Thursday, March 21, 2013


Don't think that rats and mice don't turn up in food manufacturing facilities. Believe me, they do. And it's not pleasant, because they can carry disease. Food inspectors notice signs of their presence every once in a while, and food products have to be recalled. That goes for candy too.

It happens everywhere. Every time my son orders popcorn in a movie theatre, I remember that recall of popcorn in the U.S. when rat poop was found in it. And there have been many other cases.

In 2013 ,there seem to be more than the usual number of such incidents in Britain. What is happening? Just today, the Food Standards Agency announced that Edward Gray of Dudley Ltd. (AKA Teddy Grays) has issues a recall for certain lots of its rock and boiled sweets (in American, "candy") because of rodents roaming around the manufacturing premises. This is no fly-by-night candy manufacturer. It is an old and venerable family business established in 1826 in Dudley, Birmingham that makes herbal tablets and traditional sweets.

And just a little more than a month ago, in mid February of this year, KB Natural Foods Ltd. of Britain had to recall some of its own pre-packaged cashew nuts and almonds because of rodents found in the packing plant.

On January 21, about a month before that, there was another recall by Cake Factory Outlet and Clearance Cake Excess because they apparently were caught re-branding and re-labelling cakes, biscuits, sweets, puddings and tarts that had been produced in a factory with rat infestation.

And to start the year off well, on January 9, there was a recall by Snax 4 U (of Glasgow) of their sandwiches, baguettes, wraps and filled rolls, because they were produced in premises found to have rodent infestation (the products were sold at market stalls in northwest of England and the regulators are still trying to find out where they all went to).


To your good health,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Recently, sausages have been in the food safety news in the U.S. We've had both "foreign materials," and bacteria. That's enough.

If you have read The Safe Food Handbook (the book, that is, now in second edition and also available on Kindle), you would have checked out the box in the Meat and Poultry section (pp.134-135) entitled "Try Regulating a Sausage." This box illustrates what sausages contain, how they are made, and how difficult it is to inspect them. To tell the truth, I almost stopped eating sausages after doing this research.

The last paragraph of the box says: "Are you surprised that sausages are a commonly contaminated food product? Anything in them could be the culprit ingredient - one of the meats used, other components such as milk powder, and even the spices. Or the source of contamination could be one of those plant workers or pieces of equipment."...

Yesterday, the news focused on a Hot Springs Packing Co., in Arkansas, having to recall 6,120 pounds of chicken polish sausage and chicken breakfast link products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria (beware pregnant women!). On February 27, Schmalz's European Provisions, in Springfield, New Jersey, recalled some 8,424 pounds of chicken and apple sausage that could contain small pieces of plastic. On February 21, Smithfield Packing Company, of Virginia, recalled approximately 38,000 pounds of pork sausage because they could have contained small pieces of plastic, probably from gloves.

So, what else is new? And, how many of those delicious sausages got thought the inspection process with all kinds of nasty things, even though they should have been caught?

(Writing this after a totally delicious dinner of "bangers and mash." Oh...oh....)

To your good health,


Sunday, March 10, 2013


March 11, 2013 is the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daichii disaster in Japan. This was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. On that date, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 19,000 people and crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It triggered meltdowns and spewed radiation over a wide area. The damage, leakage of radiation and challenges involved in control, repair and disposal of contaminated materials (such as soil, water) were much worse than initially expected.

Some 160,000 people were forced to flee their homes and farms. Farmers and fishermen lost their livelihoods. Thousands of lives were changed forever.

This blog gave intensive coverage to the effects of the disaster on radiation in food, starting with regular blog posts just days after the event. It made predictions about which foods and radionuclides would be involved. These were largely based on research at Chernobyl, but taking into account agriculture land use, waterways, and dietary patterns in Japan. These predictions have generally proven correct.

Yes, the main disaster at the nuclear plant has now passed. Radiation levels in the communities near Fukushima Daichii have fallen. The volatile iodine-131 that was released into the air and water only has a half-life of 8 days.Caesium-134 was also produced and dispersed, but has a 2-year half-life. However, Caesium-137, the other main radionuclide, has a 30-year half-life, is easily carried in a plume, and can contaminate land for some time. Caesium is soluble and can be taken into the body, but does not concentrate in any particular organs. It has a biological half-life of about 70 days.

Work inside the wrecked facility has made major progress, although some remains to be done and reports suggest that some, though much less, leakage is still occurring.

As for long-term effects on people's health, much still remains uncertain. Experts seem to agree that long-term, those who are likely to suffer most are the emergency workers, and people living closest to the crippled power plant , particularly northwest of it, who, for whatever reason, refused to leave for months after the incident. Among the latter, children are at greatest risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that children near the plant who were exposed to high levels of radiation have a significantly higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancers over their lifetime.

So what about the radiation-contaminated food - greens, rice, fish, dairy, meat and even tea? Yes, it happened and reports are still turning up, for instance in fish. Overall, radiation in food has been part of the general risk situation and has extended far beyond the evacuation area. There are many posts on this blog that cover these issues. In spite of controls, contaminated food has, on occasions, even reached countries outside Japan.

But overall, there is no reason to believe that this incident has created major food-related health risks outside Japan, or will do so in the future. Food-related risks in Japan are also decreasing, although some people remain concerned. If they can afford it, they have turned to imported food, or, to diversifying what they eat, so as to limit their risk. The government continues to monitor radiation levels in food, which may not always catch all incidents, but does help.

To your good health,


Sunday, March 3, 2013


Queen Elizabeth II of England, who has now been on the throne for 60 years, has been hospitalized with gastroenteritis. Or, officially speaking "symptoms of gastroenteritis." These usually include vomiting and diarrhea. It goes to show that no one is safe. By the way, remember Hillary Clinton's similar illness a few months ago?

The news media is stating that the cause is either food poisoning or a "stomach flu" (meaning that it is caused by a virus). If it is a case of norovirus - quite likely, since there has been a large outbreak of it in Britain this winter - she may have caught it from one of the British Olympic stars to whom she presented awards on Friday morning (she first became ill on Friday night), or, from anyone else she had contact with on that or other occasions. It is very contagious.

But it is unlikely that she caught it from a banister or other surface, since she wears gloves much of the time. Or, she could also have caught it from a food or drink item that was contaminated with the virus - or, become ill from food contaminated with bacteria. In that case, it would be classified as "food poisoning." I guess we'll have a better idea once the lab tests come in or the palace issues a more detailed statement.

The Queen is now 87 and in remarkably good health. However, as you get older, you are more vulnerable. Gastroenteritis can also hit you harder and recovery can be slower. Finally, you are more likely to have serious complications such as dehydration or worse. This, apparently is the reason why Queen Elizabeth was hospitalized - to make sure she recovers fully as soon as possible, and to avoid complications.

To your good health,

Update: The Queen has been released from the hospital - a day earlier than planned.