Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I am very upset by the ongoing walnut recall. I love walnuts. In fact, I eat them every morning on top of my yogurt and fruit. But right now I have given them up. Why?
Well, it all boils down to prevention. The current walnut recall of Listeria monocytogenes - contaminated walnuts is expanding – as many recalls do – and while the walnuts sitting in my refrigerator have not yet been recalled, they well could be in the next few days or weeks. I would rather not risk eating them until we know more. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are no joke. In fact, they can kill you.
As of now, several large companies have recalled some of their walnut products - St. Louis, Missouri-based Sherman Produce, Sun Tree of Phoenix Arizona, are two of them.
And where did these contaminated walnuts come from? Not surprisingly – California. That is where most of the U.S. walnuts are grown. The California walnut industry includes over 4,000 growers and more than 100 handlers (processors). Golden State Foods – which was the supplier of walnuts to the companies now having do recalls – and probably the source of the contamination - is one of these ‘handlers”. It handles both in-shells and shelled walnuts.
In this case, it was shelled walnuts which were recalled. That is significant. And, to be expected. Shelled walnuts are always more likely to be contaminated than in-shell walnuts (That is also the case for almonds, pistachios, pecans and other tree nuts). Shelling makes nuts more accessible to contaminants, sometimes helped along by insects. But of course, shelling decreases the cost of transportation and storage – and often appeals to us consumers.
So what if you really like walnuts and believe they are generally a healthy food to eat – from a nutritional perspective? Well, if you want to be extra careful, you should buy whole walnuts (walnuts in shells) and do the shelling yourself.
Yes, alright, that is what I should have done. Come to think of it, I do have a big bowl of whole walnuts at home. And I do have several perfectly good nutcrackers, so that is no excuse. Maybe tomorrow I’ll sit there early in the morning shelling walnuts for our breakfast...Well, maybe.
To your good health,
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Barbecuing is an American tradition. According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA), Memorial Day is the second most popular day for doing this. HPBA estimates that fully 57% of Americans will be barbecuing tomorrow.
In fact, barbecuing has even been a U.S. presidential tradition for decades. Barbecues have been held at the White House since Thomas Jefferson. Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, hosted the first large barbecue at the White House. It featured Texas-style barbecued ribs. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, George H. Bush, and his son, President George W. Bush, continued the tradition. Since President Obama is in Afghanistan, I don’t know what is happening this year.
Tomorrow most Americans are likely to be cooking and eating barbecued burgers, steak, hot dogs, and/or chicken. Unfortunately, many are also likely to get sick afterwards, because they or their hosts did not follow safe food practices.
Here are a few tips to stop this happening to you.
• Marinate any meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Meats such as beef, veal, pork, chops and steaks can be marinated up to 5 days before cooking. Poultry can be marinated up to 2 days before.
• If you plan to use some of the marinade to put on the cooked meat, remember to reserve a portion of it before putting it on the raw meat or poultry. If you forget to do it, then first boil the marinade you used on the raw meats to kill any bacteria.
• If you are going to take your meat to some other place for cooking, or, if it is to sit outdoors for a while before placing on the barbecue, make sure you keep it cool (at 40 degrees F or cooler). If you are using a cooler for this purpose, keep the cooler out of the sun.
• Have two sets of platters and utensils – one set for the raw meats, and the other for cooked ones.
• Make sure you don’t let raw meats touch any other food items which are not going to be cooked, such as salads.
• Cook the meat or poultry thoroughly to destroy dangerous bacteria: beef, veal, steaks to 145 degrees F, poultry and hot dogs to 165 degrees, and hamburgers to 160 degrees. Once you start barbecuing, don’t stop and finish later – that is asking for bacteria to grow.
• Once the meat is cooked, keep it hot until served (at 140 degrees F or warmer).
Enjoy your Memorial Day barbecue,
Saturday, May 24, 2014
And, oddly enough, even the announcement of huge recalls never DO seem to impact the recalling company’s stock price. In all the years that I have been following both food recalls and the stock market, I have always found this hard to understand.
After all, recalls can be very expensive. Not only do the companies involved have to spend a lot of money on tracing where their food went, and getting it back, but it even costs them to safely dispose of it. Over the longer term, they often suffer in terms of a damaged brand and may lose customers. Food producer frequently have to spend a great deal of money overhauling or replacing their equipment and facilities and even close them down for a period of time. Many small and medium size companies or food growers or distributors never recover and go under.
I have often felt sorry for many good safety-conscious family enterprises and caught in this type of very unpleasant situation, especially if their products were contaminated through no fault of their own. This can happen when their ingredients suppliers were to blame, and they simply had no way of knowing. Even now, I remember the owner of one such small company weeping over the phone to me as the FDA inspectors were crawling over his business, and I also remember several small women-owned food production companies, where I knew how hard the owners had worked and how conscientious they were about food safety, but I doubted they would survive.
So back to CNBC. What suddenly prompted their attention to the hummus, walnut and sprouts recalls? It probably had something to do with the fact that we suddenly had three recalls in close proximity, although that is not at all unusual. But their attention was also caught by another event that happened recently. A few weeks ago WalMart Stores settled lawsuits with the families of 23 people who had died from having eaten the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupes sold by the retailer in 2011. Of course, the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but I would guess it was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
To your good health
Thursday, May 22, 2014
But at the same time, I am constantly worried by the number of risky ready-to-eat products Trader Joe's carries. its rather erratic approach towards product dating and stating country of origin, and the number of product recalls it has had over the years. Many of them have been covered on this blog: recalls for trail mixes, peanut butter, nuts, dips, prepared salads, bagged greens, sliced apples, granola bars, cookies, hummus, dips, and more.
Now there is yet another recall for hummus. Nor is this the first hummus recall it has had. There was one back in April 2012 for instance. I blogged it.
This time, Massachusetts prepared foods manufacturer Lansal Inc.(also known as "Hot Mama’s Foods"), has announced that it is recalling some 7 tons of hummus and dip products due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. As readers of this blog know, this is a particularly dangerous bacterium for pregnant women and for young children, sickly or elderly people.
Trader Joe's was not the only large chain that sold the possible dangerous hummus products. Target stores nationwide also carried them. Those of Trader Joe’s, as well as Giant Eagle were distributed to multiple states in the U.S.
I have to confess that I used to buy hummus at Trader Joe's. But after the 2012 recall, I decided it was too unsafe. A friend gave me a very easy recipe for making it at home, and I am glad she did.
You may also want to consider doing so. Listeriosis infection is no joke.
To your good health,
Monday, May 19, 2014
We were told today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) that there is as much as 1.8 million pounds of ground beef out there somewhere in the United States that should not be eaten or even touched. Why? Because it could be contaminated with one of the very dangerous strains of E.coli bacteria - E. coli O157:H7.
This bacterium can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramps two to eight days after you ate the contaminated food. Yes, most people do recover within a week or so, but some (most likely young children and the elderly) can develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and end up in the hospital.
One of the problems with this recall is that we don’t know where the recalled products went. In other words, the distribution list hasn’t yet been given by the Wolverine Packing Company, of Detroit, Michigan, the food company involved, to USDA-FSIS. If you look back on recent recalls, such lists are usually released anywhere from one day to two weeks or more after a recall is announced. Part of the problem seems to be that some companies don’t keep good records. Another could be that they don’t want to lose their clients, so are reluctant to have them told by the government that they have been receiving bad meat.
In this case, the list of products recalled (which is very, very long) does not tell us much. But there are some possible clues. According to Wolverine Packaging, all of the illnesses that are believed to be linked to this bacterium and this company’s products occurred among people who ate undercooked hamburgers at restaurants - not in their homes - in four states - Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. Reportedly, none of the product was labeled for retail sale in supermarkets and none of it went to the National School Lunch Program. That’s a relief.
Therefore, if you did not eat “rare” or “medium rare” hamburgers in a restaurant (or, fast food chain outlet) in the past month, you can relax. Besides, if you are reading this post, you can’t be dead yet. And, I assume you are more or less out and about. So either you did not eat this contaminated ground meat, ate it in a safely cooked mode (see my previous post), ate portions of it which were not too badly contaminated, or, ate it and got over your case of food poisoning. Congratulations!
However, next time you eat out, you may want to play it safe and ask for your hamburger “well done.” You’ll get to like it after a while. And what’s more, you don’t need to lie awake worrying about food poisoning for several days afterwards!
To your good health,
So what can we meat-eaters do to be safe? You can't tell by looking at your meat or smelling it if it is contaminated. About the only thing is to handle the raw meat carefully and cook it enough to kill any bacteria (or parasites) in it. What the government food-safety gurus tell us, is that in the case of hamburger, that temperature should be at least 160 °F, and in some cases they even suggest 165 °F, as measured by a food thermometer before you remove it from a heat source. That means a well-cooked hamburger. Sorry all you folks out there who like to eat their hamburger rare!
While I am at it, I thought I would post some other recommended food cooking temperatures as well (Source: USDA-FSIS).
Steaks, chops, roasts 145 °F (62.8 °C)
Ground meats 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked) 145 °F (60 °C)
Fully Cooked Ham (to reheat) Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, and wings, ground poultry, and stuffing) 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Fish & Shellfish 145 °F (62.8 °C)
Eggs 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Leftovers 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Casseroles 165 °F (73.9 °C)
To your good health,
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The guests who attended a wedding last month in Missouri in the United States, are unfortunately very aware of this fact. There were some 750 people present, and of those, around 300 came down with food poisoning. And it happened so quickly - within hours of dining at the reception.
In such cases of quickly occurring symptoms that are clearly linked to a place where all the victims ate together, the natural suspect is Norovirus (also known as "The Cruise Ship Virus" because it so often crops up on cruises). However, testing did not show it to be present. After additional samples were taken from the food and the victims, and tests were done, the culprit was found to be a bacterium - Clostridium perfringens.
And which food was the contaminated one? It turned out to be the gravy, which had reportedly been cooled down too slowly, allowing maybe a very few bacteria which were in it to multiply, to the point where only a little of the gravy carried large enough numbers to make guests ill. I guess the people who escaped were those who were on a diet and decided to pass on it. I am sure they were glad afterwards.
As pointed out by The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, mass produced food that is served at places such as weddings, as well as at conventions, parties, on cruise ships and in institutional settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, tends to be more likely to carry bacteria or viruses for a number of reasons. The large-scale food preparation has a lot to do with it. In such situations, foods are not always evenly cooked. The fact that food has to be prepared ahead is also a factor. Sometimes, with cold storage space limited, the prepared food is not always stored at the right temperature (as could also have been to blame at the Missouri wedding). These are just some of the factors.
So did the Missouri bride and groom get food poisoning as well? I have been trying to find out, but so far, no luck. But in checking around, I did find several instances when either the bride or groom or both became ill at their own wedding. Not much fun!
To your good health,
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I have just finished making a spicy bean and corn salad. Normally I use fresh chilies but it's very hot today - too hot for slaving in the kitchen, my chili plants died while we were on vacation, and I was rushed - as usual. So I used chili powder. Then I checked my backlogged mail. What I found was yet another alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about a finding of Salmonella bacteria in chili powder. The US Trading Company of Hayward, California (quite close to where I live) is recalling its Dragonfly Brand Crushed Chili Powder in 6.3 ounce plastic tubs.
Why these bacteria would want to live in such an unpleasant environment beats me. But they do. In fact, testing of the U.S. food supply, which includes spices, has found several such cases lately both in chili and other spices (see my previous post). Because spices are usually least likely to be suspected, it could well be that many more of the 1.2 million annual U.S. illnesses from Salmonella in our food are caused by spices than we know.
Remember too that some Salmonella are now showing a high degree of antibiotic resistance (such as a fairly recent one in chicken). So that's yet another reason to avoid them. The best way to do so in spices, of course, is to always cook your spices in your food (which will kill any bacteria that are present), and to avoid dishes such as fresh (yes, delicious) salsa in restaurants and that chili pepper shaker for your pizza.
So did I toss out the bean and corn salad? Well, no. Since I bought that chili powder some time ago, and have already used it several times (though almost always in cooked food), I argued to myself that it was safe. Besides, my husband had already eaten it (I had not). If he comes down with symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning in the next few days, I'll at least know what to suspect!
In the meantime, I don't think I'll tell him, and hope he doesn't read this post....
To your good health.