Thursday, October 17, 2013


Today the U.S. government is back to work at full force. That includes the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates over 80% of our food and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the rest. So both agencies are catching up with announcement of ongoing recalls. It is certainly clear that contaminants were busily at work while the government was shut down.

Here are some of the recent food recalls. (As usual, I am not listing any food recalls because of allergens):

Costco’s El Camino Real store in South San Francisco, Calif., is recalling 9,043 units (approximately 39,755 lbs.) of rotisserie chicken products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella Heidelberg (I've already blogged this one: see previous post).

Turkey Hill Dairy of Conestoga, Pa., is recalling certain packages of Fudge Ripple Premium Ice Cream and of Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Premium Ice Cream, and Moose Tracks Stuff’d Frozen Dairy Dessert. The reason - a finding of metal shavings. (Not exactly what we want in our dessert).

Orange County Produce, LLC ("OC Produce") of California is recalling fresh red and green Bell Peppers for potential contamination with Salmonella. (Ooof - I just bought some..).

Garden Fresh Foods, a Milwaukee, WI. establishment, is recalling approximately 6,694 additional pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and ham products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria (This is an expansion of an earlier recall).

Asia Cash & Carry Inc. of Maspeth, New York has recalled PRAN brand Tumeric Spice Powder sold in 8.82 oz. jars. It was found to contain high levels of lead. This can cause health problems, particularly to small children, infants and pregnant women.

In all - a nice cross-section of our food supply. And if you think this is bad for the past few days, you should see the recalls for medical devices, drugs, injectables and supplements!

Enjoy your dinner.

To your good health,


Sunday, October 13, 2013


The currently ongoing Foster Farms chicken recall is now in 20 states and Puerto Rico. But California has been hardest hit. Not just raw chicken, but also cooked chicken products have been recalled. And a lot of California residents are not feeling very well.

As of last Friday (and don't expect the CDC to update numbers over the weekend with most of its staff on furlough)there have been 317 confirmed illnesses linked to the bad chicken. Of these, fully 73% (230 very unhappy people) live in California. Do we eat more Foster Farms chicken here? I doubt it. It probably has something to do with the distribution of the Salmonella chicken. After all, the three Foster Farms plants that produced these lots of poultry are located in Central California - two of them in Fresno. A good proportion of the products obviously ended up for sale close to home.

On top of this, we have a recall of supposedly fully cooked and "ready to eat" chicken by a COSTCO store in South San Francisco. COSTCO has had to recall 9,000 of its rotisserie Foster Farms chickens and related Kirkland Farms products such as soup, chicken salad and leg quarters. These products were reportedly sold at Costco’s South San Francisco store between Sept. 11 and Sept. 23.

Wait a minute...It is now October 13. The products were recalled yesterday - October 12. Do you really keep your chicken for 2-4 weeks? Clearly this is another case of "recalling" what we have already eaten... A recorded message at the COSTCO warns customers to discard or return any leftovers of the Foster Farms chicken products and aplogizes "for the inconvenience this may have caused." Great. Thanks a lot.

While we are at it, the symptoms of this common type of food poisoning are usually diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. But you could also have a headache, muscle cramps, vomiting, chills and even blood in your stool. Usually you become ill within three days of eating the a contaminated product. People who are healthy and fit, would normally take longer to become ill than those who are elderly, young or not in good health.

So if you are worried that you may have eaten it two weeks ago, but are feeling fine, relax....

To your good health,


True, there is a large ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria in U.S. chicken. The company involved is Foster Farms, which also sells under other labels. Contaminated poultry has now been found in the food supply of 20 states and Puerto Rico. Over 300 people have become ill, with the largest number in California, where the 3 Foster Farms plants are located that produced the lots that were contaminated.

So what should be do about eating chicken? Is it safe to eat?

Yes, under certain conditions. But you need to be extra careful for two reasons. First, this is a particulary virulent type of Salmonella bacteria. Over 40% of those who catch it end up in hospital (about twice the usual rate). However, the actual percentages could be lower. I would assume that there is even more under-reporting of the related food poisoning illnesses than usual. After all, the food safety information and reporting systems are not functioning normally because of the forced furlough of thousands of staff at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Hospitals are more likely to have kept accurate records. Even then these numbers are rather frightening.

A second reason to take special precautions is because this bacterium is very resistant to antibiotics, which makes treatment more difficult.

However, having said this, if you are careful, your poultry lunch or dinner can be perfectly safe. Remember, when handling the raw chicken to do it in the sink, which you can wash down immediately afterwards. You may also want to wear disposable gloves, to be rolled off carefully and thrown straight into the garbage when you are finished touching the poultry. And avoid contaminating any surface or any other food item with the raw chicken. Finally, make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

As for eating chicken out, or buying chicken takeout or "ready-to-eat" chicken - I would avoid this for a while. You can't always rely on thorough cooking of such poultry. Remember the cooked chicken that was found to be contaminated at a COSTCO store yesterday - resulting in a recall by COSTCO of 40,000 pounds of cooked chicken!

To your good health,


Thursday, October 10, 2013


The shutdown of the U.S. government is creating numerous problems. And, it's not just costing a great deal of money. It could also cost lives.

Let's face facts: we probably now have more risky food on our store shelves and on our table. Thank you politicians!

Large numbers of federal and state food inspectors have been placed on furlough (almost half of the FDA ones who are responsible for 80% of our food - see my previous post). All over the country, fewer food plants are being inspected, less food samples are being taken, and less laboratory tests are being done for bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria monocytogenes, or for molds, parasites, dangerous metals like lead, or unhealthy chemicals.

Imported food inspection at U.S. ports has sunk to a dangerous low - well below the usual 2%, probably closer to 0.5%. Localized reports suggest that only a very small percentage of the assigned food inspectors at U.S. ports are continuing on the job. That means more hazardous imported food coming in and ending up in our food supply.

To add to the problem, critical government food information and communication systems are either shut down or barely limping along with skeleton staff. As a result, contaminated food can be transported across state borders and sold all over the country, with nothing to stop it. There will be fewer food recalls. Stores will continue to sell hazardous food products, with no one the wiser. Less information will be available to the public on what they need to avoid.

The longer this situation continues, the worse our food supply will become.

So what do you do if you are in a high-risk group? That is, if because of age or health factors, you are more likely to become seriously ill if you eat bad food?

Here is what you may want to do, at least for the time being:

1) Eat less raw food, unless you have grown it yourself, it comes from a known reliable local farmer, or, it can peeled (e.g. bananans, apples, oranges).

2) Avoid all ready-to-eat foods (which I normally advise, anyway).

3) Cook vegetables and even fruit (which will kill bacteria and parasites).

4) Try to avoid imported foods that have come in after the government shutdown, especially foods that are frequently contaminated, such as seafood (85% of U.S. seafood is now imported, mostly from China, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries), imported berries, imported cheeses and imported smoked salmon.

5) Avoid any processed foods that could contain ingredients that have come through U.S. ports after the shutdown.

To your good health,


Sunday, October 6, 2013


A lot of U.S. government workers are being furloughed because of the Government shutdown. That includes thousands of food inspectors.

So what? Do we really need food inspectors? Or, should we consider them "non-essential" government personnel? In other words, can we simply dispense with them with no harmful effects on our health?

The answer to this question is largely a matter of opinion. Here is mine: Yes, the safety of our food will suffer if less inspections take place. And, so will our health.

So which of our food items are likely to become more unsafe? A bit of background: there are two main federal agencies responsible for food safety in the U.S.- the FDA (which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services) through its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA/CFSAN) and the USDA, through the Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS). Responsibilities for food safety are divided up between the two, with the FDA in charge of some 80% of our food.

Unfortunately, it is the FDA which is having to let more food safety personnel go on furlough. Therefore, the foods that are likely to become more unsafe in the United States (and, in countries which import U.S. food) are the ones that are FDA/CFSAN responsibility: fruits and vegetables, seafood, whole (fresh) eggs and processed foods. There are less likely to be more problems with meat and poultry and egg products (liquid, frozen or dried eggs) - which are USDA responsibility and, are likely to continue being inspected as usual.

But ultimately all our food supply is likely to become more unsafe, because the CDC, which is in charge of investigating any outbreaks, including those that seem to be caused by food, has also had to furlough its epidemiological staff. Therefore, if we do have a large multi-state outbreak linked to a widely eaten food product (and there have been many in the past) we are likely to have serious problems.

All in all, this is not a good situation. The sooner the U.S. government gets back to operating again, the better.

To your good health,