Monday, August 27, 2012


While I was doing research for The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, I became convinced that the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes was a potentially huge risk in our industrialized food supply.

The people most in danger are pregnant women and those with weak immune systems. Such people need to think increasingly carefully about what they eat. I have done so many posts on this topic, including just a few days ago on it being found in cantaloupes, honeydew melons and white mushrooms (See the post for August 19th). Here's some additional more recent Listeria-linked recalls in the U.S., all just from the past 5 days .
Spence & Co Ltd, Brockton MA, a smoked salmon company is recalling Wellsley Farms brand 16oz Nova Lot: 6704701 and Spence & Co brand 8oz Smoked Trim Lot: 6704701 because of possible contamination by Listeria monocytogenes. The recalled product was distributed through Bj's Wholesale Club, Kroger's and King Soopers in a combined total of 15 states.

Dole Fresh Vegetables is recalling 1,039 cases of bagged salad for the same reason. The product being recalled is 10 oz. Dole Italian Blend coded 0049N2202008, with a Use-By date of August 20 (now expired). At present the recall of this product is limited to 8 U.S. states.

Fresh Express Incorporated has also just recalled a limited quantity of 10 oz. Hearts of Romaine salad with the expired Use-by Date of August 23, 2012 because of L.monocytogenes. As in the case of Dole (above), the recall came after the product was likely to have been already eaten. (A lot of good that does us!). It was distributed in 19 States. Fresh Express is a huge company, and has had many similar recalls in past years.

And remember, those who follow my blog but live overseas - The Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is not just a U.S. problem. It can be anywhere.

To your good health,

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I notice that my old post on lead in candy is being read by a lot of people right now. No wonder. There is another warning out for U.S. licorice lovers (including my husband). This time it is high levels of lead in licorice twists.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently had some bad news for American Licorice Company of Union City, California. This company is now recalling 16 oz. Red Vines® Black Licorice Twists due to elevated levels of lead. At the present time, the recall and alert are only for the one pound bag (16 oz.) of Red Vines® Black Licorice Twists with "Best Before Date" of 020413. But as we know by now, these recalls often expand. And who knows what other companies will become involved.

Most at risk are pregnant women, small children, and particularly infants. The fetus is especially vulnerable, which is why I would suggest pregnant women avoid all licorice, at least for the present time. It just isn't worth it.

For more information, including symptoms of lead poisoning, read my earlier post of January 28, 2011, "Why is Lead in Candy." See also "Lead in Costco Licorice" which is more recent (August 10 of this year).

To your good health,

Monday, August 20, 2012


I have written a number of blogs on L. monocytogenes, as I believe it to be one of the greatest food threats of our age. This bacterium can turn up anywhere since it is frequently present in the soil and can be on animals. It is also carried by an important percentage of food plant workers, and can hide in machinery used for food processing.

Several of my earlier posts have talked about which foods to avoid if you are in a high risk category (see previous post) - as in the case of pregnant women and some other people with weakened immune systems.

Below is an "avoid" list from Australia ( the NSW Government) which I think is pretty good (I am quoting except for some slight editing). But I am getting the feeling that no list is really complete (for instance, this one does not have whole melons on it).

Generally speaking anyone at high risk of listeriosis should not eat:

• pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad
• pre-cut fruit
• pre-cooked cold chicken
• cold delicatessen meats
• paté
• raw seafood
• smoked seafood (for example, smoked salmon)
• unpasteurised milk or milk products
• soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, or blue-vein (unless cooked and eaten whilst hot)
• sprouted seeds
• raw mushrooms

To your good health,


Sunday, August 19, 2012


Listeria monocytogenes is a weird bacterium. It may barely affect some people but can kill others. It is also unusual in another way: symptoms are likely to turn up anywhere from three to 70 days after you are exposed (some estimates say one to 90 days!). The third way it is atypical is the symptoms of illness themselves are more like the 'flu than what one would expect from food poisoning. That makes Listeriosis (the disease caused) not only selectively dangerous but very difficult to diagnose.

During the last few weeks, this tricky bacterium has been found in several foods in the U.S. Yes, it has turned up in some cheeses, which is fairly common. But it has also been found in foods such as cantaloupes, honeydew melons and white mushrooms (and prepared foods made with these mushrooms)which is far less usual. In fact, it is becoming very difficult to avoid it.

So who should be most worried? Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems (for example: people on cancer treatment or steroids and people with diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and HIV infection). In the case of pregnant women, eating food contaminated with a sufficient number of these bacteria can cause miscarriages and still births.

If you belong to one of these groups, you need to be extra careful in what you eat and how you prepare your food, not just during outbreaks, but all the time (see next post for some guidance).

To your good health,


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


It's about time. We have had so many incidents of Listeria monocytogenes in our U.S. food supply lately and some Salmonella bacteria as well, one began to wonder if E.coli had disappeared off the scene. It hasn't.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing, of Draper, Utah, is recalling approximately 38,200 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. They were distributed to retail and wholesale establishments in Salt Lake City and in California, and have probably been reprocessed, so goodness knows what label they are being sold under. The authorities suspect that a refrigerator malfunction caused the contamination.

The safety rules: 1) be careful when handling raw beef - especially ground meat- and simply assume that it is contaminated, and 2) cook it well. Don't eat your beef underdone.

To your good health,

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Having followed food product contamination and recalls for many years, I am aware that recalls are fluid: they often change over time. The first announcement about a contaminated food product is frequently an understatement. It is not unusual for the recall to expand over a period of days or weeks. And, sometimes even the wrong product is identified. So much for keeping us safe!

Take the case of the current melon recall by Burch Equipment LLC, North Carolina in the U.S. The first recall announcements on July 28 and August 2, 2012 said that the Athena variety of cantaloupes were likely to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Then, on August 3, it was announced that it was the Caribbean Gold variety of cantaloupes that were being recalled. The Athena variety were fine. Now, on August 10, honeydew melons were added to the list. What's next?

As for the size of the recall - it started with 580 cases of melons. Then another 13888 cases (9 melons each) plus 581 bins (110 cantaloupes each) were added. Plus all these honeydew melons (I don't know how many). I tried to calculate the number of melons, but either the FDA's math is wrong or mine is. Either way, the recall has shown a huge expansion. It may now also be a nationwide recall.

The cantaloupes and honeydew melons were sold to distributors between June 23rd and July 27th, in the following states: FL, GA, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, and VA, VT and WV. But, the company and the FDA acknowledge that the melons may have further been distributed to retail stores, restaurants and food service facilities in other states as well.

Now you can see why I always suggest you draw a wide "avoid" circle around a food product being recalled, until things are sorted out. (After writing this, I think I am going to toss out the two cantaloupes I bought today in California - just in case).

To your good health,


As with grape tomatoes (see previous post), we seem to be having at least one recall of cilantro a year in the United States. So now, here's one for 2012.

Fresco Green Farms Inc. of Winchester, CA is recalling 1,643 cases of Cilantro harvested from July 18th 2012 to July 27th 2012, because of Salmonella bacteria. The cilantro was sold in stores in California and Minnesota beginning July 19, 2012 and likely sold or removed from sale before August 6, 2012. The cilantro did not have any labels or numbers. It was bunched and tied together with a brown rubber band. Each bunch has the following dimensions; 10 inches of length and 1 ¼ width. That just about describes every bunch of cilantro I have seen in California stores, except that some have blue rubber bands!

In case you have forgotten - according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and just about every other authority - Salmonella bacteria "can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis." In other words, not much fun.

To your good health,


Friday, August 10, 2012


I can't make up my mind about whether I like or dislike licorice. But my husband loves it - particularly the soft "Aussie style" that has just been recalled. The reason: too much lead in it.

Lucky Country Inc. of Lincolnton, North Carolina in the U.S. is recalling Lot A3057 of Lucky Country Aussie Style Soft Gourmet Black Licorice with Natural Ingredients ("natural ingredients?" - including "natural" lead?). It is sold at Costco and Smart & Final stores located in California, Arizona, and Utah. I notice that Amazon also sells this product on line, although I am not sure if it is carrying the same lot number.

This is not the first time candy, including licorice, has been found to have dangerous levels of lead. These levels would probably not affect my husband much, but they could affect children.

On thinking about it, I think I will stick to chocolate for my "guilt" sweets. Oh oh. I have just remembered that some chocolate has also been found to have dangerous levels of lead......

To your good health,



Grape tomatoes seem to have been much safer this year than they were in 2011. If you remember, we had three outbreaks last year: one in May, in grape tomatoes originating in Florida, one in September in organic grape tomatoes from Mexico, and one in December, in grape tomatoes from Texas. I did a number of posts on each (some 17 in total).

But now we have a grape tomato recall for this year too. Menno Beachy of Cresco, Iowa, is recalling one pint containers of Certified Organic Grape Tomatoes. The cause is the same as it was for the three recalls of 2012 - Salmonella bacteria. These tomatoes were distributed to retail stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan between 7/26/12-8/6/12.

This is a quote from one of my last year's posts entitled "2011 is Grape Tomato Recall Year:"What is it about grape tomatoes, rather than plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, globe (beefsteak) tomatoes, roma tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes...or strawberry tomatoes..... that makes them more risky?" I still don't have the answer. But I do know one thing: I am not going to eat any for a while. I want to enjoy the summer instead of suffering from a bad case of Salmonella food poisoning.

To your good health,


Thursday, August 9, 2012


I am just back from a short vacation, including from the Internet. So I am catching up on everything. That includes the food product recalls that have taken place during the last few days. In general, I notice that food poisoning is not taking a summer break. At least, not in the United States. It usually doesn't. In fact, the summer months are normally the most risky for those of us that eat. That is, for everyone.

As I kept on saying in The Safe Food Handbook (the published book - not the blog) , ready-to-eat (RTE) foods are the most risky, especially for pregnant women. That is because of the frequent incidence of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in such food.

Gill's Onions are still causing new recalls (for instance, Busch’s Fresh Food Market today is announcing the voluntary recall of several RTE products - burritos, enchiladas, soups, lasagnas, potato cakes and more. Too many to list.

But there are other Listeria-related recalls as well. Tomales Bay Foods, Inc., Petaluma, CA, is recalling all partial wheels of two cheeses they distributed because of contamination by Listeria monocytogenes. Reichel Foods, of Rochester, Minn. is recalling approximately 15,880 pounds of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products because of the same bacterium. The Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) is advising consumers that they should not eat certain foods from the Market Pantry and Archer Farms Deli Salad lines that are sold at Target stores, because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

In fact, it is almost a relief to find a recall because of just bits of "foreign material" in meat patties. Kenosha Beef International, Ltd., of Kenosha, Wisconsin. is recalling some 37,600 pounds of frozen bacon cheeseburger patties because they may contain pieces of gasket material. I am not in the habit of nibbling on gaskets, but overall, I think I'd rather do that than risk getting Listeriosis.

To your good health,

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Much of the food recall focus has been on onions for the last few days. But other food contamination problems are popping up as well, including foods that are contaminated with the same dangerous Listeria monocytogenes bactria (see previous 4 posts).

Now it's cantaloupes. Last saturday Burch Farms of North Carolina announced a recall of Athena cantaloupes because Listeria monocytogenes had been found in them. Now Hannaford Supermarkets, which is based in Scarborough, Maine, and operates 181 stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont is also issuing a recall because they sold this item. The PLU sticker number is 4319. By the way, if you remember your PLU numbers, those beginning with "4" (or with 3) means they are conventionally grown - not organic.

And don't be surprised that dangerous bacteria can turns up in healthy cataloupes. This isn't the first time by any means. Although it is much more common to find Salmonella, Listeria did crop up in cataloupes (from Jensen Farms, Colorado) last year. They triggered what the CDC termed the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in the U.S in 10 years. Illnesses occurred in 28 states and the death toll was close to 30.

Let's hope this one will not be as bad. Anyone who is older, has a weak immune system, or is pregnant should avoid those wonderful delicious cantaloupes for a while, even those from other farms or stores, just to be safe. As we know by now, these types of outbreaks have a nasty habit of expanding.

To your good health,

UPDATE: This recall has been expanded.
UPDATE: Burch Farms has issued a correction: the type of canteloupe being recalled is not the Athena variety as earlier stated, but the the Caribbean Gold variety.


As I predicted in an earlier blog, the Gills Onions recall is affecting more and more food retailers and producers who have used and these onion products for making a variety of food items. It just goes to show what a popular ingredient onions are. And, it also shows how most food producers hate that nasty task of chopping onions. Much easier to buy them already cleaned, chopped or sliced in huge, ready-to-use bags. Except, of course, when the onions turn out to be contaminated, in which case there are all kinds of problems.

Because these widely used Gills onions were found to carry the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, pregnant women are at particular risk. If you are pregnant, you are about 20 times more susceptible to getting Listeriosis than someone who is not. If you do become ill, you may just think it is the flu. And another problem is that symptoms may show up anywhere between 2 to 30 days after you have eaten Listeria-contaminated food. As a result, it may not be correctly diagnosed right away, even though a simple blood test can confirm the infection.

In the worst case, the risks of Listeriosis while pregnant, include miscarriage, premature delivery, infection of the newborn and even death to the newborn. In about 22% of cases, perinatal listeriosis will result in stillbirth or neonatal death.

However, the good news is that not all babies will be affected if their mothers have Listeriosis, My advice to pregnant women: don't eat any ready-to-eat foods for at least 2 weeks, until we know more. That includes sandwiches, soups, salads, sauces, salsas - everything. If you have eaten any recalled foods, or even any ready-to-eat foods with onions that have not been recalled, you may want to keep a careful eye on your health. Should you start having flu symptoms, don't waste time getting to a doctor, and ask him to test you.

To your good health,