Thursday, April 13, 2017


Not good news for Trump’s “Winter White House.” Mar-a-Lago’s restaurant didn’t do well on the latest inspection on January 26. Inspectors found 13 health and sanitation code violations.

Is this a case of paying $200,000 membership fee for a nasty case of food poisoning? Maybe even worse if the victim is a visiting head of state being wined and dined there. Talk of embarrassing!

All U.S. restaurants are inspected on a regular basis by inspectors from local public health departments. There is some variation between how often they do it and what they look for, but usually it covers things like cleanliness of the kitchen area and food handling, cooking and storage procedures. They also try to make sure that food is not cross-contaminated or contaminated by employees or by cockroaches, flies or rodents running around. I checked out the actual list for Florida. It has fully 50 “high priority” categories on it, meaning that failure on any one of these could pose a risk of food poisoning for diners.

At Mar-a-Lago raw meat (chicken, duck, beef and ham) were stored at temperatures that were far too high for safety. What, they are now trying to save on their electricity bills? Or, was it because their refrigerators were not operating properly and needed repairs?

Also, it seems that the restaurant's fish that was to be served either raw or undercooked had not undergone proper inspection for parasites. If you have been reading the news or this blog about the recent unpleasant experience of two California newlyweds with rat lungworm disease (which they probably caught from food in Hawaii) you will know that parasites can be very nasty indeed.

Even some of the lesser violations at Mar-a-Lago (such as inadequate hand-washing facilities for employees) have been found to often lead to food poisoning. It seems that not only do they have paying for refrigerator repairs and for replacing rusting shelves, but also can’t afford to heat the water!

Maybe Trump should take a break from playing golf and go back to checking the kitchen himself. Apparently, when he used to do so in the past, Florida’s “Sanitation and Safety Specialists” (that is their proper name) cited Mar-a-Lago with far fewer violations. Or should he sent Ivanka down there? She seems to get things done.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Ever heard of Angiostrongylus cantonensis? I bet you have now, even if you know it better as "rat lungworm disease." This brain infecting parasite was caught by two newlywed Californians while they were in Hawaii. Let’s face it, there is something thoroughly unpleasant about the idea of a worm crawling around in your brain. And, what’s more, according to the wife, it is very painful. And as evidenced by the experience of the husband, who spent a month in the ICU and is still hospitalized, the complications from this parasite can be very serious indeed.

So what are parasites? We've all heard of people being called "parasites." The chances are that you may have called your unemployed son a "parasite" at some point. A parasites is an organism that lives on or in a "host" organism and gets its food from it. In the process it can cause a lot of agony and damage to its host.

Parasitic diseases are most common in tropical, low-income countries, especially among the poorer people of those nations. I spent much of my professional life working in such areas, including on health and environmental problems affecting the poor. So guess what? Although I was very careful, I caught a number of parasites. I missed this one, thank goodness. Believe me, any parasite is not much fun at all.

So are we really at risk from them in countries like America and other industrialized nations? The answer is yes. A major reason is the increase in global travel, including to some pretty poor areas where in decades gone by, tourists generally did not go.

And yes, usually you get it from your food or water. In the case of the unlucky couple who are currently in the news, they probably caught the rat lungworm parasite from eating badly washed fruit or a vegetable such as lettuce, which carried this parasite-infected slug, a piece of the slug, or maybe just even just the slime of an infected slug. Or perhaps they got it from undercooked or raw crabs or freshwater shrimps.

What is the food safety lesson from this? Don’t eat raw vegetables (especially lettuce) while in tropical areas and make sure that any shellfish you eat is thoroughly cooked.