Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I have just spent an unpleasant hour cleaning my small kitchen appliances. I don’t know why they don’t make toaster ovens so that you can easily take them apart to get those crumbs out. Crumb trays certainly don’t work. In the end, my most effective tools were a long wooden skewer, a pastry brush and several small screwdrivers.

All this is part of my preparing for a safe food 2014.

As I have written a book on food safety, I really thought I ought to blitz kitchen hygiene, even though I have to admit I would much rather be doing something else. I much prefer cooking - and do a lot of it. Or, for that matter, painting the kitchen rather than cleaning it. Listening to Beethoven while scrubbing away and wrestling with screwdrivers helped a bit.

Cleaning those small appliances thoroughly (yes, including turning them upside down and doing the underneath) is only part of this day’s agenda. Not all of it is strictly aimed towards a safe cooking environment, but some of it is.

Here is what else I still have to tackle (after finishing this post and getting a second cup of coffee to spur me on):

• Check all packaged, canned and frozen items for best-by dates; toss out any that have expired and make a note of those that are close to their expiry or best-by dates (a red magic market helps).
• Clean out the refrigerators thoroughly and wash with a bleach solution or vinegar to kill any mold spores (The Safe Food Handbook – the book, not this blog –recommends using one part bleach to one part water).
• Go through my huge number of herbs and spices to eliminate those that are too old (this is for flavor as much as safety).
• Check all cutting boards and either thoroughly scrub, sand-down, or, toss out if needed (as in the case of my favorite wood board). If you want other cleaning alternatives for your boards, take a look at what Martha Stewart suggests on http://www.marthastewart.com/272072/a-clean-kitchen-top-to-bottom.

And then, of course, I still have to cook that duck that is waiting for attention for tonight. Much more pleasant than all those other nasty – but necessary - chores. At least I will feel righteous after finishing them. That is, if I do.

To your good health in 2014!


Monday, December 30, 2013


Food poisoning is no joke. I would estimate that half the people I know well have had at least one episode of it this past year. All say that the last thing they want is to ever come down with food poisoning again. “Misery” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

So can you make sure you don't get sick from your food? Frankly, you can never avoid all food risks because you simply cannot control all aspects of your food supply. But, no matter what kind of diet you prefer, you can definitely improve your chances, simply by:

• Avoiding the most risky types of food
• Limiting how much you eat out, take-out and consume ready-to-eat items (convenience foods)
• Preparing, cooking and storing foods safely at home
• Always practicing good hygiene, including in the kitchen

The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, covers all these topics, food by food. I also blog a lot about food choices and there are hundreds of posts you can refer to. There are also scores of posts that either directly focus on, or deal with problems in ready-to-eat foods or eating out. I don’t focus much on hygiene, because it’s basically common sense and most of us know what to do, although we don’t always do it, especially when it comes to a sanitary kitchen, either because we are too rushed, or simply forget things such as cutting boards (see my next post).

Let’s be smart eaters this year. No one wins if you get sick – especially you.

To your good health,


Saturday, December 21, 2013


If there is one thing in our food that scares me, it’s superbugs – bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics. Hopefully, the United States has now taken an important step towards reducing this very serious threat to global health. And it’s about time.

The Safe Food Handbook (section titled “The Superbug Issue" in the chapter on Meat and Poultry) argues that the common practice of giving regular low doses of antibiotics to food animals to promote more rapid growth can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What happens is that the tougher bacteria inside the animal’s intestine learn to live with the antibiotics, multiply and take over, while the weaker bacteria succumb. In turn, this creates a health risk for people who handle or eat the meat. This practice is particularly dangerous where the antibiotics given to animals are similar to antibiotics used in human medicine to treat bacterial infections.

Of course, the practice is profitable - not just for drug companies that sell huge amounts of such antibiotics, but for the farmers.

Europe recognized the dangers of such sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics back in 2001. Yes, a dozen years ago. The United States, on the other hand, under heavy industry pressure, has resisted banning the practice. However, this month the FDA took a step in the right direction, though I would certainly not call it an actual “ban.”

It is asking (yes, “asking” not demanding) that drug makers change the labels saying how antibiotics can be used. This, together with other measures, such as getting veterinarians to issue prescriptions for animal antibiotic use, is expected to stop, or at least, reduce this dangerous practice. It seems that animal drug makers such as Zoetis and Elanco will go along. Let’s see. Giving up profits is never easy.

If these measures are indeed implemented successfully, they could well lead to higher meat and poultry prices for the consumer. Personally, I think it is worth it. Let’s just eat less meat.

To your good health,


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I have several friends who absolutely trust their antibacterial soap or lotion or gels to make sure their hands are clean before they eat or after touching raw meat or poultry. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now said that such products are no better than ordinary soap and water. And - in addition - could actually harm your health over the long term. Of course the industry disagrees. So who are you going to believe?

Personally, I would believe the FDA. At least they are not making a profit from such products - or, gain anything except even more unpopularity with manufacturers from coming out and saying that the industry has to prove that these substances are both safe and effective.

The problem revolves around chemicals called triclosan or triclocarban. Such chemicals may disrupt the normal development of the reproductive system, affecting puberty and fertility. They may also cause thyroid damage, which in turn can threaten brain development, particularly in children. Research has turned up such effects in animals. The same types of damage could also occur in humans. More studies are ongoing.

To make matters even worse, apparently these chemicals are also used in such products as mouthwash, laundry detergents and baby pacifiers! Yes, baby pacifiers..

If you have ordinary soap and water handy, you may want to stick to these. By the way, you may also want to glance at my old blog post titled " NO MAGIC PROTECTION AGAINST MRSA BACTERIA" which discusses such gels and wipes (posted on 4/24/11).

To your good health,


Sunday, December 15, 2013


Wild-caught fish - whether from the ocean, rivers or lakes, are often touted as one of the healthiest foods to eat. But unfortunately, we are making them less safe. PCBs and other toxic cancer-causing chemicals are entering our waterways. They get into the fish, and when we eat the fish, they can get into us. Your facial scrubs and even your toothpaste could be playing a role in all this.

Today the New York Times had an article on this problem. It focused on the Great Lakes area in the United States. But similar contamination is also occurring elsewhere. Scientists have found that small plastic particles that are used in our toiletries, such as facial scrubs and toothpaste among others, are not being removed by water treatment plants. The big manufacturers such as Johnson and Johnson, Proctor and Gamble and Unilever are aware of the impact their products are having and are supposedly phasing out the use of small plastic beads. This “phasing out” will unfortunately take years.

Some cosmetics, such as those of Burt’s Bees and St. Ives (actually, a Unilever brand) have always used natural alternatives such as nut shells (walnut and pecan), oat kernel flower and jojoba beads. But they’re the minority.

So what do you do if you like to eat fish but want to avoid such nasty chemicals like PCBs? The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food discusses the topic in the chapter on Fish and Shellfish, actually, with special attention to the Great Lakes area and other very polluted waterways such as the San Francisco Bay. What it suggests that “smart eaters” do is to generally avoid the larger, older fish, and fish that eat other smaller fish.

Incidentally, as the book also notes, some studies have found farmed salmon to have the highest concentrations of PCBs among fish. But an occasional meal is not likely to hurt you, so there is no need to stress out if you just had farmed salmon and a salad for your lunch. But don't eat such potentially PCB-contaminated fish all the time.

Also, you may want to be more environmentally conscious about the cosmetics and toothpaste you buy.

To your good health,


Thursday, December 12, 2013


This is the season for entertaining. But having a sizeable dinner party or even preparing snacks for a number of guests can be complicated these days. You have to consider everyone’s food preferences and allergies. Is someone vegetarian or vegan? Is one or more of your guests gluten or lactose intolerant? Is someone allergic to peanuts, or eggs, or shellfish or soy? And that’s not the end of it. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals) says you should keep high risk for food poisoning in mind as well. They’re right.

Here’s what they say:

“While you should always practice safe food handing, some guests might be particularly vulnerable to food poisoning, such as older adults, pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune system.” If you have read The Safe Food Handbook (the book, not this blog), you’ll remember that the first section is called “Check your Food Risk Rating.” If you want to be a good host or hostess, that means you should keep in mind the food risk rating of your holiday guests as well – not just your own.

Of course, you could just expect everyone to avoid anything they shouldn’t eat. But your guests may not be aware of all the ingredients of a dish. Or, they may not know how you cooked it. Ideally, you should do what the spokesperson for the Academy suggests - avoid serving high-risk foods. The ones they specifically mention are raw or undercooked eggs, raw or unpasteurized dairy products, undercooked fish or shellfish, raw or rare meat and undercooked poultry. But, on that “don’t serve” list are also some of our most popular holiday dishes, like tiramisu, some other puddings, and, yes, eggnog.

To your good health,