Monday, April 14, 2014


Salmonella bacteria are one of the best-known and most common causes of food poisoning. How serious a case of Salmonella food poisoning will be, depends largely on your age and health, as well as on which of the different Salmonella you get. If you are healthy, you may just have a few days of diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. Not that that isn’t pretty bad. But for young children, elderly people and those who have a weak immune system because of illness, Salmonella infection can be much more dangerous. It can result in hospitalization and even be fatal.

If you have read The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, you won’t be surprised at where Salmonella can turn up. No, not just in your bagged salad greens or risky ready-to-eat foods or dairy products or peanut butter, but even in dried spices and herbs and in your pet’s food. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, that a bacterium could happily live in products such as dried chili peppers. But yes, it happens. Salmonella bacteria are the ultimate survivors.

A recent five-day period in the United States proves this point. Findings of Salmonella bacteria have triggered large recalls of black peppers, chili peppers, dried basil and cilantro. Swanson Health Products, Frontier Natural Products Co-op, Sprouts Farmers Market, Lisy Corporation of Miami, and Fernandez Chile Company Inc. of Colorado, have all recalled various products around the United States. Grocery chains such as Whole Foods, King Soopers, Safeway, City Market, Sprouts Farmers Market, as well as various independent grocers, have been forced to remove the recalled items from their shelves and alert their customers. And who knows how many restaurants, food preparation facilities and private homes are still using them?

But we normally use just very little of such herbs and spice in our food, right? Is that enough to make us ill? Apparently yes. There have been some confirmed cases, though not yet for the current recalls. But in the large majority of instances, Salmonella illnesses are never connected to contaminated herbs or spices. Let’s face it, they are not the obvious suspect.

To your good health,


Thursday, April 10, 2014


There has been a national shortage of organic and natural label eggs in the U.S. for weeks now. In my part of California, there are still store egg counters with no organic eggs and signs up apologizing to customers, stating they have not been able to get enough because of “increased consumer demand.”

This may be just a temporary problem. Some organic egg producers are expanding. However, others wonder whether it makes financial sense to keep producing. They mention the high cost of organic feed, the weather (hens lay less in cold weather), and the new and stricter rules on hen confinement which will take effect in 2015.

But let’s turn to the consumer side. Is it worthwhile for consumers to pay a much higher price for eggs labeled “organic” or “natural”?
First, “organic” and “natural” labels on egg cartons do not mean the same thing. Organic eggs have to be laid by hens which are fed an all-vegetarian diet, and their feed not only has to be free of meat, but also of chemicals, such as pesticides. Nor are these hens supposed to be given antibiotics for preventive purposes in their feed. They are only to be given antibiotics in the case of an outbreak of disease. Usually their living conditions are a bit better too (for instance, they are required to have at least some outdoor access).

“Natural” on the other hand is a much vaguer label for eggs – as it is for other foods as well. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has the final word on such matters, a food product can be called “natural” if it does not contain any added artificial flavor or coloring or chemical preservative, and is at most “minimally processed.” So what does this mean in the case of eggs? Basically, nothing. All whole eggs are “natural” by that definition, and the label has neither health nor animal welfare implications.

So is it worth paying extra for organic or natural-label eggs? I would argue that the answer is definitely “no” in the case of “natural.” As for “organic” - that becomes a personal choice. Studies have found no proof that eggs which are not “organic” are bad for you in terms of the amount of chemicals or antibiotics they carry. But if you are a strict vegetarian, or, feel the extra cost is worth it because of environmental sustainability or humanitarian considerations, or, eating such eggs just gives you assurance that you are eating “healthy food” instead of goop – go ahead if you can afford it.

To your good health,


UPDATE NOTE: 5/15/14 - I notice that the stores I shop at are still selling organic eggs at as much as twice the price of same-size non-organic eggs. That's a big markup.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Listeriosis is caused by a tiny and innocent looking microorganism called Listeria monocytogenes which turns up quite frequently in our food supply. One of the biggest problems is that it is so hard to know if you have caught it.

Popular food items that most often carry this bacterium are Mexican-style cheese (queso fresco or queso blanco) or other cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, deli (ready-to-eat and supposedly “fully cooked”) meats, and raw vegetables and sprouts (the bacterium exists in the soil and water). Ready-to-eat or “convenience” foods (such as sandwiches, salads, snacks) are increasingly a culprit, because many food service workers carry this bacterium and can contaminate the food during preparation. There are several other posts on this blog discussing which particular foods you need to avoid.

If you are healthy and not pregnant, you don’t need to worry about Listeriosis. You might only feel a little bit “off” for a few days, or not even feel ill at all even if you do get a dose of it. But if you are pregnant (see previous post) or have a weakened immune system, you have to do your very best to avoid foods that could carry it. Should you catch it anyway, you need to get to the doctor as quickly as possible.

So how do you know if you might have it? The symptoms are usually ones like nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache and muscle aches, which could easily be confused with the ‘flu. If the infection becomes “invasive” (that is, the bacteria enter the blood causing bloodstream infection, or, the central nervous system, causing meningitis) you might even have convulsions, a stiff neck and feel disoriented, confused or suffer loss of balance.

A big problem for pregnant women is that they often only experience fever and other very vague symptoms. Other people with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, cancer treatments, or other serious conditions (like diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, and HIV/AIDS) are more likely to have the full range of symptoms.

Remember too that just because you are sure you didn’t eat any “risky” foods in the last week or so, doesn’t mean you don’t have Listeriosis. It could be something you at as long as 20 or even 30 days ago, as sometimes symptoms of this disease take a very long time to develop. Go to a doctor anyway.

Listeriosis is usually treated with antibiotics during pregnancy. These antibiotics, in most cases, will prevent infection to the fetus and newborn. So quick action is important.

To your good health,



If you are pregnant, you are wise to avoid catching Listeriosis (infection with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes). And don’t believe those websites that tell you this infection is rare. Listeriosis is usually caught from contaminated foods and it is far more common than most people realize. It’s often just not diagnosed correctly.

Unfortunately, this bacterium still turns up in our food supply on a regular basis. I just took a look at a recent 37 day period (February 20 to March 38): there have actually been 14 U.S. food product recalls because of Listeria (though less if you don’t count repeat/expanded recalls by the same company). Foods involved have been: Fresh Express Italian salad; 10 varieties of Oscar’s Smokehouse Cheese Spreads; a variety of Roos Foods cheeses (both fresh and hard cheeses); various Happy Farms products such as peanut butters, cheeses, salsa, spreads, cheese logs, cheese rolls and more; various Helados La Tapatia ice cream products, popsicles, fruit bars; a number of Dole bagged salads; and Falafel King green chili humus wraps.

Many of these products were sold under a variety of names in well-known stores such as Whole Foods, Costco, Target and more, and were widely distributed throughout the U.S.

This is bad news for pregnant women, because:

• If you are pregnant, you are about 20 times more susceptible to Listeriosis than other people;
• You can catch it any time, but the risk is greatest during the third trimester.
• The biggest risk is to your unborn child, since infection can cause miscarriage, premature birth, infection of the newborn, and even death (about 22 percent of the time, which is pretty high).

So, yes, be careful (my next post will discuss symptoms).

To your good health,