manager believed their story, and said, yes, it does happen from time to time. Not that unusual at all.

What they found was probably a Cod worm ( the most recent scientific name is Phocanema decipiens) - a common "round worm" in fish. It is found in several kinds of fish such as halibut, haddock, flounder, sole and even red snapper. The larger fish are more likely to carry it. This parasite may sometimes look pinkish, creamy white or brown, and is about 4cm long.

But isn't fish inspected, especially those sold at upper-end ("healthy") stores such as Whole Foods? Yes, it is, and a process called "candling" is also used which is supposed to help the inspectors see any worm-type parasites. But no inspection is ever 100% effective. Candling is also less likely to work well with whole fish where filets are thick and the skin is on - as in the case of my neighbor's halibut.

If you happen to come across such parasites in your fresh fish, you have several options. One, you can cook the fish well, and eat it, parasites and all. They will be killed and harmless. Most of us would not have the stomach for this approach, or want to serve it to guests. The next option is to put on a pair of disposable gloves, take a sharp knife or tweezers, grit your teeth and carefully remove and discard any wormy creatures in the fish. You can then cook the fish and eat it. The third option is the garbage - hopefully getting a replacement fish from the store. Most stores would willingly comply, as Whole Foods did in this case.

The Safe Food Handbook discusses parasites in fish in more detail, and gives you the specifics on how to be safe.

To your good health,

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to make the production, distribution and sale of fresh produce safer. Now, after a rather bad nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Agona (think "agony" ) bacteria in papayas from Mexico, it has announced a special focus on imported produce from this country.

The Salmonella-contaminated Mexican papayas made at least 99 people ill in 23 states in the U.S. (assume that about 3% of cases are actually reported, so there were a lot more). The recall occurred on July 23, by Agromod Produce, Inc. of Texas, and the papayas were sold in the U.S. and Canada by wholesalers and retail stores under brands of Blondie, Yaya, MaƱanita, and Tastylicious.

Let's remember that the United States is importing much more fresh produce than it exports. Mexico is the primary supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables to the U.S. We get quite a variety from across the border, including tomatoes, avocados, grapes, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, green beans, papaya and melons.

So, Mexico has not been singled out because produce from there is especially risky, but because we get so much from there. But naturally, we have indeed had a lot of outbreaks in Mexican produce (and herbs) over the years. This one in papayas is just the latest. And there will be more.

To your good health,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I have a love-hate relationship with deer. I can't help but admire their beauty and grace of movement. At the same time, I hate it when they eat my beans and peas and snip the heads off my roses and Agapanthus. My neighbors feel the same. We are constantly exchanging tales of woe about what we have lost.

Unfortunately, the deers' droppings can be the biggest hazard. This lesson has been brought home by the recent outbreak of E.coli 0157 bacteria in strawberries from a farm in Oregon, USA (see previous post). During July, these strawberries were distributed in several counties in Oregon and sold at some 8 farmers' markets, 10 retail outlets, and over 40 roadside stands or farm stands. (For the known list of reseller locations see http://oregon.gov/ODA/FSD/strawberries.shtml).

Public Health officials say that maybe 10% of strawberry samples from one farm have been found to be contaminated. This is an unusually high rate of contamination. It is suspected that deer dropping may be the cause. The feces found near the strawberry plants is presently being tested for the same bacteria that caused the illnesses.

This wouldn't be the first time that Oregon deer have tested positive for E.coli 0157 - or, that strawberries have been found to carry this bacteria.

Joe Jaquith, the owner of this large strawberry farm, and a fourth-generation farmer is devastated. But what could he have done? I have seen deer leap over my 6 foot fence, seemingly with ease. Nothing we have tried seems to stop them.

To your good health,

Friday, August 12, 2011


Two more food product recalls have been announced by U.S. food safety authorities. They are cheese spread, contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, and bacon products, contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The cheese spread was sold through retailers, whereas the bacon products, originating in Canada, went to food service facilities.

Here are the details:

Miss Bonnie’s Gourmet, LLC is recalling its Miss Bonnie’s Gourmet Classic Cheddar Cheese Spread distributed between 8/1/11 and 8/10/11, with a “Best By Date” of December 23, 2011 and batch code number 0116206G113. The product is packaged in 8 ounce glass jars and was distributed to Kroger Stores in Roanoke, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Memphis, Tennessee.

Aliments Prince, S.E.C., an establishment from Ontario, Canada, is recalling approximately 380,000 pounds of diced bacon products. Food service institutions take note! The list of products recalled is posted on http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_063_2011_Release/index.asp:

To your good health,

Thursday, August 11, 2011


This is another case of "I told you so." The U.S. ground beef recall, due to contamination with E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria, has been expanded. (Read yesterday's post). Now more products are being recalled by the Michigan-based McNees Meats.

Here's the latest list of products:

1 and 10-lb. clear packages of “McNees Ground Beef Bulk.”
1 to1.5-lb., approximate weight clear plastic bags of “McNees Ground beef patties.”
1-lb. packages of “McNees Ground Round.”
1 and 2-lb packages of “McNees Ground Beef Bulk” sold in red and white plastic bags.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't know yet exactly where they were sold but says it will post the information on its website when it has it. If you are concerned, check: www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls
/Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp. Remember, it could take anywhere between 2 to 10 days for symptoms of E.coli to start occurring.

And cook all meat well, especially any ground meat.

To your good health,


Yesterday I blogged the deadly E.coli 0157 bacteria in ground meat (in Michigan, USA). Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an outbreak of the same type of bacteria in strawberries (in Oregon).

Even worse for those of us who love shopping at farmers' markets - these strawberries were marketed there and at roadside stands. Reportedly, Jaquith Strawberry Farm of Newberg, Oregon, sold the contaminated strawberries to bulk buyers who then resold them to consumers. So much for that lovely, fresh, farmers' market produce handed to you personally by the farmer himself or herself!

It is not at all unusual for strawberries to be contaminated with bacteria, including pathogenic E.coli. Outbreaks occur on a fairly regular basis both in domestic and imported berries. Usually the culprit is water contaminated with animal feces. But we keep eating them, and I do too. In fact, I ate them for breakfast this morning on my yogurt.

Of course, I washed them thoroughly, as one is supposed to do (even if they grow in your own yard or field). But you can't rely on washing to get rid of all of the bacteria. Some mayt still be solidly embedded in that lovely strawberry's flesh.

All the Jaquith Farm strawberries have most likely been eaten by now as their strawberry season is over. People have been becoming ill for several weeks. One woman has died. As usual, trace-back by the authorities has not progressed very fast. It never does.

But if you live in Oregon, particularly in Washington, Clatsop, and Multnomah Counties, and put some fresh strawberries from a farmers' market or roadside stand in your freezer during the last couple of weeks in July, I would suggest you throw them out.

To your good health,


Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been busy tracking down contaminants in food. And its efforts are paying off. Mind you, a little late, but at least eventually.

For the last three months or so, it was chasing the cause of the Salmonella illnesses that were occurring nationwide in the U.S. After much effort, the USDA finally fingered the ground turkey produced by one of America's giant meat firms as the culprit (see previous posts).

Now, working together with the Michigan Departments of Community Health (MDCH) and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), it has tracked down the cause of the E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that have been occurring in Michigan since July.

This time another ground meat product is involved - ground beef (ground products are always more risky). It was produced by McNees Meats and Wholesale LLC., a North Branch, Michigan. The company is recalling only about 360 pounds of ground beef product at this time (but this could expand). As far as is known at present, this product was only distributed in Michigan (If I find out differently, I'll add to this). Since these were large 10lb bags, presumably they were sold to food service establishments.

E.coli 0157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. Seniors and persons with weak immune systems, as well as children, are the most at risk.

To your good health,


Saturday, August 6, 2011


At the end of April this year I posted some thoughts on "The Biggest Threat in the U.S. Food Supply." The post was triggered by a question someone asked me at a social event. I basically said that it depends on who you are. But now that I happened to re-read what I wrote, I realize I didn't address the issue of eating safely as you get older as clearly as I should have done. A comment by a reader did it much better. Whoever you are, thank you, and I hope you don't mind me quoting you:

"It also is a matter of age. If you are young you need to be worried about the long term risks, problems that build up over time. Young bodies are more able to fight off the short term risks too. When you are older the dye has been cast with the long term risks so there's not much point in over-worrying about them. And you are less able to fight off the short term risks, so they should be your main concern."

I really don't think I can phrase it any better. Of course, the short-term risks are mainly those microbes, and especially the bacteria that keep cropping up in our food supply - and, not just in America. The currently ongoing recall of multi-drug resistant Salmonella-contaminated turkey is an example. The huge E.coli outbreak (eventually traced to sprouted seeds) in Germany this past spring is another.

The longer-term risks are toxic substances such as certain chemicals, metals, hormones and animal drug residues that are not uncommon in food these days either, although probably caught less often.

So back to aging and the currently ongoing ground turkey recall in the U.S. In general, as you get into your so-called "golden years" (which may not be all that "golden" with all those extra aches and pains, your investment portfolio being hit by global recession, and your pension-plan at risk of going belly-up) don't make things worse by getting food poisoning. Be particularly careful to cook your food well, especially the meat and fish items. And, although it is cheaper, and your food-budget may be stretched, you may be better off avoiding ground meat and poultry, which tend to be contaminated more often. Consider saving by eating less of safer meat instead.

At least, in the case of meat, poultry and fish, the safety of your food is more under your control than with salad greens or tomatoes that are often eaten raw. Cook it very well, and handle with great care.

To your good health,

Friday, August 5, 2011


I have noticed that a lot of my California-based blog readers are wondering where the recently recalled Cargill ground turkey was sold here (see previous posts). People are particularly concerned - rightly so - because this is not just any old meat recall. It involves a Salmonella bacteria which is multi-drug resistant. That is the type of bacteria we all fear most, whether it be a Stahylococcus, Streptococcus, E.coli, or Salmonella. And, it is also the type of bacteria that is increasingly cropping up as antibiotics are overused, including at sub-therapeutic levels in poultry and meat production.
The California Department of Health (CDPH) has now put out a list of places where these recalled meat products were sold. It is paying particular attention to this nationwide recall, since several illnesses and the one death, have occurred in California (above see map).

The California stores involved in the recall include: WinCo, Food4Less, Foodsco, Stater Brothers Markets, Ralph's, Ralph's Fresh Fair, and Cala (only in San Francisco). I say "include" because who knows, more may be added to the list.

The products bore brand names of Kroger, Honeysuckle White and Riverside (see earlier posts for the products recalled). They were sold in many parts of California. The list of towns and cities is too long to include here but can be accessed on the Excel spread sheet provided by CDPH: see http://www.cdph.ca.gov/pubsforms/Documents/fdbFrCMSd.xls (or, search on cdph.ca.gov for Cargill turkey recall). The list includes store addresses and telephone numbers which allows you to call them if you have any questions.

But remember that these potentially dangerous products have now been taken off the market. At least we hope so (besides, their Best by date has expired). And, as I have said before, just because pathogenic bacteria are found in significant numbers in a few items does not mean that they are present in every single package bought.

To your good health,

Thursday, August 4, 2011


The USDA promised information on who was actually selling the potentially Salmonella-contaminated ground turkey (see previous posts) in the U.S. This information hasn't come out yet. My blog's search information shows that a lot of people want answers. Trader Joe's customers seem to be particularly concerned.

However, now that the word has gone out, you can basically assume that the recalled items have been withdrawn from store shelves. The larger retailers have systems in place which assure that this happens. As for the smaller stores, I don't know if they received any product from Cargill (the recalling company) but I doubt it. This huge food producer would tend to have large customers.

That basically leaves you checking your refrigerator - or, going through your garbage to find the packaging if you bought some pre-packaged ground turkey recently and can't remember which one it was. The company has actually posted a good list, with photos of each product, on http://stage1.order.cargill.com/na3047772.pdf. You may want to check this to refresh your memory.

What I can do is to name the states which have most likely sold the potentially contaminated ground turkey since theses are where the illnesses have occurred. Take a look at the map. By the way, the one death so far, was in California. A lot of people are still hospitalized and seriously ill.

To your good health,

UPDATE: If you live in California which gives you the specifics on where the turkey was sold there, and telephone numbers to call at the stores. In other states, search the websites of your state health agencies.


The ongoing recall of ground turkey by Cargill Meat Solutions (see yesterday's post) is the third largest in U.S. food recall history. To date, 36 million pounds of ground turkey have been recalled. Related Salmonella illnesses have been reported across 26 U.S. states. And, it could get larger.

Many food product recalls expand over time. In fact, it's a common pattern. (See post of July 28). As the investigation focuses in and continues, new problems tend to emerge. In this case, the government inspectors are still at work doing interviews with people who are ill with this particularly dangerous Salmonella bacteria and doing tests on samples.

There are two ways the recall could expand. First, more Cargill products could be involved. Secondly, more turkey products of other companies could also be found to be contaminated. It all depends where the contaminants entered - on the farm or at the plant - or, somewhere else. Reportedly, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is in charge of any meat-related issues, is investigating at least one other manufacturer for similar contamination problems.

So what do you do in the meantime? I would suggest you avoid buying any pre-packaged ground turkey for a while if you live in the U.S., unless it is ground at the store (that is how I get mine). And, if you have already bought some and want to use it (but, it is not one of the recalled products - see yesterday's list), be extra careful anyway not only to cook it thoroughly, but to handle it very carefully, using disposable gloves or tools that you can throw out or wash thoroughly afterwards. Any bacteria that is resistant to multiple antibiotics is no joke.

To your good health,

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


For the past five months or so, the authorities in the U.S. have been wondering what has been causing all those Salmonella illnesses throughout the country (at least 79 ill, and one death). Well, it seems that the mystery is finally solved. It's ground turkey. Yes, that risky ground meat product again.

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a huge recall by the firm Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, of Springdale, Ark. In all, 36 million pounds of ground turkey products are being withdrawn from the marketplace before they make more people sick.

If you find any of the below in your refrigerator, don't eat it. Return it to your store or throw it out. Don't even cook it for the dog, as handling it could put you at risk as well. This is a particularly bad Salmonella bacteria - not only because it is the more potent Salmonella Heidelberg, but because it is a multi-drug resistant strain. The products were distributed nationwide. It's a very long list, but here goes:

Ground Turkey Chubs - Use or Freeze by Dates of 2/20/11 through 8/23/11
• 10 lb. chubs of Honeysuckle White Fresh Natural Lean Ground Turkey with Natural Flavorings
• 10 lb. chubs of Unbranded Ground Turkey w/ Natural Flavoring 2 Pack
• 80 oz. (5 lbs.) chubs of Riverside Ground Turkey with Natural Flavoring
• 10 lb. chubs of Natural Lean Ground Turkey with Natural Flavorings
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Fresh Lean HEB Ground Turkey 93/7
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Fresh HEB Ground Turkey 85/15
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 93/7 Fresh Ground Turkey with Natural Flavoring
• 4-1 Pound Packages of Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey with Natural Flavoring Value Pack
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Fresh Ground Turkey
• 48 oz. (3 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Fresh Ground Turkey

85% Ground Turkey - Use or Freeze by Dates of 2/20/11 through 8/23/11
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White Taco Seasoned Ground Turkey Colored with Paprika
• 19.2 oz. (1 lb. 3.2 oz.) trays of Kroger Ground Turkey Fresh 85/15
• 48.0 oz. (3 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Turkey Fresh 85/15
• 20 oz. (1.25 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey
• 48.0 oz. (3 lbs.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey Family Pack
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lbs.) trays of Honeysuckle White Seasoned Italian Style Ground Turkey with Natural Flavorings
• 20 oz. (1 lb. 4 oz.) trays of Safeway Fresh Ground Turkey with Natural Flavorings * 15% Fat
(NOTE: Sold in Texas only at Randall's and Tom Thumb, Use or Freeze by 03/12/11 through 05/05/11)

93% Ground Turkey - Use or Freeze by Dates of 2/20/11 through 8/23/11
• 19.2 oz. (1.20 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 93/7 Lean Ground Turkey
• 48 oz. (3.0 lbs.) trays of Honeysuckle White 93/7 Lean Ground Turkey Family Pack
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lb.) trays of Fit & Active Lean Ground Turkey 93/07
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lbs.) trays of Giant Eagle Ground Turkey Fresh & Premium Lean
• 19.2 oz. (1 lb 3.2 oz.) trays of Kroger Ground Turkey Fresh Lean 93/7
• 20 oz. (1.25 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 93/7 Lean Ground Turkey

Ground Patties
• 16.0 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey Patties with "Use by" or "Freeze by" dates of 2/20/11 through 8/23/11
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Seasoned Turkey Patties Fresh 85/15, with "Use by" or "Freeze by" dates of 2/20/11 through 8/23/11
• 16.0 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Shady Brook Farms Ground Turkey Burgers with Natural Flavoring with the following "Use by" or "Freeze by" dates: 07/09/11, 07/10/11, 07/11/11, 07/15/11, 07/16/11, 07/21/11, 07/22/11, 07/24/11, 08/01/11, or 08/04/11

Frozen Ground Turkey - Production Dates of 2/20/11 through 8/2/11
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey with Natural Flavoring
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Spartan Ground Turkey
• 48 oz. (3 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey
• 40 lb. Bulk Packed Ground Turkey with Natural Flavoring for Food Service Use Only

To your good health,

Monday, August 1, 2011


This blog warned about nuclear contamination of food in Japan very soon after the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis in northeast Japan on March 11. At that point, there was, as yet, no evidence or discussion of it. (Read the 20 earlier posts on this issue, beginning March 15). These fears have been confirmed. Excessive levels of radiation have been found in milk, vegetables, fruit, seaweed, fish, drinking water, animal feed - and, most recently, in beef.

It was only a matter of time before attention would turn to rice. Back on April 10, I (see "Can Rice be Contaminated?") I mentioned that the Government of Japan had advised farmers not to plant rice in certain areas because of this risk. We'll know soon whether such warnings were enough. The rice planted back in the spring is about to be harvested. Government-required testing of the rice is beginning in at least 14 prefectures in north and east Japan. About 40 percent of the annually harvested over 8 million tons of rice is grown in this area.

The testing will check levels of cesium in rice to make sure that they are not above the maximum government-imposed cap of 500 becquerels per kilogram. If any are, then shipments of rice from the area will be stopped.

Obviously farmers are anxious. But so are consumers. Rice is something that most people in Japan eat every day - including young children and pregnant women, who are at special risk. Cesium can build up in the body, resulting in higher risk for certain cancers as well as other health problems.

To your good health,