Monday, November 28, 2011


There are so many other things I should be doing, but my mailbox keeps being overloaded with news about safety issues in the U.S. food supply. Some of them are quite straightforward such as the usual Listeria-contaminated ready-to-eat foods. Others are more unusual, and some are downright mysterious.

Some recent ones I haven't caught up on, while I have been looking at Chinese food production and processing (see the previous post and the next one) are problems with smoked salmon, dried cranberries and canned pumpkin. It sounds rather like the makings of a holiday dinner - which it well could be.
The smoked salmon one is Listeria monocytogenes bacteria found in 4 ounce Transocean Wild Alaska Sockeye Smoked Salmon. Lot numbers 1280W & 1293W are being recalled. Oh-oh, I just bought some, so I had better go and check it as soon as I finish this.

Ocean Spray is recalling certain lots of its Original Flavor Craisins Dried Cranberries product in 5-ounce, 10-ounce and 48-ounce packages as well as bulk sweetened dried cranberries in 10-pound packages. This time very small hair-like metal fragments have been discovered. Metal or bits of plastic in processed products is not that unusual either. In fact, I found bits of plastic in my peanut butter a few weeks ago, and they were also in my fresh Dungeness crab meat a couple of months earlier. These bits of machinery or whatever can cause injury.

The canned pumpkin is the real mystery. The day before Thanksgiving, Giant Eagle, Inc. (a chain of supermarkets) announced that it was withdrawing two brands of canned pumpkin, both from Topco Associates, LLC ( a 75-year old company). It advised customers not to eat or use any Valu Time canned pumpkin purchased on or after August 30, 2011 or any Food Club canned pumpkin purchased on or after October 28, 2011. No reason was given except that these products did not "meet quality standards" which is all very vague. Apparently the investigation is ongoing.

And look at the dates - no doubt a lot of this pumpkin went into Thanksgiving dinners before people heard of the recall. I have been waiting for more news on this one, but haven't found anything yet to explain what really is involved. But I have a nasty feeling that when the news does come out, it won't be good. Tainted pumpkin pie? I suddenly feel ill...

To your good health,


Researching and writing The Safe Food Handbook, changed the way I myself eat. One of the main changes: I stopped eating food imported from China. The more I delved into food production and processing in China - a country which is an increasingly important source of food to the U.S., Canada and other nations - the more I became concerned about whether it was safe to eat.

Overall, I became increasingly convinced that there just isn't enough value placed on the safety of consumers at all levels - food producers, processors, and even at the level of government officials such as safety inspectors. It's not only a matter of short-cuts being used in food production and processing, which result in contaminated food. There are also too many instances of conscious introduction of often life-threatening contaminants into food to make a quick profit. The Safe Food Handbook calls this practice "food terrorism." Both these reasons are why I now avoid Chinese imports when I shop.

However, intermittently a few of these food tainting scandals in China are exposed and publicized. When this happens, and those involved are brought to trial, the penalties are very stiff. Remember the melamine-tainted milk scandal in 2006-2007, which affected both human and pet food in the U.S. as well as other countries? The two men who were most responsible were sentenced to death. And Sanlu, the company involved, went bankrupt.
A more recent case concerns tainted pork - which did not become such an international issue. In March, it was discovered that a number of pig farmers in eight provinces in China were adding clenbuterol hydrochloride - also known as "lean meat chemical" to pig feed to produce leaner pork. This chemical is carcinogenic to humans.

It turned out that a business had been set up to produce the chemical in 2007 for just that purpose. The owners of the company were making huge profits. This means that dangerous pork had been on the market in China for quite some time before it was discovered. One of the reasons it took so long is reportedly because there was collusion of certain government animal health inspectors and food safety officials.

In the end, news reports say that 113 people were sentenced, with one of the producers of the chemical given the death penalty, the other a life sentence. I was surprised that the 36 pig farmers charged, got off so lightly, most just with probation or less than a year in jail. But I would guess that it was realized that they were just the tip of the iceberg: many more had probably used this chemical.

All these stiff sentences do not seem to deter others from trying similar get-rich quick schemes at the expense of the consumer. Checking of imported goods at the U.S. end by budget-strapped agencies is not enough to always catch tainted foods. I don't want to be one of those consumers paying the price.

To your good health,


Thursday, November 24, 2011


My whole neighborhood smelt like a roast turkey today. It seems that everyone who is cooking Thanksgiving lunch/dinner in this part of California, is cooking one of these huge birds. That will mean a lot of leftovers. What can you safely do with all this turkey and stuffing?

If you think you will be likely to want to eat the turkey in the next few days, separate the stuffing from the turkey, slice up the turkey and put it in sealed containers in the meat tray in your refrigerator.

But if you ate so much turkey that you feel you don't want to see it ever again, put it in the freezer. You may change your mind after a few weeks. And if you freeze it properly in freezer wrap or freezer bags or containers, it will keep for at least a month. By then you may feel like eating it again. The safest way to defrost it then is in the refrigerator.

Actually, I should confess at this point that this is all theory. Personally, I have never had turkey leftovers in my life. The size of that bird totally intimidates me. The few times I have tried to cook it, the meal has been a disaster. Leftovers? Who would want them? I cook duck or goose instead. Much easier. And there usually aren't any leftovers.

To your good health,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tomorrow - November 24, is officially Thanksgiving Day, sometimes known as "Turkey Day" in the U.S. I heard a TV commentator (on a business program) say today that this celebration dates back to 1942. Not quite true. That was the year that a joint resolution by both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1941 designated as the beginning of an annual Thanksgiving holiday to be held on the last Thursday of November. But the holiday itself dated back much further. And so does the turkey part of the celebration.

George Washington actually proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day in 1789. After that, he and various subsequent Presidents renewed the tradition, although the date kept shifting a bit, and it wasn't celebrated every year. But the whole idea of such a day really dates back much earlier to the colonial settlers of the "New World."

Turkey seems to have usually been part of the feast. However, don't picture a big fat turkey such as we eat these days. What was eaten centuries ago was a scrawny wild turkey, like that bird that seems to always turn up in our neighborhood about this time of the year, and wander down the road. No one quite knows why it has never been run over - or, roasted.

So yes, these days we eat huge turkeys thanks to genetic improvements, better feed formulation and modern management practices. No, hormones are not allowed to be used in turkey production in the United States. We usually eat these turkeys between the ages of four and nine months (older ones are too tough).

Enough of the background: let's turn to the safety aspects. Raw turkeys quite often carry bacteria which can make you ill -and there are plenty of cases of "stomach flu" (really food poisoning) every year around this time, due to undercooked or poorly stored turkey. So remember some simple rules.

First, think of safety when basting, stuffing or otherwise handling the raw turkey. Wear disposable gloves, or thoroughly wash your hands afterwards, and don't let the raw turkey contaminate any surface (for instance, don't put it down on a counter - use a tray, foil sheet, or something that can be washed or discarded).

When roasting the turkey, you need to make sure that you roast it to an internal temperature of 165ºF or higher. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh or the thickest part of the breast, and recheck in the other breast or thigh, in case it has cooked unevenly. It's quite OK to cook the turkey at a very low oven temperature (such as 325ºF) for a longer period of time, rather than at a higher temperature, as long as you do this internal temperature check.

And what if you start to carve, and when you get closer to the bone, you find that in spite of your focus on safe temperature, some of the meat is pink instead of white? Don't panic. It's safe, as long as you have cooked all parts of it to 165ºF and the juices run clear. What happens is that when you roast, smoke or grill very young turkeys, with immature and porous bones, the hemoglobin inside can leach out into the turkey meat, turning it pink.

Enjoy! And even though it has been a pretty rough year everywhere in the world, let's be thankful for what we have - including that turkey.

To your good health,

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Remember those huge peanut product recalls in 2007 and 2008-2009 in the U.S.? The one in 2007 sickened at least 600 people in 47 states, with four deaths confirmed. The outbreak in 2008-9 made at least 714 people ill in 46 states with 9 deaths confirmed. Both were linked to different Salmonella bacteria.

After these very frightening and costly outbreaks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidance to the peanut industry on how to make sure there products were safe. But remember - nothing in food safety works 100%. Now we have another instance of Salmonella turning up in peanut butter, with Smucker's products involved this time. At present, the recall is quite limited, but as we have found out time and time again, these things tend to expand.

The product - Smucker’s® Natural Peanut Butter Chunky - was distributed in: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. It comes in 16 oz. jars. Here are more details:

o UPC: 5150001701 (located on the side of the jar's label below the bar code)
o Production Codes: 1307004 and 1308004
o Best-If-Used-By dates: August 3, 2012 and August 4, 2012
o Chunky product only (not creamy)
o Impacted product would have been purchased between November 8 - 17, 20

Americans are reported to consume about six pounds of peanuts and three and a half pounds of peanut butter per person per year. The average American child will eat more than 1500 peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches before he or she graduates from high school. So do check any Smucker's products you have in your home. And remember, don't even give them to your dog. Several illness have been recorded among pets who were given contaminated peanut butter during previous outbreaks.

To your good health,



It's bad news again for bagged salad eaters in the U.S. Ready Pac Foods, Inc. located in Irwindale, California, which prides itself on its safety record, has issued a recall for 5,379 cases of bagged salad products containing Romaine lettuce, because they may be contaminated with E. coli (E.coli O157.H7). This is the most common of the worst kind of E.coli bacteria.

The Use-by Date on these ready-to-eat salad products is November 18, 2011. The salads have been sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Here's the full list, so that you can check your refrigerator. No other Ready Pac Foods, Inc. products are included in the recall.

10oz. Ready Pac Caesar Romaine 0-77745-00202-6 NOV 18
9.25oz Ready Pac Santa Fe Caesar Complete Salad 0-77745-21404-7 NOV 18
10oz. Ready Pac Classic Caesar Complete Salad 0-77745-20566-3 NOV 18
10oz. Ready Pac Bella Romaine 0-77745-21407-8 NOV 18
10oz. Dining In Classic Caesar Salad Kit 0-11225-02530-3 NOV 18
10oz. Raley’s Caesar Romaine 0-46567-71642-8 NOV 18
10oz. Trader Joe’s Romaine Salad 0013-2145 NOV 18
16oz. Trader Joe’s Very American Salad 0020-7225 NOV 18
10oz. Safeway Farms Caesar Romaine 0-21130-98350-6 NOV 18
9oz. Safeway Farms Hearts of Romaine 0-21130-98358-2 NOV 18
10oz. Safeway Farms Complete Caesar Supreme 0-21130-33677-7 NOV 18
10.25oz Safeway Farms Complete
Southwestern Ranch 0-21130-33679-1 NOV 18

You will see from the above list that poor Safeway (as well as several other stores) has yet another recall (see earlier posts).

If you find any of these products in your home, throw it out or take it back to the store for a refund. You can also call Ready Pac Foods during office hours at at (800) 800-7822. They seem to be bending over backwards -a good thing - to track the products and help consumers. If you or anyone else in your family have eaten it, remember that not every package is contaminated, so don't panic. But do watch out for the usual symptoms of food poisoning.

To your good health,


Monday, November 14, 2011


Yes, would you believe it: yet another processed food is being recalled in the U.S. because it could cause botulism, which can be deadly. This time it's tortillas sold at certain California stores.

United Natural Foods, Inc. is recalling selected types of Gentes Foods Gordita Black Bean Tortillas, because they could be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum bacteria. And, some - not all - Safeway and Pak N Save Stores ended up with this deadly production lot. As I keep saying, ready-to-eat foods may be dangerous.

The date code is on a white sticker applied to the packaging reads “12 7 11.” Here are the places these tortillas were sold. This date code sold at other retail outlets has not been affected.

--California Safeway stores in Salinas (on Main St.) and Watsonville (Freedom Blvd.).
--California Pak N Save Stores in Emeryville (on San Pablo) and S. San Francisco (on Gellert Blvd.)

I think I'll take a trip down to that Emeryville Pak N Save this morning, to see if they have pulled the products off their shelves. You would be surprised at how often stores are lax in doing it, even when informed by their head office.

And..I am also going to check further on where Gentes Foods got their beans. My guess is that there is are connections between some of the recent recalls (see my next post). So far, the food companies involved haven't responded. But I'll persist.

To your good health,

Thursday, November 10, 2011


No wonder our food is so expensive - and getting more so. Under an industrialized food system, food products often get re-distributed, re-packaged and re-labelled. Everyone has to take a cut. And, what's more, every step increases safety risks and makes food recalls slower and more complicated.
Take the case of pine nuts. Sunrise Commodities of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. imported some Salmonella bacteria-contaminated ones to the United States. All the news reports claim they were imported from Turkey, but I still suspect that, although they may have been grown in Turkey, they actually came from China, where they had been sent for processing (see my post of October 28).

Sunrise issued a recall several days ago. Now, it turns out that another food company, Badia Spices, Inc, located in Miami, Florida, is recalling almost 4,000 lbs. of Pinenuts which they apparently got from Sunrise and repackaged.

Baida Spices sold their pine nuts in retail stores in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey - between June 2011 and October 2011. Hmm..In other words, probably all have been eaten. And they are just now issueing a recall - about two weeks after Sunrise issued theirs. In the meantime, we have been eating these delightful pine nuts and getting Salmonellosis.

Don't eat:

1 oz Pine nuts in small plastic bags Lot # 84666

2 oz Pine nuts in pet bottles Lot # 83184, 85442

Maybe we should skip the pine nuts altogether for a while..

To your good health,



I don't know why we are suddenly having so many food products contaminated with Clostridium botulism bacteria in the U.S. This bacterium causes botulism, a potentially fatal kind of food poisoning. Of course, the reason is poor temperature control, but in theory, modern advances in food processing have made this very unlikely. Almost all cases of botulism in the U.S. and other similar industrialized countries are caused by home canning. Commercially canned foods are considered safe these days. So much for that idea.

Now United Natural Foods, Inc. is recalling selected types of FoodMatch, Inc. Divina Stuffed Olives and Tabatchnick Yankee Bean Soup, primarily sold at Safeway stores, because of botulism risk.

The suspect Tabatchnick Yankee Bean Soup was distributed to the Safeway store in Corte Madera, CA.( UPC 07126229491).

Recalled Divina Olives Stuffed with Feta Cheese (UPC UPC 63172352780) were distributed to Safeway stores in Spearfish, Colorado Springs, Bolder, Falcon, Lander, Conifer and Longmont in the states of South Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming.

Divina Olives Stuffed with Blue Cheese (UPC 63172352790) were distributed to not just Safeway, but also Carrs, Pavilion and Vons retail stores in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming.

Remember, the product may seem fine with no difference in the way it looks or smells. If in doubt throw it out! You definitely don't want this bacterium.

Usual symptoms of botulism: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Also possible symptoms: difficulty in breathing, muscle weakness, abdominal distension and constipation.

To your good health,


UPDATE: Safeway's recall of Diva olives has now been expanded to include stores in South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Virgina, D.C., and Maryland.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Personally, I never trust the so-called "ready-to-eat" products of all kinds that are so popular in the food supply of industrialized nations like the U.S. If I do buy them, which I don't very often, I end up cooking them anyway. It's safer. Sometimes, ready-to-eat is not ready-to-eat.

Take the present recall of ready-to-eat broiled chicken liver products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) announced today that Schreiber Processing Corporation, of Maspeth, New York, is recalling an undetermined amount of broiled chicken liver products. Apparently they have been linked to a cluster of at least 169 Salmonellosis illnesses, mainly in New Jersey and New York. These livers were meant to be fully cooked. But, oops, they turned out not to be fully cooked after all. Salmonella Heidelburg - one of the worst Samonella bacteria - was found lurking in them.

The products were distributed to retail stores and institutional users in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. They were distributed in large 10lb bags, and apparently had a Meal Mart label, but who knows what label they were finally sold under, or what institutional purchasers did with them. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at:

By the way, my research suggests that this company also supplies airline meals. I looked at their airline menu, and it sounds a lot better than anything I eat on a plane these days. But I think I'll just pack a home-made sandwich for my next trip.

And maybe it's better just to pass on the chopped chicken livers or anything else to do with chicken livers for a while till they find and destroy all these products (that is, when they haven't already been eaten).

To your good health,


Monday, November 7, 2011


Norovirus is believed to be the most common cause of food poisoning, although we can also get it from other sources. It's rarely in the news - except when there is a large outbreak on a cruise ship or plane (see posts for Feb. 25 and 26).

Symptoms of Norovirus illness (diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and occasionally other flu symptoms) are usually over quickly (1-2 days). We often refer to it as "stomach flu" and don't even consider that it might have come from something we ate. Unfortunately, though, this virus is very contagious.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers not to eat certain ASSI Brand frozen oysters (shucked, not in shells). There's been an outbreak of norovirus-caused illness in Washington state and they've traced it to these oysters. The oysters were imported from Korea, and processed there - yes, another problem with processed imported food.

By the way, the oysters come in 3-lb bags . Each bag identifies Central Fisheries Co. Ltd., as the packer and Korean Farms of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., as the distributor. Korean Farms distributes a variety of Asian food products. "Assi" is their flagship brand. Incidentally, the word Assi comes from the traditional Korean title for an upper class, young, married woman. Ooops..We used to have a dog called that.

The “Better if Used By” date on the bags of oysters is “2013.02.232.” Although the recall notice does not specifically state it, most likely the oysters went to restaurants, since few of us buy 3lbs of shucked oysters at a time. Certainly, the illnesses that triggered this recall were the result of three people eating the oysters at a Washington State restaurant.

This product was shipped to the states of Washington, California, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. If you live in one of those seven states, you may want to pass on the oyster dish on the restaurant menu, or, any dish containing oysters, in case they have been undercooked. Thorough cooking does kill this virus.

To your good health,

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I don't know what has caused the sudden increase in that dangerous Clostridium botulinum in imported foods in the United States. I just blogged the Italian almond-stuffed olive recall. Now there's another one: smoked seafood products.

Foremost Foods, International, Inc. of Pomona, CA, has been forced to issue a recall of certain Pangasinan brand smoked seafood products: PANGASINAN Roundscad Smoked Galunggong and PANGASINAN Mackerel Smoked Hasa Hasa, both sold in 6 0z. packages.

These products were imported into the U.S. by Foremost Foods from the Philippines where they were manufactured by FITRITE Incorporated. They may also have been imported by other countries, but probably sold under a different brand name.

In the U.S. they were distributed in the states of California, Nevada, and Washington through Seafood City and Manila Seafood retail stores, and sold between the dates of March, 2010 and October, 2011. Probably most,if not all of these products have already been eaten. So much for the recall! Late, as usual.

To your good health,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Globalization of our food supply certainly changes things, including its safety. For one thing, everything becomes more complicated. A couple of days ago, I blogged the Turkish pine nut recall, arguing that they probably were imported from China, not Turkey, having been sent there for processing. Now we have another example of how globalization affects safety issues.

This time we have a recall of jars and cans (all sizes) of Bio Gaudiano Organic (yes, organic again) Olives Stuffed with Almonds. The U.S. importer and distributor is Pure Italian, LLC, located in Watertown, MA. But the olives come from Bio Gaudiano, which is a manufacturer and packer located in Italy. The reason for the recall is the very deadly Clostridium botulinum bacterium.

Just to round out the global picture, the U.S. alert about this problem was triggered by two people being diagnosed with botulism after eating these olives. No, not in the U.S. In Finland.

Botulism bacteria can cause life-threatening illness or death. It used to be a common threat in canned or jarred foods years ago before the process was improved and better controls were established.

Symptoms of botulism are: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Other symptoms can be difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal swelling and constipation. In other words, it is not like a typical case of food poisoning.

If you have bought these olives (as I have in the past), be sure to check. The Lot no. is H2510X and the expiration 09/2012.

To your good health,