Saturday, November 23, 2013


Americans buy more turkeys this time of year than any other. With so many choices available in the bigger cities, many of us are confused about which kind of turkey we should buy: pre-brined or not brined, organic, natural, free range, antibiotic free or kosher. Some stores, such as Whole Foods Market, even let you know how happily that turkey lived before it was ended up in your shopping basket (the Global Animal Partnership rating).

But one of the choices that most American shoppers make, no matter what other criteria they use, is whether to buy frozen or refrigerated turkey.

Frozen turkeys are flash frozen immediately after packaging to 0°F or below and are kept in the store at that temperature until you buy them. That means they can be bought quite a while before you cook as long as you have a big freezer. In fact, that frozen turkey you bought last year to cook for Thanksgiving, and then decided to go out instead, is still safe to eat – as long as you kept it properly frozen.

Refrigerated turkeys are deep-chilled to 24 to 26°F after packaging. They have a short shelf life. There will be a "use by" date found on the weight tag or weight sticker.

If you buy a frozen turkey, one of the main safety issues is how to thaw it. This is where you can run into trouble. The turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, in its original packaging, not at room temperature (it will take about 5 hours per pound of turkey). If it won’t fit in the frig, or you are rushed, thaw it in cold water, changing the water frequently (estimate about 30 minutes per pound of turkey).

But once your turkey is thawed, remember that you should use it in about seven days – no longer than that. I would use it within 3 days, just to be safe. In the meantime, make sure it is kept cold in the refrigerator until ready to roast.

As for that refrigerated (unfrozen) turkey, you would be wise to cook and eat it before the “use-by” date expires.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Thanksgiving is a very important holiday in America, and for most families, that means a big turkey dinner. You hope to enjoy the occasion and leave your guests with pleasant memories. So the last thing you want is to give everyone at your table a case of food poisoning.

Turkey, like chicken, usually carries bacteria or “germs” in its raw state. Some are harmless, others such as certain Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter or Staphylococcus, can give you food poisoning if you get enough of them.

However, turkey meat it is perfectly safe to eat if you cook it well, which will kill those bacteria. So one of the main risks to avoid with your turkey dinner is undercooked turkey. Another is contaminating other foods which will be eaten raw (such as salads) with raw or partly-cooked turkey. A third risk with that turkey dinner applies primarily to the cook – handling the raw turkey carelessly while preparing it.

Often all three risks are increased if you plan to barbecue the turkey. I was reminded of this today when my hairdresser, while cutting my hair, talked about how she was going to barbecue hers. So if this also what you will be doing with your turkey, you may want to keep the below precautions in mind. Most also apply to oven-roasted turkey.

• If using frozen turkey, make sure it is perfectly thawed before you start to cook it (see next post.)
• If barbecuing it, you would be safer cooking the stuffing separately.
• If you are using a charcoal barbecue, make sure the coals are very hot before you start.
• Keep turning the turkey while it cooks.
• Make sure that the juices of the uncooked or partly cooked turkey do not ooze out onto something else you are barbecuing, such as vegetables.
• Use a meat thermometer as well as visual checking to make sure the meat is cooked throughout to 165 F. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and the inside of the thigh. When checking the turkey visually, remember that turkey meat can remain pink even when it is fully cooked. Smoked turkey meat is always pink. Younger birds also tend to show most pink.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Saturday, November 16, 2013


Almost everyone I know has come down with food poisoning at some time or another, many more than once. Yesterday my handyman told me that he had been hospitalized last week. “I ate a bad double-burger at Burger King,” he told me. He still looked a bit weak and pale.

The symptoms struck him two hours after that hamburger meal: a splitting headache, sharp pains in his abdomen, violent vomiting and diarrhea. He is generally a very strong and healthy young man, who does not drink or smoke, exercises a lot and eats reasonably, although he eats most of his meals out and doesn't like fruit. But he told me that the food poisoning last week totally wiped him out. “I can’t imagine someone old or a child getting this, "he said. “I was so ill I thought I was going to die.”

Was it food poisoning? And was the hamburger the cause?

Well, it could have been food poisoning. Certainly the symptoms are fairly typical, although such violent headaches don’t always occur. The doctor who saw him at the hospital also seemed to believe that contaminated food was the cause, although he himself initially had suspected that he had a ruptured appendix because of the sharp pains.

But was it the hamburger that did it? Maybe, or maybe not. Almost everyone that comes down with food poisoning tends to blame the last meal they ate, especially if they ate it out. There is also a tendency to blame the meat ingredient on the plate, as did my handyman. In reality however, it could have been the cheese on the burger or that skimpy lettuce leaf or slice of tomato. That is, if it was the hamburger at all. It could have been something else. In fact, it could have been something he ate more than a month ago!

The problem is that the incubation period for the toxins, chemicals, metals, microorganisms and other nasty things that cause food poisoning varies. It can be as short as 30 minutes(as in the case of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, or, some marine and fungal toxins) to as long as 70 days or more as in the case of the bacterium Listeria moncocytogenes that is so common in ready-to-eat foods (see my previous posts).

Let’s just take the case of one bacterium most of us have heard of – Salmonella. Some of the less deadly Salmonella bacteria can make you sick within 6 hours, whereas others, such as Salmonella typhi can take as long as 60 days. Then on top of all this is the fact that how quickly bad food will affect you will depend on your general health, and of course, how much of the contaminant - whatever it is - that you get. All this confuses the picture.

What it boils down to is that it is unlikely that the doctor treating you will know for sure what particular food item or meal caused you to become so ill. The laboratory tests - if they are done - may not turn it up either, since they don't cover all the possibilities/

So was it the hamburger that gave my handyman food poisoning? Who knows. It could have been the tacos he ate for lunch, or the dinner the day before, or the burger the day before that, or.....Who knows.

To your good health,


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


There have been a slew of recalls of ready-to-eat salads and other “grab and go” foods in the U.S. lately. Most have been triggered by possible contamination by Listeria bacteria. Now there’s a recall because of E.coli contamination. And it’s not just any old E.coli. It’s that more deadly E.coli 0157:H7 than can actually send you to the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) if you are unlucky.

Athertone Foods, Inc. of Richmond, California, operating as Glass Onion Catering and Gourmet Foods (sounds more up-market doesn’t it?) is recalling a slew of different ready-to-eat salads and wraps because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. The salads were sold in Northern California by Walgreens, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (10 out of its 40 Northern California stores). Glass Onion Catering and Gourmet Foods is a rising force in the prepackaged, grab-and-go gourmet food industry with its products being marketed under several retail brands.

Today Whole Foods Market announced its own recall of these suspect Glass Onion-produced products - ready-to-eat Artichoke Wheatberry Salad and Southwest SooFoo®* Salad (so-so gourmet sounding!). This is yet another recall for the rapidly expanding supermarket that prides itself on being the world’s leader in natural & organic foods. It now has more than 340 stores in the U.S., U.K. & Canada! Most of my food-conscious friends shop at Whole Foods, because they fully believe that the food is better and safer, and worth the extra cost.

Wait a minute…Think about it. This high end food market is getting its prepared salads from the same supplier as is Trader Joe’s. And even worse, as is Walgreen’s! I cannot see any of my friends buying their salads at Walgreen’s. But they might as well. And it could be a whole lot cheaper. That’s our industrialized food supply for us (see my previous post). As for these ready-to-eat salads and other products that save us spending 5 minutes in the kitchen...Well, if you read this blog, or have read the book, you know how I feel about them.

To your good health,


Monday, November 4, 2013


If you are following the American food product recalls put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA/FSIS), you will occasionally see the words “Class I Recall.” So what does that mean?

Class I food recalls are the worst kind. Putting it most simply, these are recalls of contaminated food that, if you ate it, could not just make you sick, or send you to the hospital, but kill you (or, in the case of pregnant women, their unborn child).

Here’s the official definition of a Class I recall:

This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.

An example of this kind of recall is the ongoing one by Reser’s Fine Foods which involves hundreds of products distributed nationwide in the U.S. and in Canada (in fact, it was microbiological testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Canadians – not the American testing – that turned up the problem ).

So why can these innocent sounding recalled salads, spreads, dips and other ready-to-eat (convenience)food products be so deadly? Because they may be contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Take special care pregnant women and elderly or ill people whose immune system is no longer functioning 100%.

And don’t let the wording of the recalls fool you. Yes, it may be true that no illnesses were reported from most of the products recalled – as yet. It could take 70 or more days for the symptoms to appear.

So much for “fine” foods.

To your good health,


Sunday, November 3, 2013


If you are a regular eater of ready-to-eat foods – salads, dips, spreads, cold cuts or whatever, you may want to think again, particularly if you are older or pregnant. The past 10 days of food recalls in the U.S. and Canada once again highlight how unsafe they can be.

The main risk with such foods is that nasty bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (although others do pop up as well). It is particularly tricky for two reasons. First, it can affect people so differently, and secondly, there is often a very long time between the time you eat that Listeria-contaminated salad or dip or whatever, and the time you begin to feel ill. I have written so much about this bacterium in previous posts, so won’t repeat it here.

Reser's Fine Foods of Beaverton, Oregon and Boston Salads and Prepared Foods of Boston, Massachusetts, are two of the several ready-to-eat food producers who have had to recently recall hundreds of their products. As often happens, the recalls kept expanding over the days, with more and more products suspected of being unsafe as investigators took a closer look.

And there is such a huge variety. Take the Reser’s recall. I went through their lists of ready-to-eat foods under many different brand names as well as their own and was amazed at the variety they offer.

Take just one of my local retailers – Safeway. It alone had some 30 different delicious-sounding salmon, crab and other dips and macaroni, potato, ham, chicken and other salads and slaws recalled.

So you thought some hard-working employee back there behind the Safeway Deli counter made those salads you just bought? Unfortunately not. We are living in the age of industrialized food production. They came from some huge food plant such as one of Reser’s which in turn, sources its ingredients from several suppliers, which may get theirs from still others. Who knows how many miles those prepared foods travelled, and how many days they took to reach your store.

Yes, these hundreds of recalled Reser’s products all over the U.S. and Canada apparently all came from their Topeka, Kansas salad manufacturing facility. How far is that from your home?

To your good health,