Sunday, January 26, 2014


There's another bad outbreak of illness on a cruise ship. At least three to six hundred passengers and crew have had a few days of absolute misery with vomiting and diarrhea. They wish they had never set foot on board.

So what else is new? It happens all the time. The latest to be hit by this kind of outbreak is a Royal Caribbean cruise ship named Explorer of the Seas. It was on a 10-day trip to the Caribbean. No more. The cruise is over. With about 10 to 20 percent of the passengers ill, the cruise line decided to call it quits.

It's probably thanks again to norovirus, sometimes called the "cruise ship virus." However, that still has to be confirmed. Inspectors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presently on board and laboratory tests are being done. I would bet that food has played a role in the spread of this virus, as it usually does.

Incidentally, the Explorer of the Seas scored 98 - pretty close to perfect - on its recent sanitation inspection by the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program.

I just checked back on this blog. It seems that I have posted 28 times on norovirus. About half of the posts dealing directly with outbreaks on cruise ships. So if you want to learn how to avoid it, there's plenty of information.

In the meantime ..To your good health!

UPDATE 1/28/14: I notice a lot of readers are clicking on a much older post "Hundreds Fall in on Cruise Ship." Even though this refers to a similar outbreak on a different ship, much of what it says also applies here.


Sunday, January 12, 2014


The government of the United States has been keeping a special eye on contamination of the country’s food supply by the various Salmonella bacteria. It is now sending out quarterly reports on progress every year. The monitoring focus is primarily on meat and poultry. But, as The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food points out, Salmonella keep cropping up in other foods as well. Nor is it at all clear that we are winning the battle against these pesky bacteria.

Some examples of recent discoveries of such bacteria include the end-of-last year one by The Cultured Kitchen® of West Sacramento, California. It was suspected that Salmonella could be present in all flavors of their non-dairy cashew cheese product ( herb, Smoked Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Pesto or Peso Basil, White Cheddar). These non-dairy cashew cheeses were distributed in Northern California and Nevada at various natural foods stores and farmers markets in the Sacramento Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, and Reno. So much for healthy, small producer, farmers market food!

How did the Salmonella get in? The suspect was cashew nuts - imported from Southeast Asia. The special strain of Salmonella that was found only turns up in these so that was clear evidence. Yes, the products might be “local” but all the ingredients may not be.

Even more recently, Tyson Foods, Inc. had to recall some 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products because contamination by a Salmonella Heidelberg strain – one of the common ones – was found.

And back in October, Costco had to recall huge amounts of rotisserie (cooked) chicken because of Salmonella contamination.

And that’s only a few examples of Salmonella bacteria turning up in our food.

By the way, symptoms of Salmonella infection include fever, abdominal cramps, and (maybe bloody) diarrhea. Most people who become ill recover within a week. Some, like infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, may develop complications that send them to the hospital.

Be careful what you eat, especially if you are in a high-risk group!

To your good health,


Wednesday, January 8, 2014


For the last few days, the news in North America has been full of "swine flu" (H1N1v virus) reports, and even one about "bird flu" (H5N1 virus). My friends are asking me: “Can you catch these kinds of influenza from your food?”

Before I address this issue, let me say that I am glad I at least briefly covered both these topics (as well as “mad cow disease”) in The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food.” (For those of you who have bought the book: see the chapter on Meat and Poultry, pp.155-158). I had a nasty feeling that these weird kinds of flu might come back to haunt us. And, they have.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about half of the United States is reporting widespread influenza outbreaks, most of it apparently caused by the H1N1v virus – also called “swine flu” although it is really a variant of one that is common in pigs. Remember the worldwide pandemic in 2009-1010? The odd thing about this virus then was that it tended to attack younger people. We don’t know if it will the same this season.

As for "bird flu" – it has now arrived in a human in North America. Canada has reported its first death from "bird flu." But the victim had clearly caught it in China, and in fact became ill on the way back home. Before this most of the confirmed 648 cases (bound to be just a fraction of the actual ones) as well as the 384 or so deaths, have been in Asia.

So – to the main question: can you get either "bird" or "swine flu" from your food? The answer isn’t all that simple. Yes, you can catch "bird flu" from handling infected birds – including when you are preparing to cook them. Usually, chickens, turkeys or ducks have been involved. And as far as we know at present, it is not present in birds in North America - yet We are still not sure if you can catch it from eating infected poultry. As for "swine flu" – as the book says, as far as we know at present (things could change), you can’t get it from eating pork, particularly well-cooked pork. But it is possible that someone preparing your food (for instance, when eating out at a restaurant), could sneeze or cough on your slice of tomato or lettuce leaf, or otherwise land the virus in your meal.

There is still a great deal we don’t know about both these scary types if influenza, or, how they could change in the future.

By the way, in the meantime, don’t hug a pig. And if you are travelling in Asia, I would also suggest you don’t get too close to wild birds – or leopards and tigers which now sometimes also carry bird flu.

To your good health,