Tuesday, January 1, 2013


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 I have found mold on packaged garlic, green tinged and outdated meat, live bugs crawling around in packages of crystalized ginger, and more.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,


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