Sunday, January 29, 2012


The American Egg Board runs a website called "The Incredible Egg" ( Generally speaking, it's a useful site for education of the public with basic facts and recipes using eggs. It also has a section on egg safety. But the egg safety message is contradictory.

Here's what the advice on the site says:

"Making Sure Your Eggs Are Safe to Eat
Eggs should be cooked until the whites and yolks are firm or, for dishes containing eggs, until an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is reached because Salmonella is destroyed by the heat of cooking."

This advice agrees with the advice given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - the two key U.S. agencies involved in regulation of eggs.

Now look at some of the illustrations of eggs from the website (and these are just some of them). Are these eggs really "well-cooked?"
And if you look at some of the recipes, you'll see that these expressly suggest that you keep the yolks from becoming firm. That goes against USDA and FDA advice. Since research has shown that Salmonella bacteria (the most common ones in whole fresh eggs) can turn up in both the yolk and the white (albumin) of the egg, they suggest you be safe and make sure both are cooked until they are no longer runny. That is, as the Egg Board itself says: "until the whites and yolks are firm."

Alright - well-cooked eggs aren't as photogenic, but the American Egg Board needs to put out a consistent message to consumers on egg safety.

To your good health,


Saturday, January 28, 2012


I have to admit that I used to be one of those people who believed that a boiled egg would spoil less quickly than a raw egg. Not true. It will actually spoil faster. The reason: once an egg is boiled, the protective coating on the egg is removed and bacteria can enter more quickly.

Then, if the boiled egg is also peeled, it can become contaminated even faster, including during the peeling process itself. In that case, the most likely bacteria to get in is not the usual egg-contaminant Salmonella, but Listeria monocytogenes, the one that is most common in ready-to-eat foods. And, the one that is so dangerous for pregnant women and anyone with a weak immune system.

So the ongoing boiled egg recall in the U.S. in the state of Michigan provides some useful lessons. Michael Foods Egg Products Co. - a large distributor of hard-boiled eggs has found Listeria monocytogenes in some of its products. This recall has a number of spinoffs, because the suspect eggs distributed by this company have been used in making a variety of deli products by its clients.

For instance, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Spartan Stores has had to recall eight deli products containing these hard-cooked eggs including egg spread, sandwich with egg spread, small and large chef container salads, seven layer and seven layer no-meat container chef salads, and small and large no-meat container chef salads. Sell-by dates are Jan. 20 through Feb. 1. In West Michigan, the recalled products were sold at D&W and Family Fare.

Another Michigan deli - 18th Street Deli Inc., is recalling some 118 pounds of julienne salad products with turkey, ham and hard-boiled eggs. According to local news reports, some salads containing the eggs were also sent to Michigan schools. And I bet there are more recalls to come.

By the way, notice that these "ready-to-eat" egg products have also been used to make pre-packaged sandwiches, which I have been writing about for the last two days...

And of course, this gets back to my mantra about how dangerous ready-to-eat "convenience" foods are...And that doesn't just apply to Michigan, or just to the U.S., but everywhere in the world. This Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is running amok.

Watch out!

To your good health,


Friday, January 27, 2012


Yesterday I warned pregnant women not to eat pre-packed sandwiches because of the Listeria monocytogenes contamination risks. By the way, the same goes for anyone else with immune system problems. Maybe I should explain a bit more why ready-to-eat sandwiches are so risky.

The dangerous L. monocytogenes bacterium is often present in the fillings used for such sandwiches - deli meats and poultry, cheeses, prepared salads, seafood products, and so on. And even if these bacteria are not in the ingredients used, they can enter at the sandwich-making facility in both contact and non-contact surfaces. L. monocytogenes is widely present in nature (soil, water, plants) and from there moves to drains, floors, machinery, packaging surfaces, cutting boards and even the air of the sandwich making facility. A high percentage of workers are also carriers (estimates vary).

Over the years, a number of sandwich-making facilities in the U.S. have had to gone out of business because of bad Listeria contamination. In some cases, the government, in the form of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had to step in and actually get a court order to close the plant down. This happened just a month ago ( December, 2011) in the case of Triple A Services, Inc because inspections of the plant repeatedly turned up Listeria bacteria.

Then there's something else. When the sandwich is first put together, there may not be so many bacteria in it - just a few. In other words, not enough to make you sick. But some of these sandwiches have a shelf life (in the refrigerator, of course) of three weeks or so (and much longer in the freezer). Look at the dates on the packaging next time you are thinking of buying one at a convenience stores, Starbucks or anywhere else. Freshly made? Don't kid yourself!

Unfortunately, unlike most other dangerous bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes can multiply in low-oxygen environments and at refrigerator temperatures. Ten bacteria become a hundred, then a thousand, and then ten thousand. In other words, the longer that sandwich sits there, the more dangerous it can become.

As I said yesterday - pass on that pre-packaged sandwich. I have even started making my own to take on flights. Besides, it tastes better. And isn't loaded with preservatives.

To your good health,


Thursday, January 26, 2012


One of the risks that pregnant women need to avoid most in their food is the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. They are more susceptible to getting Listeriosis, and if they do, this illness during pregnancy can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and health problems in the newborn.

Pre-packaged (ready-to-eat -RTE) sandwiches are one of the food most likely to carry this bacterium. If you don't believe RTE sandwiches should be on your "don't eat" list during pregnancy, think of some of the recalls during the last few months in the United States. Let's start with now.

M.E. Thompson, Inc. of FLorida has just recalled its Anytime Deli Turkey & Ham Sub Sandwich, UPC 0543200194, with an expiration date of January 19th and January 22nd because Listeria monocytogenes bacteria have turned up in them. (By the way, they were sent to convenience stores in Florida and South Georgia already on January 2nd and 3rd!).

Flying Food Group’s Lawrenceville, GA facility recalled at least seven kinds of sandwiches - plus other RTE foods in late November and December 2011 because of Listeria bacteria. They were sold at Race Trac and at Starbucks, as well as at Core-Mark stores. There have been many other similar recalls over the years, and several sandwich-makers have had to fold because of this bacterium (see next post).

And don't think it is just a U.S. problem. Pregnant women in all industrialized countries should beware. At the end of last October, Federal health officials in Canada warned the public to avoid eating Hygaard Mini Sub sandwiches because of possible Listeria contamination. They were widely sold in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nunavut and Yukon Territories.

The UK has had several alerts over the years on pre-packaged sandwiches because of Listeria bacteria. Some of these were sold to schools and hospitals. In 2011 a number of Listeriosis illnesses in London were found to have a common link in pre-packaged sandwiches served at hospitals. It is the same story in other countries.

If you want to eat sandwiches while pregnant, make your own. If using deli meat - heat it until it is "re-cooked" and then put it on your sandwich. Or how about a meat-ball sandwich or a cooked mushroom and spinach one? There are many alternatives that avoid deli meats and cheese. But whatever you do avoid those pre-packaged ones. Your child's life could depend on it.

To your good health,


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Alright, it's not "real" salt - it's what is called "mock" salt. That's the kind of salt you are supposed to use if you have high blood pressure or need to reduce your salt intake for other reasons.

Washington-Jones’ Seasoning Blends LLC is recalling Jones’ Mock Salt Original as well as Jones’ Mock Salt Spicy Southwest Blend. The reason: Salmonella contamination is suspected. It is not unusual for Salmonella bacteria to turn up in dry herbs and spices, as they survive very well for months in such environments. And, as you will see from the above photo of the label - the products are "organic." Yet another "organic" food item with bacteria...

So how did the bacteria get into the product? Well, this is one of those spinoff recalls. You may remember that over a month ago (note the long time-lapse) we had a recall of celery seed (see my 4 posts of Dec. 18 through Dec. 22, 2011) because of possible contamination by Salmonella bacteria. The same celery seeds are used as an ingredient in these mock salt products, which now have to be recalled too:

- Jones’ Mock Salt Original: Organic Salt Free Seasoning, 1.6 oz bottles (UPC 0 94922 16616 6), 12 oz bags (UPC 0 94922 07199 6) and 16 oz bags (0 94922 16616 6).

- Jones’ Mock Salt Spicy Southwest Blend: Organic Salt Free Seasoning, 1.6 oz bottles (UPC 0 94922 01560 0).

As there is no lot number on the bottles or bags, the company advises that to be safe you should destroy any products purchased from July 1, 2011 to December 14, 2011.

And yes, you could get enough Salmonella bacteria from a little sprinkle to make you ill if the bacteria are there in large numbers.

After reading the history of this small one-woman created company on the website, I feel very sorry for her - in fact, as sorry as I did for the owner of the sprouted seed plant as he wept over the phone to me as FDA inspectors were crawling over his plant. This is a story of admirable entrepreneurship. I do wish this hadn't happened to her, and I hope her business survives. She is the victim of a bad ingredient - one she trusted - and nothing she could have done would have avoided this.

My only criticism is the long delay - over a month, in recalling her products, which again, I do understand. No one wants a recall - especially a small company like this for which it can be a fatal blow, particularly during difficult economic times.

In fact, if you are buying these products, or thinking of doing so, and this company does not fold because of this unfortunate incident, I would suggest you don't hold this recall against them.

To your good health,


Monday, January 23, 2012


Citrus fruit consumption and production has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. Now, at least 140 countries in the world produce citrus fruits. Oranges are the biggest crop. Main citrus growing countries are Brazil, the Mediterranean countries, the United States and China. Here in California, I grow my own.

Yesterday, with temperatures near freezing, we picked another thirty or so oranges from one of the orange trees I planted in the back yard some Fifteen years ago. We have been eating fresh oranges for weeks every morning, and sharing them with neighbors. My oldest and largest orange tree now seems to have reached peak production. The oranges are not large this year, but they taste incredible. As I ate those fresh oranges, I was thankful for a lot of things.

First, my citrus trees (yet) do not have "citrus greening" or "yellow dragon disease" which is hitting citrus crops in Asia, Brazil and in the U.S. in Texas and Florida. It's incurable..and the bacteria that cause this disease of citrus trees are spread by insects. My relatively mature orange trees are likely to be more resistant if the disease does come to this area.

Secondly, yes, my trees do get black spot almost every year, but I have found organic measures that deal with the fungus reasonably well, without having to resort to toxic fungicides such as carbendazim, which is heavily used by Brazilian orange growers - and was discovered in our U.S. orange juice.

Thirdly, although we have had some totally weird weather in California, with a cold spell following some unseasonably warm weeks, we managed to cover the citrus trees during the worst days, and it seems the blossoms survived on the trees that had them.

Fourthly, I am glad I know what is in those oranges. They not only taste "healthy," but they are healthy.

To your good health,

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Yesterday I blogged the recall of LEASA brand alfalfa sprouts by the company because Salmonella bacteria were found in the product. As sometimes happens, the retail stores that have received such potentially contaminated products, also issue their own recalls.

Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.,was one of the supermarket chains which sells LEASA sprout products in several states in the U.S. It has decided to take extra precautions. Not only is it recalling any alfalfa sprouts from LEASA, but other sprouted products as well - just in case. That is probably a sensible measure in case it turns out that contamination is found at the LEASA plant rather than just in alfalfa seeds.

The following LEASA-branded sprouts are being recalled and also being pulled from shelves in all stores, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana:

LEASA Living Alfalfa Sprouts UPC code 7546555912 6 oz
LEASA Broccoli Sprouts UPC code 7546555636 4 oz
LEASA Gourmet Sprouts UPC code 7546555633 6 oz
LEASA Spicy Sprouts UPC code 7546555635 6 oz
LEASA Onion Sprouts UPC code 7546555634 6 oz

It is quite possible that other retail stores which received LEASA products will follow Winn-Dixie's example in the next few days. The geographic area of the recall may also expand, as it often does. So, be prepared, and stop eating any LEASA sprouted seeds now, until we get more information. And - read my earlier blogs on the sprouts/sprouted seed issue.

To your good health,


Saturday, January 21, 2012


I think we have to get over the idea that alfalfa and other sprouted seeds are "super healthy." In my opinion, the risks of getting dangerous bacteria from eating them outweigh such benefits.

Eat alfalfa and it can cure you of anything and everything. At least that is what the claims are - high cholesterol, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancer, asthma, problems of menopause, alcholism...and much more. I am not arguing against the nutritional benefits of sprouts, but certainly some of the healing claims are highly exaggerated, without scientific evidence to back them up.

And instead you have considerable risk of ingesting a dangerous bacteria like one of the Salmonella, the more deadly E.coli or Listeria monocytogenes and coming down with food poisoning.

So here's yet another recall of alfalfa sprouts. LEASA Industries Co., Inc. of Miami, FL is recalling 346 cases of LEASA Living Alfalfa Sprouts with use by date 2/1/12 (too late as usual) because of possible contamination by Salmonella bacteria. Clear plastic containers of these sprouts were distributed in the U.S. through FL, GA, AL, LA, and MS through retail stores and food service companies.

There are plenty of other healthy foods you can eat that are far less likely to be contaminated than raw alfalfa sprouts - and taste better.

To your good health,


Thursday, January 19, 2012


A friend recently told me that both she and her husband had become ill after attending a wedding. "A really bad case of the stomach flu," she said. "We are still on antibiotics."

That "stomach flu" was most likely food poisoning caused by a virus called "Norovirus" that was somewhere in the food served at the wedding reception. And no, those antibiotics are not going to help. Most basically healthy people will recover on their own in a few days.

Noroviruses are responsible for about half of all reported outbreaks of gastroenteritis (vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping caused by inflammation of the stomach and intestines) in the U.S. Over 80% of these illnesses occur between November and April - right now.

The virus is often spread through food, but can also be caught from your drinking water, by touching things that have the virus on them, and directly from person to person. Almost half of all cases of food poisoning in the U.S. are believed to be caused by this virus (compared,for instance to about a quarter with bacterial causes).

In the U.S. and other industrialized countries, the most common settings for norovirus outbreaks are long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, where outbreaks can last months and even be fatal as people are more vulnerable. The virus is also common in restaurant food and at parties and catered events of all kinds - such as weddings, on cruise ships and tours, and in schools and child-care facilies (see earlier blogs).

Be careful!

To your good health,


Monday, January 16, 2012


Both PepsiCo which makes Tropicana orange juice, and Coca Cola Co. which makes Minute Maid orange juice have found traces of that nasty fungicide, Carbendazim, in their juice. Bad news for the two companies (their stock price suffered) but good news for Florida orange growers.

As we know by now, Carbendazim is used in Brazil to combat black spot and blossom blight on orange trees, and the inclusion of orange juice from Brazil in Tropicana and Minute Maid products was the cause of last week's problems (see previous posts). The use of this fungicide has not been permitted on U.S. oranges in recent years. But reportedly trace amounts of it are allowed in some 31 other foods such as non-citrus fruits, nuts and grains.

The amounts of the fungicide found in the orange juices were not high - but high enough to upset the FDA, and to upset a lot of Americans who drink orange juice every day. And it's not just Americans. I have heard from people in other countries are also concerned. After all, these are global corporations.

The end result: a return to Florida oranges. PepsiCo Inc announced today that it is returning to using only Florida oranges in its Tropicana Pure Premium orange juices. (It had used 100% Florida oranges until 2007). The company claims it made this decision several months ago, even before low levels of this fungicide were found in oranges from Brazil - and, in its juice. The transition is already under way and will be completed by the end of the month.

I think I'll buy PepsiCo stock when the market opens tomorrow. Or, maybe I shouldn't - a California woman is already suing her Tropicana for not being pure enough!

To your good health,



This global recession has almost everyone cutting back on spending - including food companies all over the world. I am increasingly convinced that this is affecting the safety of our food, particularly of processed food.

Here's why. I have noticed what appear to be an increasing number of recalls in the U.S. for "foreign materials." This rather odd phrase refers to such things as pieces of plastic, glass, rubber and metal, most likely from processing equipment. Over the past couple of years or so, we have had them all. Here are a few recent ones in the way of illustration.

On January 14 2012, RSW Distributors, of North Carolina issued a recall for some 3,104 pounds of seasoned diced beef products destined for schools (see previous post) because of bits of conveyer belt in the meat.

On January 13, Price Chopper Supermarkets issued a recall on two sizes of its bakery’s Central Market Classics Tres Leches cakes: the manufacturer of the layers in the cake - Rich Foods - had informed them that they contained piece of plastic.

Just a month earlier, Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., the large supermarket chain recalled - guess what - my favorite Sunrise Assorted Flavor Gummy Bears that were sold in the bulk in Winn-Dixie stores in Florida and Louisiana. They were afraid that bits of metal were in the gummy bears.

On October 1, Kraft Foods Global, Inc. recalled three varieties of Velveeta Shells & Cheese Single Serve Microwaveable Cups due to the possible presence of small, thin wire bristle pieces. This sounds like processing equipment again.

In September, two consumers found pieces of metal in their pureed pork, prompting a sizeable recall by K. Heeps, Inc., of Allentown, Penn. It was suspected that the pieces had broken off from the blending equipment during processing.

What I suspect is that some food processing plants, both in the U.S. and overseas, are cutting back on equipment maintenance and replacement during these hard times (see photo of mixer-agitator). As worn-out conveyer belts, blending, mixing, slicing, shredding, filleting and every other kind of food processing equipment continue to be used, the risk of contamination of processed food by those unpleasant "foreign materials" increases. Watch out and chew well before you swallow! (I had better pay more attention to that myself).

To your good health,


UPDATE: 1/22/12 - Still another recall of "foreign material" in food. Price Chopper Supermarkets is recalling its Coyote Joes Shredded Taco Cheese because of plastic fragments found inside the packaging.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Institutional food is the riskiest kind of food to eat. That unfortunately, also applies to school lunches served under the U.S. National Food Program, although they are supposed to be safer than is nursing home food. On a typical school day, close to 12 million children in the U.S. eat lunch (and sometimes breakfast) under this program. Yes, they may be getting nutritionally better food than otherwise, but what else are they getting?

Over the years, there have been some pretty bad outbreaks. Usually, any contamination involves viruses or bacteria - and in one large U.S. case that I know of, probably mold toxins (There's a write-up of this case in The Safe Food Handbook).

And, occasionally school lunches also contain those nasty "foreign materials" like bits of metal, glass, plastic and so on (also see next post).

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a recall of seasoned diced beef products by RSW Distributors, LLC, of Forest City, N.C. Apparently a conveyor belt broke during processing and bits of the belt ended up in the food. USDA/FSIS said they had to set aside the contaminated food (an inspector must have been on the premises, as required). But then, somehow or other, the food was shipped out after all to institutions for further distribution to schools in South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington as part of the USDA's National School Lunch Program.

Well, better bits of rubber than bits of glass or metal, but still..This is really sloppy. Nor is this the first time that this type of mistake with shipping has happened. I hope they caught all the food before it reached the school children. No injuries have been reported. Maybe the kids ate it and just thought the beef was tougher than usual!

To your good health,

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Judging from the search phrases on my blog (which I always keep an eye on), I see that radiation in food as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident remains a concern among consumers worldwide. That includes the U.S. Yes, the U.S. does import food products from Japan, but they account for less than 4 percent of all imported foods. The most common food products sourced from Japan to the U.S. include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables.

To put your mind at rest - the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been keeping a close eye on these to make sure that radionuclide levels do not exceed safety standards. The FDA has been working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). The Government of Japan is of course also doing its part to make sure that exported food is safe.

The FDA’s import tracking system has been programmed to flag all shipments of FDA-regulated products from Japan - which cover a wide range - and the Agency maintains a registry of companies that prepare, pack, manufacture, or hold food for intended consumption in the U.S. Since the Fukushima incident, special attention has been given to shipments from producers and companies in the areas most affected by radiation. Samples of four categories of food are tested regularly for Iodine-131 (I-131), Cesium-134 (Cs-134) and Cesium-137 (Cs-137) as well as radionuclides such as Strontium-90, Ruthenium-103 (Ru-103) and Ruthenium-106 (Ru-106).

Yes, there was an import alert announced in the U.S. starting in March, 2011 regarding the importation of all milk and milk products and fresh vegetables and fruits which were either produced or manufactured in any of the four Japanese prefectures of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma. Progressively, this alert was revised during 2011 as these food products were found to be safe.

Overall, there have been no major warning flags on any of the Japanese food products that are being imported into the U.S. At least, according to the FDA.

The Canadian CFIA and nations elsewhere have taken action similar to the FDA to make sure that no food or animal feed with high radiation levels enters the country.

To your good health,


Thursday, January 12, 2012


More and more of the food eaten in the United States comes from other countries - about 150 of them. The Food and Drug Administration alone - and it is not the only agency in charge of making sure the imported food is safe - was responsible for some 24 million food shipments in 2010. (I don't have the 2011 statistics yet). Out of these, only about 3,500 shipments were rejected because they were unsafe. So how safe is the rest of the imported food that passes through our more than 320 ports and reaches our stores and out tables?

The recent Brazilian orange juice scare (see previous 2 posts) has U.S. consumers worried. But it actually was just one of a number of recalls of imported food in the last few months due to contamination of one kind or another.

We had several problems with Canadian imports (such as cheeses, deli meats), with seafood from Asia, olives from Italy, celery seeds from Egypt, pinenuts (probably grown in Turkey, but possibly processed elsewhere), various processed foods - such as bean curd - that came from China, and as usual, vegetables and herbs from Mexico. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

In theory, all U.S. imported food products have to meet the same safety standards as domestically produced food. But this is difficult for a number of reasons (discussed much more in The Safe Food Handbook).

In recent years, more and more of these imported products originate in developing nations and newly industrialized countries. The food growing environment is sometimes - though not always - highly contaminated. In addition, frequently such countries have more risky production, harvesting, transport, storage and processing practices (detailed more in the book). And it is not just practices - the road and power infrastructure is often weak, equipment is old and in poor repair , and farm and plant workers are not just poorly educated but often also carriers of various pathogenic bacteria and parasites.

Yes, food is inspected before it leaves, and even the overseas food plants themselves are supposed to be inspected by the FDA and USDA - but who has the money to do this frequently and properly? As for inspection when the food arrives - after travelling thousands of miles, during which organisms such as bacteria can multiply - well, we know the answer by now. Roughly about 1.5% of imported food is inspected by the FDA at this time. Imports are going up and the inspection rate is unfortunately going down. So don't be surprised if some nasty pesticides, bacteria and other things gets through.

To your good health,



People everywhere in the world love orange juice. And Brazil is the world's biggest exporter of the product. Think in terms of big tanker ships of the stuff, going everywhere. In fact, Brazil has been called " the Saudi Arabia of orange juice."

But what do you have when you squeeze out the juice? You have orange pulp. In fact, when oranges are processed for juice or sections, 45 to 60 percent of their weight remains in the form of peel, rag and seeds. A pity to waste it. So Brazil's orange growers have caught onto the idea that they can export that as well. Much of it is dried and processed into pellets to be made into animal feed. Since there is no major cattle growing business in Brazil, they are happy to send it to us.

Alright, but when you spray an orange tree with toxic chemicals, the orange peel gets the bulk of the residues. And even if washed well, not all of it can be removed. Now we have found that orange farmers in Brazil are using a lot of the toxic fungicide carbendazim (see previous post), with imported orange juice from Brazil carrying much more of it than say, orange juice made from U.S. oranges. So what about all that citrus pulp that goes into animal feed?

I guess that will hit the headlines soon. In the meantime, let me remind you that the chemicals that our food animals ingest can reach us too. The World Health Organization (WHO) for which I have worked, has put together a nice little list of human food contamination incidents originating in animal feed. of these cases - also quoted in The Safe Food Handbook - involves citrus pulp pellets.

Here's what happened. In March 1998, high levels of dioxins in milk sold in Germany were traced to citrus pulp pellets from - you guessed it - Brazil, that had been used as animal feed. The investigation resulted in a ban on all citrus pulp imports to the EU from Brazil.

So, are we going to find now that there are high levels of carbendazim in our milk or meat? I wouldn't be surprised.

To your good health,


Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I keep telling my husband that juice isn't nearly as healthy as he thinks it is. He keeps religiously drinking his 2 glasses of processed juice every day, and I eat fresh oranges instead (off the trees I have planted in the garden). Maybe now he will believe me.

And it's not just a nutritional issue. Orange juice has recently hit the food safety headlines. The focus is on a fungicide called carbendazim which is used to fight blossom blight and black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees - as well I know. I have problems with this mold every year - not just on my orange trees, but also the lemon, grapefruit and lime trees. Unfortunately, there is also some evidence to show that carbendazim may be linked to increased rates of cancers and infertility - like many pesticides. That is, if you are exposed to it in sufficiently large quantities over a long-enough period of time.

Carbendazim is widely used in Brazil - the world's top exporter of orange juice. In the past few years more of this fungicide is being used on Brazilian orange crops because black spot has become a major problem. Of course, traces of it end up in the juice. What do you expect? No washing of oranges is really good enough.

If you drink U.S. orange juice you are likely to be safe from it because this fungicide has been banned in the U.S. since 2008. In fact, most of U.S. orange juice is made from domestic oranges from Florida. However, brands such as Tropicana, from PepsiCo Inc, and Minute Maid, from Coca-Cola Co., may use a mix of juices sourced from Brazil (which is our top external supplier) and/or Mexico, and the United States. In fact, I found the news early this morning while researching Coca-Cola stock, wondering why it was down quite heavily. That explained it.

So how much of this pesticide in our juice is too much, given that many Americans drink a glass of orange juice every morning? Opinions vary and so do standards among different countries. Surprisingly, the EU allows quite high levels (up to 200 ppb). In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ramped up testing for carbendazim in imported juices and also quarantined any imported orange juice that's on its way here, until we find out more.(It seems that at least some juice from Canada has been cleared, since levels were found to be very low).

Meantime, the orange juice futures traders are keeping busy with the ups and downs in price (it's a small and volatile market).

To your good health,

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I noticed that there have been a lot of views lately of my post of 25 February of last year, titled "Is Cruise Ship Food Safe to Eat?" People must be planning cruises this time of year. That is, if they still want to take the risk after the Carnival Cruises disaster in Italy a few days ago. But if you do - remember, running aground is not the only risk on the trip. There's also food poisoning.

In case you need convincing about the health risks on cruise ships, read the second comment on this post - much abbreviated here: "Just returned from my third cruise in about 3 years. Both my daughter and I got sick........ I feel like death warmed over. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy!..." It sounds like a bad case of Norovirus - the most common cause of food poisoning, which frequently crops up on cruise ships. It can really ruin your vacation.

There are actually three post on the topic of cruise ship food on this blog, and you should particularly read the second on the list if cruising is on your agenda:

"Why are Cruise Ships Risky Places to Eat" - 26 February 2011

"How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise Ship" - 25 February 2011

"Is Cruise Ship Food Safe to Eat?" 25 February 2011

And choose your cruise ship carefully to make sure it has not had recent outbreaks by checking the CDC "green sheet" (information on the posts).

To your good health,

Updated on Jan. 16

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I would certainly not advise anyone reading this blog to do what I did today. Put it down to post holiday-season block. It always takes me at least a few days to recover, and this year seems to be worse than usual.

Coming in totally starving, after an exhausting few hours catching up with my garden, I grabbed the first thing that appeared in the meat section of the refrigerator - some leftover deli meat. I tend to avoid it usually, as it's pretty unhealthy. But my son, who was home for the holidays wanted some, and then, as usual, didn't eat it. So I did today - along with my four healthy helpings of steamed vegetables.

Only after I had swallowed the last bite, did it occur to me to look at the date on the package (I had considerable difficulty finding it). Oh...oh. The "best-by" date was December 23 - two weeks ago. (Yes, you are right, I haven't had the energy to clean out my refrigerator, which is still loaded with food). That was definitely not safe eating. The only thing to my credit is that I did cook the meat. I just hope I cooked it enough! By the way, my dog, Gunesh (pictured) got the rest (cooked - but you may notice that he still looks worried).

That mysterious "best-by" date on most of our food - when you can find it and read it - provides useful information. True, it is not a safety date. The date refers to the last day you should be eating the product if you want best quality. But, because freshness is often related to safety, you would be wise to use it as a guide, particularly if you are in a "high risk" group - and, particularly with foods such as deli meat, which are known to often carry Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can grow in the refrigerator.

But interpret the date sensibly. Yes, two weeks after the date is definitely too long. But a few days is usually OK. Remember that the situation can change if the product has been opened or if it hasn't been stored properly, or, if you left the food in a hot car too long when you bought it. There have been instances when I threw out a food before that date, because it looked or smelt as though it was no longer fresh. And, yes, there are days like today, when I completely forgot to look at the date......

To your good health,


Saturday, January 7, 2012


I am becoming a little bored with blogging food recalls. So how about a topic that is more general - and basic, about which there is still a lot of confusion - "food poisoning". Most professionals prefer a label like "food borne illness" instead. But most consumers think in terms of "food poisoning". So what is it?

The terms if very loosely used. But here are a few thoughts. Not everyone will agree with my broad definition.

In its broader use, "food poisoning" refers to not only infectious microbes in food (bacteria, viruses, molds/fungi, parasites) and the illnesses they cause, but also to toxic substances in food and their effect on our health. In the case of the toxic agents, they can be naturally occurring, result from environmental contamination or agriculture practices employed, or even from terrorist activity.

Eating "poisoned" food - meaning "contaminated" food, can lead to very mild symptoms, or even just feeling "off" and tired, or, it can send you to the hospital and even kill you. And don't think that if you become ill after a meal, that the foods you ate then were the cause. Depending on what is involved (and how much of it, and who you are), you can come down with a case of "food poisoning" in less than an hour, or months after you ate the contaminated food.

The usual symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and weakness. But there can be other very different symptoms as well, as in the case of certain bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes, Norovirus, natural toxins in seafood and mushrooms, and when toxic metals or toxic chemicals are involved.

And don't think "food poisoning" is just about those bacteria we hear about all the time like Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria. There are hundreds of infectious agents that can crop up in the food we eat and hundreds of toxic substances are well. The large majority of cases of food poisoning are never linked to a cause.

To your good health,


Thursday, January 5, 2012


I am seriously thinking of adding all cheese to the list of "foods pregnant women should not eat" - the most popular blog on this site. That bacterium which is so dangerous for them - Listeria monocytogenes - is all over the place. And it is no longer just in unpasteurized raw cheeses either. In the last few years we have had quite a few in pasteurized cheeses as well.

And here are some more recalls. Mind you, these recalls are not just about cheese. The cheeses involved have all been grated or shredded, therefore adding to the risks. The contamination did not occur at the cheese producer level, but during the shredding or grating process.

Alpine Slicing and Cheese Conversion Company, located in Wisconsin, U.S.A., is recalling “HEB Queso Cotija (Grated)”, “El Viajero Queso Quesadilla (Shredded)”, “El Viajero Queso Cotija (Grated)”, and “BMF Queso Quesadilla (Shredded)” because testing has turned up Listeria monocytogenes in the "shred line" - presumably referring to the equipment used for shredding the cheese.

And here's another: Bekkum Family Farms LLC of Westby, WI, is recalling their shredded cheese with the odd name of "Grumpy Goat Shreds" which they sell under the Nordic Creamery brand name, in eight-ounce bags with a code date of 10-MAR-12. They got their cheese from Alpine Slicing (So much for the idea of it coming from their "farm") and sold it in stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and California beginning Nov. 11.

And, some grated Kosher cheeses have been recalled too. The World Cheese Company, producer of Haolam and Miller's kosher cheese products, has issued a recall of some of their shredded cheeses that were also packaged (and shredded?) at the same Wisconsin plant (is that really Kosher?). The recalled cheeses are All 8-ounce and 16-ounce bags of Miller’s shredded cheese (pizza, mozzarella, cheddar, fancy, muenster), with an expiration of June 5, 2012 through Sept. 4, 2012; all 32-ounce bags of Miller’s shredded mozzarella with an expiration date of Feb. 6, 2012 through May 7, 2012; all 5-pound bags of Miller’s shredded mozzarella, cheddar, muenster and Monterey Jack with a package date of Sept. 8, 2011 through Dec. 7, 2011.

Shred or grate your own cheese. Frankly, I hate doing it, but unless you are a total slob, it is likely to be safer.

To your good health,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


What have we learned from the food-related outbreaks and recalls of 2011? Here are five of my thoughts.

Our food is not getting any safer:
In fact, it might be getting less so. Improved legislation (such as the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in late 2010) will have no positive impact unless there is also money and will to make improvements.

Food related outbreaks can be very large:
Food poisoning is no longer just a few people getting sick at the church picnic. Outbreaks can be huge. This was best illustrated by the enormous 2011 E.coli 0104 outbreak centered in Northern Germany, which made over 4,000 people seriously ill, and caused some 50 deaths. All this caused by some tiny sprouted fenugreek seeds that not many people eat.

The cause of an outbreak is quite difficult to trace and can take a long time:
As we saw in the above case, finding the culprit food is far from easy, particularly when political and economic factors interfere. It is not unusual for wrong foods to be initially suspected as occurred in Germany (The Safe Food Handbook also illustrates several such cases). Many food recalls also expand or have spinoffs, which is why I often warn readers to draw a large circle around a recalled product until the investigators have time to do their jobs.

Ready-to-eat foods and raw foods continue to be risky:
The Safe Food Handbook discusses the special risks in "raw, ready and remote" food. The food recalls of 2011 in the U.S. certainly confirm this. Look back on the recalls, and you'll see that a large proportion were foods that were ready to eat or "convenience" foods, many of them raw (such as bagged produce), and yes, we also had a lot of problems with imported products (I'll blog this separately).

Organic is no guarantee of safety:
Many of the contaminated foods of 2011 have unfortunately been organic - the organic celery seeds, organic grape tomatoes, organic bagged spinach, organic strawberries, organic milk and cheese, and more. True, organic foods are likely to have less pesticide, and some of them carry less hormones or antibiotic residues, but organic foods can be as likely, and perhaps even more likely, to carry bacteria and viruses.

To your good health,

Sunday, January 1, 2012


All things considered, I think I will nominate sprouted seeds as the most dangerous food of 2011. Considering that only a small percentage of people - mainly women - eat sprouted seeds at all, they cause a lot of misery.

Remember this past summer's huge Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli 0104 outbreak that was centered in northern Germany? After many false turns, it was eventually traced to a shipment of fenugreek seeds from Egypt that had been sprouted in Germany. The final toll was around 50 people dead, and over 4,100 people infected, most of them in Europe, but also in other countries such as Britain and the U.S.

In the U.S. we have regular outbreaks every year from sprouted seeds - primarily alfalfa, which is most popular, but also others. The usual problem is not E.coli bacteria, but Salmonella. This year Salmonella bacteria were found in alfalfa sprouts in mid-December, and in July, and in clover sprouts in January.

Another recall in sprouted seeds was announced by the FDA today (the company issued the recall yesterday, so it classifies at 2011). The company involved is the same one that had a Salmonella problem in December. This time it is a bigger recall, involving a wider range of sprouted seeds, and the contaminant is Listeria monocytogenes which is usually more dangerous - particularly for pregnant women. Ironically, many of the products or Green Valley Food Corp. are branded “Let’s Grow Healthy Together”. Oh..oh...

Here's the list of recalled products - mainly of concern to people who live in Texas.

- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Alfalfa Sprouts 5 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722228818
- Let"s Grow Healthy Together!” Spicy Sprouts 5 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722229914
- Alfalfa Sprouts 4oz. plastic security sealed clamshell UPC number 815098001088
- Green Valley Food Corp.” Onion Sprouts” 4oz. plastic security sealed clamshell UPC number 815098002054
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Sunflower Greens 5 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722206069
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Clover Sprouts 5 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722225510
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Onion Sprouts 2 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722227712
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Zesty Sprouts 5 oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722221116
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Organic Wheat Grass 6oz. plastic 2 piece containers with the UPC number 714722608122
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Mung Bean Sprouts 8oz. red polypropylene bag with the UPC number 815098001071
- Let's Grow Healthy Together!” Mung Bean Sprouts 16 oz. clear polypropylene bag with a green label, the UPC number 714722208162
- Green Valley Food Corp. Spicy Sprouts 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with the UPC number 815098002023
- Green Valley Food Corp.” Snow Pea Shoots 3 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with the UPC number 714722106062
- Green Valley Food Corp.” Organic Wheatgrass 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with UPC number 714722608122
- Green Valley Food Corp.” Daikon Sprouts 3 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with UPC number 714722206076
- Broccosprouts” Sandwich Blend 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with UPC number 815098000289
- Broccosprouts” Salad Blend 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with UPC number 815098000265
- Broccosprouts” Deli Blend 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with the UPC number 815098000272
- Broccosprouts” Broccoli Sprouts 4 oz. plastic security sealed clamshell containers with UPC number 815098000258

To your good health,