Monday, January 28, 2013


I have to admit that smoked wild salmon is one of my favorite foods. But I am becoming less and less comfortable about eating it. There have been just too many recalls of it lately in the U.S. The reason: contamination with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

The most recent recall is by the very health, ethics and social-responsibility focused (and expensive) Whole Foods Market. This supermarket chain, started in 1980, now has 310 stores in the U.S. and UK. And WFM share price is doing very well too.

Whole Foods Market is recalling one lot code of Whole Catch Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (4 oz), cold smoked and sliced, sold in stores in 12 states, because it may contain this deadly bacteria. These stores are located in several states: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Utah.

So why is cold smoked salmon so risky? For the answer, see my earlier post : "Should you Eat Smoked Salmon?" of 14 January, 2012. For more information on this and other issues in food safety, including a whole lot related to seafood, read the book.

As a side note, Whole Foods Market has several recalls of contaminated products every year. All kinds of foods, ranging from chocolates to cheeses to fresh fish to juices and now of course, smoked salmon. So much for healthy!

To your good health,


Saturday, January 26, 2013


We have had all kinds of unpleasant contaminants turning up in our food. But I don't recall any week such as the past one for bits of metal causing food recalls. That's factory-produced food for you. You sometimes end up with the machinery as well! And I bet the U.S. is not the only country where this is occurring.

The most recent incident: the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Advance Pierre Foods, of Oklahoma is recalling some 1,200 pounds of fried chicken breasts because they may contain small pieces of metal. The products were distributed in Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

Before that, we had Annie's Homegrown Inc., of Berkeley, Califoria (down the road from where I live)recalling many of their frozen pizzas because of suspected tiny metal fragments in the crust. And, before that we had BBU Inc. (the parent of Bimbo Bakeries) recalling multiple Thomas', Publix, Sara Lee and Weight Watchers fresh bagels because of pieces of metal being found.

How does this happen? Well, a variety of ways. In the case of the recalled chicken breasts, the company said that the problem occurred when a small metal hand tool fell into a grinder. Apparently the problem was discovered by the company's metal detectors but somehow or other, the chicken was packaged and shipped before the company could begin diverting the product (figure that one out if you can).

In the case of Annie's, they seem to have been a victim of their pizza crust supplier's bad equipment maintenance: there was a defective metal mesh screen at the flour mill, pieces of which ended up in the flour and from there in the pizza crust and in the pizza.

As for Bimbo Bakeries, all the information given is that the presence of fragments of metal was caused by "a faulty manufacturing part." Another case of deferred maintenance?

Again, as I have said before in discussing such "foreign objects" in our food, I bet much of this is due to financially struggling companies trying to cut their costs by not doing regular maintenance of their processing equipment.

To your good health,


Sunday, January 20, 2013


Sometimes it seems that the dangerous bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes is everywhere in our food supply. One product recall quickly follows another, at least in the United States. The most recent recall was issued yesterday by LJD Holdings, Inc.( doing business as B and D Foods). They recalled some 33,500 pounds of fully cooked meat and poultry products because of possible contamination by Listeria monocytogenes (click on the recall link on this page to get details of products recalled).

So what can you safely eat? This question is most important for pregnant women, older people, anyone with a compromised immune system, and anyone who has kidney disease, certain cancers, diabetes or is an alcoholic. For such people, a single lunch, dinner or snack can prove fatal. No, I am not exaggerating. While it is estimated that some 20-30 percent of Listeria infections result in death, the rate is much greater for people in the high risk group - estimates placing it anywhere between 40-70 percent.

I have written a lot about this issue in previous blog postings. But here are some of the basics.

People in the high risk groups may want to avoid "ready-to-eat" foods unless they are cooked thoroughly first. Such foods include:

Luncheon meats, bologna, pastrami, salami, cold-smoked salmon, refrigerated pate, meat spreads and other similar deli products.
Store-sold salads such as chicken salad, tuna salad, ham salad, seafood salad.
Ready-made sandwiches or similar foods.
Raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk.
Soft cheeses such as quesco blanco, quesco fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses and similar unless the label states that they are made with pasteurized milk.

However - and I wish I didn't have to say this - L. monocytogenes sometimes also turns up in other foods (for instance in butter, and even whole produce), so even if you avoid such foods, it will not be a 100 percent guarantee of safety.

To your good health,

Monday, January 14, 2013


People all over the world, including in the U.S., love smoked salmon. I do too. But the truth is, that it can be unsafe to eat, particularly for anyone who is in the high-risk group for listeriosis infection (caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes). That group includes: pregnant women, the elderly, anyone with a compromised immune system, people with chronic liver or kidney disease, diabetics and alcoholics.

Currently we have a large, multi-state and multi-item recall of cold smoked salmon products in the U.S. It started at the end of 2012, and since then, has got bigger (see Right - here we go again. Testing turned up Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Recalls of smoked salmon happen just about every year, and often more than once a year, because of Listeria risk. The chances are, we'll have another one before 2013 finishes.


You could argue that it has something to do with the fact that L. monocytogenes is a very tough bacterium. It is cold tolerant (can survive and multiply in the refrigerator) and salt tolerant.

But the main reason is that the cold smoking process itself can be so easily messed up. If it isn't done very, very, carefully, the fish can end up being contaminated at one stage or another. There's a good description on the process and how contamination can happen in an article entitled "Safety of Cold Smoked Salmon," written by a Colorado State food science graduate student (in 2008 - but the information hasn't changed). Check out:

You shouldn't underestimate this tiny Listeria bacterium. An estimated 20-30 percent of foodborne listeriosis illnesses in high risk people can be fatal.

To your good health,


Thursday, January 10, 2013


There are large ongoing outbreaks of "stomach flu" in several parts of the world, including in the U.S. This is usual for the winter season, but the current ones are worse than usual.

The most common cause of "stomach flu" is norovirus (also known as "the cruise ship virus " because it often turns up there so often). This year, to add to our woes, there is apparently a new strain of norovirus going around. It reportedly originated in Australia. That's why it is being called "Sydney 2012." Thank you, Down Under!

In California, where I live, this outbreak promises to be as bad or worse than the one in 2007 when even San Quentin State Prison had to close to new prisoners and visitors because some 500 inmates and guards fell ill, emergency rooms were jam packed, and college and pro athletes missed games.

So what does this have to do with food? Contaminated food and water - as well as touching contaminated surfaces, and aearosolized vomit, can be vehicles for illness (often it hops from one to the other). And believe me, this virus is very contagious. And, hardy. It can survive in the freezer and withstand heat up to 140 degrees F. That could mean that if an infected restaurant worker handled your food, you would be very likely to become ill. And you, in turn, could infect other people with whom you come into contact.

So here is what you need to know (courtesy of information and advice from the CDC.

The incubation period associated with norovirus is 12-48 hours - usually around 33 hours.

The symptoms are usually: sudden onset of vomiting (it can be "projectile" and you can vomit up to 20 times a day), diarrhea (which van be very, very bad, but not bloody), stomach cramps and nausea. Some people also have headaches, body aches and low fever.

The cure: There really isn't any medicine that will cure it. Antibiotics do not work on viruses. Just keep hydrated - and, close to a bathroom! Force yourself to take small sips of water all the time, even if you feel like throwing it up. This is especially important for children and older people.

Your responsibility: make sure you don't spread it. This virus can survive for days on surfaces, and even disinfecting them may not work 100%. But it helps, so disinfect anyway - all surfaces, with a bleach and water solution (1:10 is often recommended). And yes, wash your hands continually (don't rely on alcohol-based gels, although you can use them after you wash your hands first). Remember too, that if you have been ill, you can still shed the virus for a couple of weeks, or even more, afterwards.

So any good news? Yes, you feel like death, but at least it will be over quickly - some 1-3 days. Keep counting the hours!

To your good health,


Saturday, January 5, 2013


Many of my friends and some of my relatives love cruising. But what was meant to be a healthy and relaxing rest has sometimes turned into a nightmare experience. Usually Norovirus has been the cause (see previous posts).

So how do you avoid getting sick on board? Here are five things that may help:

1. Check out your ship's sanitation score, as assessed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under its Vessel Sanitation Programme (VSP). Here's the link: A score of 85 or below, should be seen as a warning sign, particularly if the same ship has scored low over the past years. But - I need to add that such inspections have not always been a good indicator of likely outbreaks (see my two posts of 2/13/12 - "Princess Cruises Ships Scored 100 for Sanitation," and "Are Cruise Ship Sanitation Inspections Working."

2. Check out if the ship you are interested in has had any large outbreaks in recent months ( Thorough cleanup of the ship does occur after a large outbreak, but does not always eliminate all viruses.

3. Make sure you yourself are not suffering from a weak immune system when you take a cruise. If you are, these crowded conditions will be more risky to you than to someone who is better able to resist infection.

4. Use safe practices while on board. I have blogged these earlier, so will not repeat. See: "More Advice on Avoiding Sickness on a Cruise" of 2/11/12.

5. If an outbreak does occur on board, avoid contact with sick people and places where viruses or bacteria could lodge as much as possible. See above post of 2/11/12 for more.

To your good health,


Friday, January 4, 2013


Gastric illnesses, often caused by food poisoning, are quite common on cruises. They spread quickly in these crowded, close quarters, and can totally ruin your vacation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tries to keep you as safe as possible. When cruise ships participating in the CDC operated Vessel Sanitation Program arrive in a U.S. port from a foreign port, they are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal (GI) illness cases that have been brought to the attention of the medical officer on board during that particular cruise. These will only be a small percentage of actual cases that have occurred on the cruise: lines are often long, passengers are afraid of additional costs, and, as a result, they frequently tough it out rather than report being ill.

If 3% or more passengers or crew have had symptoms of GI illness, the ship has to file a special report. Only sizeable cruise ships (with over 100 passengers) participate in this CDC program, but some are very large indeed, carrying 5,000 or more passengers. Therefore, even this low percentage will often mean hundreds of people on board have been ill.

So which cruise ships had such large outbreaks in 2012, and what was the cause? As you can see from the below chart, norovirus or "the cruise ship virus" is the most common cause of a miserable cruise. Princess Cruises has been heavily hit, with the same ship having outbreaks more than once in the case of Ruby Princess and Crown Princess. This is not unusual, particularly in the case of the very contagious norovirus outbreaks, since it is extremely difficult to 100% decontaminate the ship after an outbreak. Princess Cruises was also heavily hit with outbreaks the previous year (2011) with Sea Princess and Coral Princess each having two serious outbreaks. Of course, since it is a huge cruise ship line, it is also more likely to have such problems. But still, it is a good idea to check out your ship if you are planning to go on a cruise (see next post).


Cunard Line Queen Mary 2 12/22 - 01/03 - cause unknown
Princess Cruises Emerald Princess 12/17 - 12/27 - cause unknown
Prestige Cruise Oceania Riviera 11/15 - 11/29 - cause unknown
Holland America LineAmsterdam 11/11-12/5- caused by Norovirus
Princess Cruises Ruby Princess 10/09-10/28- caused by Norovirus & E. coli
Princess Cruises Dawn Princess 08/21-09/13 -caused by Norovirus
Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas 08/24-08/31- caused by Norovirus
Carnival Cruise Line Carnival Glory 08/06-08/11-caused by Norovirus
Princess Cruises Sun Princess 07/08-07/21-caused by Norovirus
Princess Cruises Ruby Princess 02/26-03/04-caused by Norovirus
Princess Cruises Crown Princess 02/04-02/09 -caused by Norovirus
Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Silhouette 01/29-02/10- caused by Norovirus
Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Constellation 01/28-02/11-caused by Norovirus
Princess Cruises Crown Princess 01/28-02/04 -caused by Norovirus
P & O Cruises Aurora 01/04-01/26 - caused by Norovirus
Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas 01/28-02/04 - caused by Norovirus

To your good health,


Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus. You can pick it up from contaminated food, water, surfaces or even the air.

During the last few weeks norovirus has really been on a rampage. It is estimated that in Britain over a million people have been ill with it already during this winter. The outbreak has been earlier and larger than usual for this time of the year. The same pattern has occurred in Europe and Japan.

In the United States more than 400 people on two cruise ships were taken ill last week, with norovirus being the main suspect. Cruise ships are common places for large outbreaks (not a great vacation!). So are nursing homes, schools, and hospitals. In Europe several hospital wards and nursing care homes have been forced to close to try to stop this virus spreading.

Of the over 400 posts on this blog, at least 21 deal with norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, catered events, and even on a plane. Take a look. The post "Norovirus on a Plane" of February 28, 2011 gives some basic rules on how to avoid the virus, which can be adapted to other places as well. So does the post "How to Stay Healthy on a Cruise."

This virus may not be as deadly (usually) as some others, but believe me, it is pretty unpleasant. Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting - which can be projectile, and bad diarrhea. Some people also suffer fevers, headaches and stomach cramps.

Don't get it!

To your good health,

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Yes, anyone can get ill from eating contaminated food. Some well-known people reportedly did in 2012.

Public figures are not exempt. Martha Stewart - the American business magnate, domestic diva and TV personality - was one of the 2012 victims. She believes she got it from "handling too many turkeys" around Thanksgiving. Presumably, she wasn't using safe food preparation practices or this would not have happened. X Factor star Josh from Union J was reported to have suffered from food poisoning as was the son of the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who ended up in hospital while visiting the Black Sea city of Odessa. These are just some examples.

Many athletes of all ages came down with it too in spite of their good health. Greg Norman had to withdraw from the Australian PGA golf championship after just two holes because of food poisoning. Food poisoning also hit Australia's badminton team this year. Shahulat Shamhalaev was not allowed to fight by the New Jersey State because of a bout. And, more than 1,200 young athletes (ages 9-18) participating in a sports event in the Dominican Republic got sick from tainted food (probably served at the lunch), with 22 ending up in hospital.

Admitting you got food poisoning is not always good for your public image. I wonder whether the "gastric virus" that Hilary Clinton had, which left her so dangerously dehydrated, and now, hospitalized with a blood clot, was really food-borne illness. She was certainly living a risky lifestyle - overwork, constant travel, having to eat at banquets much of the time.

Yes, and several of my not-so-famous friends had bouts too. Two are still recovering. They ate Christmas Dinner at a restaurant - including oysters. Ouch! That probably was the culprit food. And they have been very ill. Food poisoning is no joke. In fact, you feel like death. As Martha Stewart told the Washington Post her food-borne illness was "a doozy" and she was in bed for days.

Don't become a food poisoning statistic in 2013!

To your good health,


If you eat - which goes for all of us - you may well get food poisoning at one or more points in your life. The chances are, you won't be sure if it IS food poisoning, not know exactly what meal or food item caused it, and not report it to the authorities.

Let's look at which of us is more likely to get sick. A lot will depend on:
who you are
what you eat
where you live and eat

The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food (now in second edition, on sale on Amazon and in bookstores) divides people into groups according to their level of risk. Factors like age, health, medicines regularly taken, all enter in to determine whether you are more or less likely to get sick - and, how serious (and yes, sometimes fatal) that illness is likely to be. Two people can eat the same risky meal: one can become very ill, and the other may have almost no symptoms.

Of course, it also depends on what you eat. Basically, people who eat a lot of ready-to-eat foods and raw foods (raw milk, raw cheeses, raw vegetables, raw meat, raw fish are more likely to get ill from their food. No, I am not arguing against raw food diets. That is a personal choice. But when it comes to food risks, many of these consist of bacteria, viruses, parasites, which would be killed by cooking, or in the case of milk and dairy products like cheeses, by pasteurization. It's as simple as that.

So what about where you eat? The country where you live does make a difference, and certain countries have a generally safer food supply than others do. But it also depends if you eat out a lot (restaurants have additional risks) or at catered banquets, or on cruises or planes. The book explains why. And so do some of the earlier posts of the over 400 on this blog.

But the bottom line is that anyone can get food poisoning. Yes, even people who don't believe there is such a thing, who say they can eat anything and be OK. Yes, like a friend of mine who got food poisoning twice last year (see the next post).

To your good health,



Every year around this time, I try to do a kind of overview of food safety issues in the past year. So, what happened in 2012? And, how does 2013 look?

Well, on the food front, 2012 was similar to previous years. Safety risks continued in our food. Some of these are very hard to avoid, others are avoidable if we are smart in what we buy, and how we handle, cook and eat our food.

In the U.S. - and, in other countries - bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes and dangerous members of the Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus and other families continued to turn up. Viruses, fungi, parasites and unhealthy metals and chemicals also made appearances, but received far less publicity. One of the less usual ones was high levels of lead found in licorice. Of course, what is found depends greatly on what food testing looks for.

And, the usual foods have been involved in recalls - a lot of ready-to-eat food, especially fresh produce, cheeses, smoked salmon, deli meats and such, as well as some whole fresh produce, meat (especially ground meat) and processed foods (such as peanut butter). Pet food (and treats) and animal feed, as well as human food has been contaminated.

One of the largest outbreaks in the U.S. in 2012 was due to Salmonella Newport bacteria in cantaloupe (261 ill, 3 deaths, 94 hospitalizations in 24 States.) There were also - at least so it seemed to me - more than the usual number of recalls due to "foreign bodies" in our food - things such as bits of metal, plastic, glass. Two of the more astonishing ones this year were needles found in turkey sandwiches served on board a flight (ugh!), and bits of marker pen in corn chowder.

Yes, and, eating out continues to be more risky than eating at home. Several restaurants had major outbreaks. Some had to close temporarily or permanently as a result. One of the largest food poisoning outbreaks was in a restaurant called On the Border in Vancouver, Washington (U.S. - not Vancouver, B.C.). At least 120 people were suspected to have fallen ill due to the relatively rare Salmonella Virchow bacteria in the food. But there were many others.

I wonder how much of these problems in food are tied to the struggling economy? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it plays a role. I have noticed in my own shopping that the food sold is often less fresh. I have found mold on packaged garlic, green tinged and outdated meat, live bugs crawling around in packages of crystalized ginger, and more. I would suspect that this has a lot to do with trying to keep food prices down as consumers are hurting but costs are going up. I also suspect that some of these odd things turning up in processed foods (though not the two I mentioned above) are pieces of factory equipment that has not been adequately maintained or replaced because of cost cutting.

Last night in the U.S. we slid over the so-called Fiscal Cliff. The solution to our economic woes that is being discussed as I write, is, at best, weak. Let's see how that affects our food supply. No Food Cliff please!

Welcome to 2013!

To your good health,