Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I thought I would do a quick post on irradiation of food. I notice that a lot of blog readers continue to worry about it - and, are confused.

No, irradiation does not have anything to do with "radiation" or nuclear contamination of food (that is, radionuclides like Iodine-131 (I-131), Cesium-134 (Cs-134) and Cesium-137 (Cs-137) in food). Irradiation, or "ionizing radiation," is a process that briefly bombards food with high-frequency energy. The purpose is to damage the DNA of insects, bacteria or parasites in or on the food.

Let's take irradiation of produce as an example, since it is coming into wider use. If you wash that fruit or vegetable, you may only get rid of 90 to 95 percent of any bacteria on it. If you irradiate it, you are likely to inactivate or kill some 95 to 99 percent.

At medium-dose levels irradiation therefore extends the shelf life of that fruit or vegetable by preventing sprouting and delaying ripening (which is important in our factory food system). You can also argue, that it makes food safer to eat in terms of not giving you food poisoning. This could be particularly important for super-vulnerable people such as those in nursing homes.

So does the process of irradiation do something else to our food that could damage our health over the longer term? Those who support it (which includes the USFDA, USDA, WHO, FAO, and many other key U.S. and international organizations) will tell you that you shouldn't worry: if correctly done, food irradiation is no more risky than canning or pasteurization. But those opposed to it, will tell you that some research has shown that animals who consistently ate irradiated food ended up with some pretty horrible health problems.

So where does the truth lie? I guess one day, we'll find out. In the meantime, your tastebuds may make the decision for you. To people who are sensitive to taste, the texture and flavor of an irradiated item - such as lettuce - is simply, well, yucky. And, if you are worried, and in reasonably good health, why not avoid it?

To your good health,


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


How is this for unsafe Valentine's Day food? It looks cute - but the sunny-side up eggs aren't considered safe to eat (I still can't convince my husband of that!)
Or, you could give your Valentine some bacteria-contaminated chocolates. No..seriously. There have been several recalls of chocolates over the years, and not just because of undeclared allergens, or bits of plastic or metal or high levels of lead. Bacteria too.

In recent years, Cadbury has recalled millions of chocolate bars across the UK and Ireland because of suspected Salmonella bacteria in them. In the U.S. Artisan Confections Company recalled its Dagoba Organic Chocolate new moon Rich Dark Chocolate (sold at Whole Foods Market) because they may contain Salmonella. These are just two examples.

Worst of all - and, most appropriate for this day - in 2009 Godiva Chocolatier recalled its G Collection' Mother's Day and Valentine's Day gift boxes because they had been made with a dry non-fat milk product which had been found to contain Salmonella bacteria.

Yummmm...The delicious lethal weapon?

To your good health,


Monday, February 13, 2012


Out of curiosity, I thought I would check out how a couple of the cruise ships with recent Norovirus outbreaks have done under the U.S. Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) inspections (see previous post for what this is). Well...surprise..both the Ruby Princess and the Crown Princess - scored 100 during their last inspections

The Ruby Princess has an average VSP inspection score of 99 over the years, with a range of 94 to 100. During the latest inspection - in November, 2011 - when the ship scored 100, the inspectors actually found 27 infractions of vessel sanitation according to the report. Here are four random examples (they are not necessarily the worst).

• A badly scored white cutting board was observed at the soiled side of the dishwash station in one of the galleys..

• A live fruit fly was seen flying inside the cold counter display container at the crew officer mess.

• There were serious delays in reporting gastrointestinal illness among crew which could result in spread of illness. For instance, a crew dishwasher experienced gastrointestinal illness symptom onset at 5 am and only reported to the medical center at 4:30 pm. A crew member in video experienced gastrointestinal illness symptom onset 7 am and only reported to the medical center at 8 am on the following day.

• There was no procedure in the written for notifying embarking passengers following an outbreak voyage.

The Crown Princess has an average inspection score of 97, with a range from 89 to 100 over the years. During the latest inspection, also in November, 2011, when it also scored 100, some 33 infractions of good sanitation practices were listed. Here are a few examples.

• There was no 'WASH HANDS AFTER USING TOILET' sign in the restroom used byfood workers.

• None of the staff in the food preparation areas were equipped with tip-sensitive food thermometers.

• The door tracks of both food transportation lifts were soiled with an accumulation of debris.

• The safety signs for the swimming pools did not include: 'do not use these facilities if experiencing diarrhea, vomiting or fever', 'shower before entering the facility', or the bather load number. The safety sign at the children's pool did not have the above information or 'take children on frequent bathroom breaks or take children on frequent toilet breaks'. The safety signs for the whirlpools did not include the information required for the swimming pools above or a caution against pregnant women, elderly persons, or exceeding 15 minutes of exposure.

Alright, I have to acknowledge that these were not huge issues - not at the level of the water on board not being potable or the food refrigeration not working (as was the case with a couple of other ships that failed inspection), but, the sanitation on board either ship wasn't great either. As events showed, they probably should not have scored 100.

To your good health,



I have been advising readers of this blog to check out their cruise ship before booking for a cruising vacation. This could help them avoid being trapped at sea during an outbreak of illness on board, as has happened to hundreds of unhappy travellers recently.

One of the main sites I have suggested is the U.S. Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) is to help "prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruise ships." In most cases, we are talking about Norovirus-caused outbreaks on cruise ships - the kind that has been in the news lately.

The main activity of the VSP is inspection of cruise ships with more than 13 passengers and a foreign itinerary when these ships enter U.S. ports. Cruise ships are supposed to be inspected about twice each year.

When I took a closer look at the scores, reports and corrections of theses inspections over the years, I was not impressed. In fact, these ship inspections reminded me of common weaknesses in the inspection of U.S. food processing plants and restaurants.

True, the ship inspections really seem to be catching many failures in sanitation. But I noticed two weaknesses. First, the scores can be very high - even a 100 score - in spite of the ship being loaded with problems, almost any one of which could trigger or spread an outbreak of GI illness. In fact, very, very few cruise ships ever get a "not satisfactory" score of 85 or below (the Queen Mary II - pictured - was one of the few that has done so during the last 12 months).

Secondly, the followup of problem correction is weak. In fact, the VSP does not check if any correction has taken place at all until the next inspection of the ship. This could be months or a year away. In the meantime, cruises continue, and passengers may be exposed to risks of getting seriously ill while supposedly on a pleasant vacation.

To your good health,


Saturday, February 11, 2012


So with all these recently publicized outbreaks of illness on cruise ships, what do you do if you want to take a trip anyway? On Feb. 25, 2011, I posted on "How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise" which focused mainly on reducing your risk of getting the virus from cruise ship food. The below includes some additional recommendations to also reduce your chances of getting the virus from other people or surfaces.

• Check the record of the shipping line and your particular ship for large outbreaks in the past (see the earlier blog for more). Personally, I would not go on a ship that has had a recently recorded outbreak of Norovirus.
• While on the cruise, avoid the buffet, or else, be the first there (again, see my previous posts for reasons).
• Rev up your good sanitation practices while on board, and wash your hands well before you put anything to your mouth - even a pill, a cigarette, your lipstick, brushing your teeth, and of course, before eating. When going on shore, take along an ethanol alcohol-based (a minimum 62%) hand sanitizer, preferably in a gel form and some tissues.
• If you can, avoid eating catered meals on shore, or be very careful about what you eat (nothing raw or sitting out in the sun). Drink only bottled water or drinks and avoid the ice (including crushed ice) and citrus slices.
• If you see someone on board who looks ill or says they are not feeling well (unless they have seasickness) keep away from them.
• If there is an ongoing outbreak on board, avoid crowds and groups as much as possible (difficult on board), touching railings, public restrooms, the swimming pool, whirlpool and spas.
• Keep healthy, getting enough sleep and eating well.

To your good health,



The Safe Food Handbook has a box entitled "The Cruise Ship Virus" which highlights how frequent Norovirus illnesses are on cruise ships. Most outbreaks - like the recent ones we have had - affect both passengers and crew. So why is this nasty virus such a risk on cruises?

One of the most regular readers ran off a list of reasons to me yesterday. He even added a few that I hadn't thought of when I wrote the book. (Remember - you can get this virus from your food, water, surfaces, or, from contact with sick people). Here they are:

• The food is mass catered and therefore more subject to contamination.
• Buffets are a common feature, and these are known to be particularly risky.
• Passengers are in close physical contact with each other over a period of days or even weeks
• The ventilation systems could be adding to the problems.
• On some cruises, a large proportion of these passengers are senior citizens who tend to be less healthy and more vulnerable to such illness.
• On other "party" cruises, passengers tend to play hard and sleep little, resulting in them getting "worn down" which can also decrease their resistance.
• Passengers tend to keep going, even if feeling a bit ill, since they want to enjoy the cruise they have paid for. This may result in them passing the virus on to others.
• While any ships with outbreaks are very thoroughly cleaned when they dock, while at sea the cleaning of common facilities and cabins may be less than perfect, especially if a large number of crew are also ill and out of action.

To your good health,


Friday, February 10, 2012


This is your first Valentine's Day with us, Gunesh - our latest "rescue" dog. We love having you as part of our family. And you have really made great strides in adjusting to living here. A big plus is that you are no longer eating the rugs, my prescription glasses, cellphone, my favorite clothes, your leash, the roasted chicken off the kitchen counter, and whatever else happened to be within reach.

But on my side, I feel I have let you down. Because you are such a young wildly energetic dog, with much of your earlier life spent scavenging on the street, and have survived eating some things that should have finished you off, I have rationalized that I didn't have to be so careful about what I fed you. Your predecessor was given healthy home-cooked food. But most of the time you've eaten commercial "store-bought" food out of bags and cans.

What you are getting is basically our human food leftovers or rejects plus a bunch of additives to make it taste better, look nicer (for us, not you) and last longer. A lot of this food is made up of grains - even in those more expensive brands that claim to be so healthy. And, as the last few months have shown, they carry safety as well as nutritional risks. One of the main ones is aflatoxin. This mycotoxin (occasionally produced by some molds) is particularly common in grains such as corn, especially in the lower quality corn products that go into making your food.

And yes, now commercial dog food has established limits for these toxins, as also exist in our food, though they are not as well enforced. Nevertheless, sometimes high levels are caught through testing. This happened at the end of last year, with several types and brands of dog food. Cargill Animal Health, Procter and Gamble, Advanced Animal Nutrition, O’Neal’s Feeders Supply and Petrus Feed and Seed Stores each recalled several lots of dry dog food during a six-day span. Others followed.

And that hasn't been the only time. The worst case I know of before that was in 2006 when at least a hundred dogs died and countless others became seriously ill over a period of months as a result of high levels of aflatoxin in 19 brands of Diamond Pet Foods. Even if there isn't enough aflatoxin in your food to be fatal - and it doesn't take much - it can leave you with serious liver problems along with unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and jaundice.

No, Gunesh, you are not getting a box of chocolates for Valentine's Day (chocolate is high on the "don't eat list" for dogs) but I do promise to give you safer and healthier food. In fact, I think I'll start by cooking you one of your favorites for Valentine's Day: a turkey burger, with a fried egg on top. We want you to stay healthy and happy and be around for many more years.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012


The list goes on and on. It's amazing how many different kinds of U.S. salads and sandwiches contain eggs. And unfortunately, it turns out that many of them contain eggs from Michaels Foods which have been suspected of carrying Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Here is another sandwich recall in addition to those that I have already blogged.

Grand Strand Sandwich Company of Longs, SC, is recalling its 4.5oz and 5 oz Chicken Salad Sandwiches, with the following labels: Grand Strand Sandwich, Lunch Box Sandwiches, and Country Harvest Sandwiches. They just found out that their sandwich manufacturer, Bost Distributing bought some of the Hard Cooked Eggs that were produced by Michael Foods which has an ongoing recall on those eggs.

Notice...The eggs were laid by hens on farms, then sent (directly or indirectly) to Michael Foods, which sent them to Bost Distributing (among others), which then made chicken salad sandwiches containing those eggs, which sandwiches were then sold to Grand Strand Sandwich Company, which then sent them for sale to us consumers at convenience stores in the U.S. southeast. There they sit around for weeks in the cooler waiting for you to buy them as "fresh sandwiches."

Ugh.....I think I would rather starve. Or, just eat a banana.

And on top of all that, look at all those mysterious ingredients in that so-called healthy and fresh sandwich (the photo of the label may not be clear enough for you to read them, but examine the label yourself the next time you are tempted to buy a ready-made sandwich).

To your good health,


Monday, February 6, 2012


Well, we are off to a good start for cases of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps on board cruise ships this year - and, it's only the beginning of February. In fact, there is a very good chance that we will easily pass the 2011 total number of illnesses (1971 reported cases).

By the last count I could find, we now have four cruise ships docking in the U.S. during the last few days with outbreaks of Norovirus on board: the two Princess Cruise Ships (Crown Princess and Ruby Princess) with a combined total of some 500 illnesses reported, a Carnival Corp. ship with about 100 reported so far, and an outbreak on Royal Caribbean Cruises “Voyager of the Seas” with maybe 200 illnesses on board (the numbers in this last case are still vague).

But let me tell you something else: the actual numbers are bound to be much larger. How much, I don't know. I would guess at least double or triple. Maybe even 10 times the above. After all, studies done on Norovirus have found that only about 10% of people affected by this virus seek medical care. And if they just decide to tough it out, and not see a doctor, they don't get counted.

Some passengers on a cruise ship don't go to see the medical staff because they discover that they have to pay extra for the consultation, or have to wait for a long time, when they are feeling awful and would rather be flat in bed (and, close to a bathroom). Others only become ill when they leave the ship (the incubation period for onset of symptoms can be as long as 72 hours), so they are unlikely to be included in the numbers reported to the CDC.

Of course, now with cruise travel reservations down, and less crowding on board, maybe even safer food, the incidence of Norovirus may start to decrease.....

To your good health,

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Cruise ships participating in the Vessel Sanitation Program are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal (GI) illness cases that have occurred on board before the ship arrives at a U.S. port when it has come from a foreign port, and is engaged in a voyage of 3-21 days. Only cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers are required to report.

Statistics for 2011 show that Princess Cruises had more confirmed Norovirus outbreaks than any other cruise ship line during 2011:

Sea Princess (5/30-6/09). 144 sickened. Cause: Norovirus
Sea Princess (5/20-5/30). 128 sickened. Cause: Norovirus
Coral Princess (5/04-5/19). 64 sickened. Cause: Norovirus

In addition to Norovirus, there was also an outbreak of Enterotoxegenic E. coli on Coral Princess.

But Princess Cruises is not the only cruise line with GI illness outbreaks. Almost all cruise lines have had them on one trip or another, though not necessarily every cruise or every year. In all the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recorded 11 outbreaks of GI illness on cruise ships visiting U.S. ports in 2011. Six of these were due to Norovirus, two to E.coli and three had an unknown cause (which could have been Norovirus).

So, as I have advised in previous posts, check the record of your particular cruise line and the ship itself before you book. Take a look at the CDC site at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm#2011.

Outbreaks can and do occur on both the cheapest and the most expensive of cruises, but you'll notice that some of the ships have a particularly bad record. Don't book on those.

To your good health,


Our industrialized food certainly gets around. Now those potentially Listeria-contaminated boiled eggs from Nebraska are causing a prepared sandwich recall in California.

GH Foods CA, LLC of Sacramento has been notified by their supplier that the eggs supplied to them were from Michael Foods, Inc, and have been recalled because they could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

The sandwiches affected by the recall were reportedly only distributed to Walgreens retail stores in the state of California. They are packaged in a cellophane wrapper and sold under the Delish brand.

Product UPC Code Enjoy by Date
DeLish brand Egg Salad on HoneyWheat Sandwich 8.5 oz. 0.49022-51925.1 1/17/12 through 2/5/12
DeLish brand Tuna Salad on Multigrain Bread Sandwich 8.5 oz 0.49022-51928.2 1/22/12 through 2/5/12

If you have bought them, don't eat them!

To your good health,


Are you really serious about taking that cruise? I wouldn't worry too much about the ship sinking, but you may want to keep food poisoning in mind.

The cruise ship industry has been hit with a lot of bad publicity lately. First, there was the Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Italy. And now, two Princess Cruises ships, limping into port in Florida with hundreds of very miserable passengers and crew on board due to Norovirus outbreaks.

We don't know how the virus got on board both ships, but the chances are that it boarded with the food, most likely from a common source, and spread from there. This virus is very contagious, very common on cruise ships and probably the most common cause of food poisoning. It can spread not just through food itself, but also passenger to passenger, through surfaces where droplets of vomit have landed and many other ways.

The Crown Princess, has so far reported 140 people, or about 4 percent of passengers to be ill, plus 18 members of the crew. On the Ruby Princess, 81 passengers - 2 percent of the total- and nine crew members have been reported ill so far.

Two things you can be sure of: one, these numbers will increase, and secondly, the ships will be extremely difficult to clean up. In fact, history of such outbreaks shows that there will be increased risk of another Norovirus outbreak on subsequent cruises in spite of all the efforts made.

If you are thinking of going ahead with a planned cruise, or, have a family member or friend who will do so, check out the several earlier posts on this blog which will help you to be one of the people who stays healthy.

Is Cruise Ship Food Safe to Eat? - 2/25/11
Why are Cruise Ships Risky Places to Eat - 2/26/11
How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise Ship - 2/25/11
Cruising May be No Carnival if You Get Food Poisoning - 1/10/12

To your good health,
UPDATE: 02/7/12 - Two more cruise ships have reported Norovirus outbreaks in the past few days and the number of illnesses on the Princess cruises has risen (see later posts).
UPDATE" 01/7/13 - Almost a year later, outbreaks continue, including on Princess cruises. See most more recent posts.

UPDATE: 1/28/14 - The latest reported outbreak with perhaps as many as 600 ill passengers and crew (see post of 1/26/14 -
"Another Outbreak on a Cruise Ship") is on the Royal Caribbean line ship "Explorer of the Seas."

Friday, February 3, 2012


As I predicted, there are more spinoff recalls from the Michael Foods boiled egg recall. Boiled eggs are used in a number of ready-to-eat foods such as salads and sandwiches. And many small companies and retailers which prepare and sell such products seem to get them (cheaply, I assume) from large suppliers such as Michaels in big bags or buckets.

Unfortunately several of them are now in a certain amount of bother because they realize that their products may be contaminated with disease-causing and potentially deadly Listeria bacteria. Their items may not have come up in the original Michael's recall, but they did when this egg supplier issued a wider recall. As a result, many of the recalled items have probably been bought already - and eaten. So what else is new?

I am sure there will be more of these spinoff recalls. But here are two recent ones:

Allison’s Gourmet Kitchens of Moore, Oklahoma is recalling certain prepared salads that contain cooked eggs. These salads were sold to retail stores and to food service in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee and Missouri. There is a long list on: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm290212.htm?source=govdelivery.

Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. is recalling hard-cooked eggs, as well as prepared foods that contain hard-cooked eggs, such as cobb salad, spinach salad, chef salad, garden salad, Kosher macaroni salad and Kosher pickled salad. These were sold between January 23 and February 1, 2012 at Wegmans’ Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, Canandaigua, Newark, Geneva, Corning, Elmira, Geneseo, and Hornell stores.

And the latest - F&S Produce Company Inc., a Deerfield, N.J. establishment, is recalling approximately 389 pounds of Cobb and spinach salads. These products were sent to a warehouse in Pennsylvania for further distribution to retailers, and who knows where they went from there.

Making your own salads is a lot safer than buying them ready made, not matter how convenient. OK, it may take 10 minutes. But if you get Listeriosis, it could ruin your life.

To your good health,

FURTHER UPDATE 02/04/12 - GH Foods SW, of Texas is recalling approximately 515 pounds of Cobb salad products - "Fresh Garden Highway Cobb Salad" - distributed to retailers in Texas.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Here we go again - paying the price for our industrialized food supply and our increasing dependence on convenience foods. That tiny bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, is giving us more worry and misery. Pregnant women and vulnerable people watch out!

The boiled egg recall is now on a nationwide expansion path in the U.S. Michael Foods, Inc. is recalling hard-cooked eggs in brine sold in 10 and 25-pound pails for institutional use. From its Wakefield, Nebraska facility these eggs were sent to food distributors and manufacturers in at least 34 states (AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, WA, WI, WV).

And, as usual, and to confuse the issue further, a product from such a large food company is sold under various names - all of them sounding healthy - Columbia Valley Farms, GFS, Glenview Farms, Papetti’s, Silverbrook, Wholesome Farms. (I think I am going to steer clear of any product which has "Farm" or "Farms" in its name..There have been just too many "farm" recalls lately).

Avoid convenience foods - if you can.

To your good health,


Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Genetically modified (GM) foods and the evils of the company most identified with them - Monsanto - are again inciting discussion. There is a petition to president Obama "Tell Obama to Cease FDA Ties to Monsanto" (see http://signon.org/sign/tell-obama-to-cease-fda.fb1?source=s.fb&r_by=2165405) which is currently big on the social media circuit. Leaving aside the evils of the food industries ties to, and influence at the U.S. political and policy levels (of which this is not the only case), just how bad is genetically modified food?

I don't know. I am not an expert on this a very specialized and complex subject. My review of the research and opinion on the topic leads me to conclude that it may not be quite as harmless as proponents argue, or, quite as evil as GM critics state. But I am not sure that anyone really knows what all the long term risks are.

Quoting from what I said on p. 82 of The Safe Food Handbook: " Perhaps the biggest concern among many experts is that we still do not know what all the risk of GMOs are, and by the time we find out, it may be too late to do much about them."

Alright, let's bring this to the personal level: if we would rather avoid GMOs what can we do? In the case of produce, it may be quite easy in the U.S. Next time you are shopping you may want to look at that little PLU code on that apple or squash or tomato and remember the below:

A five-digit number beginning with 8 means that the produce has been genetically modified.

To your good health,