Monday, May 27, 2013


COSTCO has had its fare share of food recalls, and I have blogged many of them on this site. But, it has also occasionally taken the lead in food safety. What it is currently doing to make produce like strawberries safer is a good example.

COSTCO, founded in 1083, is the second largest retailer and the largest membership warehouse club in the in the United States. Nor is it just limited to the U.S.: it is the seventh largest retailer in the world. Such size also carries a great deal of clout with suppliers. If you are a supplier to COSTCO, you certainly want to keep their business.

Recently, COSTCO has used that clout to try to provide its customers with safer strawberries. It is doing this through encouraging suppliers to reduce contamination of fresh produce at the farm level. This has been a major problem for years. The Safe Food Handbook places a great deal of emphasis on this in its chapter on Produce.

Farm workers are part of the problem, but not through their own fault. They do piece work. There are no incentives in place which would encourage them to report problems in the field like animal droppings or dead animals which could contaminate the nearby produce with bacteria like E.coli or Salmonella. The chances are, they would pick the berries or whatever anyway. Nor are they encouraged to make sure that packing areas are safe. Very often, farm workers do not even have water nearby to wash their hands after using the sanitation facilities.

COSTCO is now working with one of its major suppliers - Andrew and Williamson - to train farm workers in food safety, and provide them with certain small but important things (like gloves and water) which will help to reduce bacteria in the produce. The restaurant chain that has so far at least partially joined up is Bon Appetit, which is buying ("Limited Edition") strawberries which have been picked under these improved conditions.

Congratulations COSTCO, Andrew and Williamson, and Bon Appetit! It is one small but important step in the right direction. This kind of initiative makes up for some of those other recalls you often have (see next post on the frozen organic berry mix recall).

To your good health,

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Chicken and rice is one of the world's favorite meals. I have eaten it in more countries than I can remember, all over Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

In the United States, consumption of chicken has increased pretty steadily. Currently, over 80 pounds of chicken is eaten per person per year. In all, some 75 percent of Americans eat it regularly. It is a relatively cheap meat, fairly neutral and adaptable in terms of flavor, and easily prepared. And, it can also contain arsenic. So can rice.

Recently researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found arsenic in chicken that probably got there from the anti-parasitic drug Roxarsone. This drug was widely used in American industrial poultry production. It kept poultry free of parasites, allowing them to gain weight faster, and gave the flesh a pleasanter color. Roxarsone has now been suspended (though not banned) in the U.S., while the government is deciding what to do. Other similar anti-parasitic drugs, still on the market may also add to arsenic levels in our chicken lunch or dinner.

If you have read The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, you would have known about this years ago. The box on p.149 in the Meat and Poultry chapter, titled "Arsenic-Laced Poultry" summarizes the issue. And, as for arsenic in rice, the book also looks at that in the chapter on Grains. There are also a couple of earlier posts on arsenic in rice on this blog.

So how serious is all this? After all, the amounts are minute, particularly in the case of chicken, but with considerable variation between chickens. Even organic chicken may contain some - though much less. Chicken livers contain more than the meat itself.

But, even a little more, particularly if combined with arsenic in rice and maybe a bit of arsenic in your water...well...who knows. The Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, website reminds us of the risks. Quoting: Chronic inorganic arsenic exposure has been shown to cause lung, bladder and skin cancers and has been associated with other conditions, as well, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

So, should you stop eating chicken, and especially chicken and rice? Probably that would be going overboard. But, you may not want to eat it every day either. And, if you can afford it, organic chicken is safer.

To your good health,


Saturday, May 4, 2013


(Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg)
Cases of the latest "bird flu" are increasing, although with some hope that control measures (such as closing of live poultry markets) are slowing down the spread. The human incidents of H7N9 virus are still all in China and Taiwan. Most are in Shanghai, Zheijang and Jiangsu.

In all there are believed to be around 130 confirmed cases now and 27 deaths. But, as has been discussed in previous posts, there have doubtless been many times more than those in the official statistics. And, there will be still more in the days and maybe months, to come.

No conclusions have been reached as to how this virus is transmitted. Human-to-human transmission is still a question mark, but with research ongoing. Handling diseased live poultry may be one route (it was with the previous bird flu). However, there is apparently no evidence that you could catch it from prepared food.

There is also nothing yet to indicate that food imports from China, containing cooked poultry (such as frozen entrees, pet foods), are likely to become a route for spreading the disease in other countries. Countries such as the U.S, Canada, do not import live poultry from China. Some nations that do, have stopped such imports for the time being.

But let's keep our eye on the situation. These viruses that move from birds to humans are very frightening, particularly because of their very high fatality rate.

To your good health,


Friday, May 3, 2013


I don't recall as bad a year for frozen pizza as 2013 in the U.S. And, and we aren't even half-way through the year yet. It's enough to make you give up eating pizza. That would put you in the minority of the American population. According to the website "Fun Facts" 94 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly and on the average, each American eats about 46 pizza slices a year.

The most recent pizza recall is by Nestle. Nestle has recalled specific production codes/dates of CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN or DIGIORNO pizzas. They were distributed nationwide. The reason - bits of plastic in the pizzas, which apparently entered with the spinach that was used.

And here we were, thinking that eating veggies like spinach on your pizza made it more healthy! By the way - also according to Fun Facts, women are more likely to order or buy pizza with vegetables than are men.

Back to the pizza recalls this year. Nestle has not been the only pizza distributor with problems. At the end of March this year, Farm Rich Corporation had to recall Farm Rich frozen mini pizza slices and Farm Rich mozzarella bites in a pizzeria style crust because of discovery of E.coli 0121 bacteria. Overall, I guess those were worse. Biting into bits of plastic may chip your tooth or scratch your throat, but if you ate the E.coli with your pizza, you could end up in hospital.

And that's not all the frozen Pizza woes for the year. Back in January, Annie's Homegrown Inc., of Berkeley California, also recalled a lot of their frozen pizzas. They said the cause was "extraneous materials." They were certainly "extraneous" - bits of metal in the dough are not a normal ingredient. They came from the flour that was used: problems with equipment at the flour mill.

Let's hope that is the end of the pizza problems for the year. But don't hold your breath.

To your good health,