July 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
My mother, who lives 3,000 miles away, has this weird penchant for using me as a food-safety barometer.
“I made some chicken salad a week ago,” she’ll tell me over the phone. “Do you think I can eat it for lunch?”
“Not unless your life-insurance premium is paid up,” I’ll reply.
Food poisoning is on my official Top 10 List of Unpleasant Experiences, courtesy of a visit to a fish eatery at New York City’s South Street Seaport some years ago. I’m talking about the bona fide nastiness that exiles you to your hotel room for 3 straight days, as you cope with fever, fatigue, cramping and surreal gastrointestinal upheavals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25% of us will contract one of 250 foodborne illnesses each year—a statistic that doesn’t include the headline-making, recall-related salmonella and E. coli outbreaks that seem to occur with increasing frequency. While we cannot control how food is prepared and stored when we dine out, we can take specific steps to prevent problems at home.
“Despite the spate of recent food recalls, consumers aren’t completely helpless when it comes to feeding their families more safely,” confirms Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart magazine.
In a recent issue, Freeman’s editorial team offered tips on decoding what food product dates really mean. This one’s for you, Mom:
- “Sell” or “pull” date. Grocery stores use this date to determine how long food products should remain on shelves. Properly stored products should be safe to eat 3 to 7 days after the sell-by date.
- “Best if used by” date. This date is set by the manufacturer. Use the product by this date for top quality and flavor.
- Expiration date. Here’s the biggie. Always check this date when shopping because you don’t want to bring an expired—or close-to-expiring—product home. If products in your cupboard have expired, discard them to avoid becoming ill.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has posted a Food Labeling Fact Sheet that offers specific information on baby food, meat, poultry, eggs and prepared foods.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Food Alert! The Ultimate Sourcebook for Food Safety
Read More:Decoding Food-Label Expiration Dates
July 16th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
If I say “E. coli,” I bet you’ll associate it with contaminated foods—from bagged baby spinach and romaine to steak and ground beef.
Indeed, the most common sources of E. coli infection, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, are:
- Eating undercooked ground beef (with a pink interior)
- Drinking contaminated water
- Drinking unpasteurized (raw) milk
- Working with cattle
But I’d like to bring your attention to a nonfood source of infection: beach sand, on which E. coli can thrive, grow and reproduce. Animals’ (dogs, cats, birds) fecal material is the usual source.
Unwrap your well-packed organic sandwich while soaking up some sun, and you could potentially ingest unwanted microbes. That’s why it’s critical to wash your hands after touching sand.
Read More:E. coli: A Hidden Beach Danger
July 15th, 2010 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
Colorado based Rocky Mountain Natural Meats has issued a recall of ground bison meat and tenderized bison steaks over possible E. coli contamination.
E. coli is a foodborne bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal infection, bloody diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia.
The recall includes 66,000 pounds of six different ground meat and steak products produced in May. The meat is marked with “sell or freeze by” dates in June, said the United States Agriculture Department in a release.
Rocky Mountain Natural Meats bison meat has been linked to five cases of E.coli in Colorado and possibly another in New York.
But despite this blip of bad news, the bison meat market in the U.S. has experienced tremendous growth.
The National Bison Association (NBA) says in 2009, 70,000 bison were slaughtered under federal and state inspection in the U.S. The NBA’s website lists bison as a healthier alternative to beef, with bison having 2.42 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces, compared to choice cow meat which as 18.54 grams of fat.
In 2007, a census by Department of Agriculture reported nearly 200,000 bison reside on private ranches and farms in the United States.
Why do we even eat buffalo? Didn’t we hunt them to the brink of extinction? And aren’t American Bison a national treasure, like the Bald Eagles? As a non-meat eater I don’t get it. We raise tons of cows – thats not enough for you!
E. coli scares in the U.S. are all too common, an E. coli-Romaine lettuce outbreak in May sickened people in Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Read More:Bison Meat Recalled Due to E. coli
July 14th, 2010 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that salsa and guacamole prepared at restaurants pose a high risk for foodborne illness – i.e. food poisoning – because often salsa and guacamole are made in large batches and may not be properly refrigerated.
Ugh! I can’t stand eating out as it is. Who knows whose molesting my food? Quick, get me my surgical mask and rubber gloves!
But it isn’t just about employees not washing their hands, the fresh produce is also to blame. Raw vegetables, like tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers, have been previously linked to foodborne illness outbreaks.
Don’t we know! In May, pre-packaged Fresh Express romaine lettuce salads were recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. And just last week, Ready Pac baby spinach got pulled off shelves for E. coli contamination.
So the CDC is recommending restaurant workers take additional care when making and storing dips. From 1998 to 2008 salsa and guacamole dips accounted for 3.9% of food poisoning outbreaks traced to restaurants.
According to consumer and public health groups, foodborne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion in health-related expenses each year.
Read More:Restaurant Salsa and Guacamole Might Make You Sick
July 8th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Ready-to-eat bagged salads seem a lot less appealing these days.
In May, Fresh Express recalled romaine-based salads and organicgirl Produce recalled packaged organic spinach because of salmonella concerns.
Now, Ready Pac Foods, Inc., is recalling 702 cases of the Baby Spinach variety of its Spinach Temptations 6-oz. bagged salads, which may be contaminated with E. coli.
The products have “Use by” dates of July 4 (with Product Code 11707B, IR127121) and July 8 (with Product Code 12007B, IR130373). They were sold in California, Washington and Arizona.
Random sample testing conducted by the FDA revealed the presence of E. coli. No illnesses have been reported to date.
Retailers and consumers who have potentially contaminated products should dispose of them immediately. Consumers can contact the company at (800) 800-7822 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, PT) to obtain a full refund.
Read More:Ready Pac Foods Recalls Baby Spinach
May 16th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and stage agencies have confirmed that the current multistate E. coli outbreak can be traced to bags of shredded romaine lettuce (not organic) distributed by Sydney, OH-based Freshway Foods.
As of Tuesday, there were 23 confirmed and 7 probable affected patients in Michigan, New York, Ohio and Tennessee—12 of whom have been hospitalized and 3 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening condition.
With HUS, the body’s blood-clotting mechanisms are altered, causing blocked circulation and/or bleeding in the brain or kidneys.
Based on available data, illnesses presented between April 10 and 26. Infected patients range in age from 13 to 31, with a median age of 19; 66% are male.
The recall of potentially contaminated products continues, and investigators are attempting to determine the supply-chain point where contamination occurred. They’re taking samples from Freshway’s processing facility, as well as a farm in Yuma, AZ, that grew the lettuce.
Graphic courtesy of the CDC
Read More:Romaine Officially Linked to E. Coli Outbreak
May 8th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Sidney, OH-based Freshway Foods has voluntarily recalled certain nonorganic packages of shredded and chopped romaine lettuce, as well as prepared salad bowls, because of a possible link between contaminated products and an outbreak of foodborne disease.
The outbreak, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating, involves E. coli O145 illnesses among Michigan, Ohio and New York consumers.
According to Freshway, the romaine was sold to wholesalers, food-service outlets, and some in-store salad bars and delis in Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The recalled packages (click here for a complete list) have a “best if used by” date of May 12 or earlier. Restaurants, distributors, retailers and consumers should throw out or refrain from using products with these dates—many of which were sold in grab-and-go salads at Kroger, Giant Eagle and Ingles Markets, as well as Marsh stores.
Packages with “use by” dates after May 12 are not involved in the recall, nor is romaine from other producers.
To date, 19 confirmed cases of E. coli O145 illness have been reported in Michigan, Ohio and New York, with 12 hospitalizations.
Common symptoms of E. coli infection include mild or major diarrhea. Acute symptoms include severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea, which may be bloody. Patients may progress to serious complications, such as kidney damage.
The FDA urges consumers who have eaten listed romaine products and who now have symptoms to call their physicians immediately.
If you have additional questions, please call Freshway Foods’ information desk at (888) 361-7106 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday), or visit the company’s website for updates.
Read More:Romaine Lettuce Recalled After E. Coli Outbreak
November 4th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
I’m serving a special five-course meal to the intellectually challenged members of Congress who support Big Agribusiness and predatory insurance companies over the health and safety of the American people.
Let’s review the menu:
First Course: Double Cheeseburger
Sourced from: San Diego Meat Co. On Oct. 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared a Class I recall on 925 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli.
As a refresher, dear legislators, a Class I recall is defined as “a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.”
Cases of ground beef patties and bulk ground beef were shipped to restaurants and caterers in San Diego. Fly to SoCal, and eat up, guys! You can barf later on Shamu.
Second Course: Beef Tongue
Sourced from: Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., Milwaukee. The affected 5,522 pounds, recalled Oct. 17, may include tonsils, which means the company failed to comply with USDA regulations. Tongue tissue may be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad-cow disease).
No worries, guys. It’s a Class II recall, which means there’s a “remote probability of adverse consequences.” You like to gamble with people’s lives, so dig in!
Third Course: Chicken & Apple Sausage
Sourced from: Vatran’s Fine Foods, Inc., Tracy, Calif. Approximately 11,500 pounds of assorted meat and poultry products were recalled on Oct. 16 because they were produced without the benefit of federal inspection. It’s another high-risk Class I recall, affecting pork, chicken, turkey and lamb sausages, as well as veal frankfurters and other products. Chow down, wieners!
Fourth Course: Beef Butt Steak
Sourced from: Crocetti’s Oakdale Packing Co. (doing business as South Shore Meats, Inc.), Brockton, MA. Some 1,039 pounds of fresh ground beef patties derived from bench trim, as well as mechanically tenderized beef cuts, may be contaminated with E. coli. The USDA declared a Class I recall on Oct. 26. Hope that nice slab of butt is extra juicy!
Fifth Course: Meatballs
Sourced from: Fairbank Farms, Ashville, NY. This is a biggie: a Class I recall Oct. 31 of 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef products. This one aggravates me even more because it includes Trader Joe’s Butcher Shop Fine Quality Meats and the Wild Harvest Natural brand. So far, 28 people have been sickened, and at least one person has died.
You’re expected to clean your plates. Luckily, you have great health insurance—you know, the kind of coverage you refuse to provide to your constituents.
Read More:Serving Spoiled Meat to Lawmakers
October 29th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Can David Asper’s research help protect our global food and water supply?
A graduate student in veterinary microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan, Asper is working on a new cattle vaccine that may potentially stop E. coli at its source.
Asper’s research builds on the work of his supervisor, Andrew Potter, PhD. As director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization–International Vaccine Centre, Dr. Potter helped create the first cattle vaccine against E. coli O157, which prevents bacteria from attaching to, and colonizing in, a cow’s intestines.
Human illness occurs when meat becomes contaminated during slaughter or if feces mix with groundwater, thereby polluting drinking water, swimming water and/or food supplies. Infections can be mild, but some are severe to life-threatening.
“The E. coli O157 vaccine is the first of its kind worldwide and is expected to significantly lessen the amount of E. coli O157 present in food products and also in the environment,” Dr. Potter says.
But O157, while the most prevalent E. coli strain in North America, is one of hundreds of bacteria that cause disease by producing Shiga toxin (STEC). Even healthy cows can carry STEC bacteria, so identification of infected cattle can prove difficult.
“Right now, STEC bacteria is the No. 1 cause of renal [kidney] failure in children around the world,” Asper says. “It affects adults, too, but children are the most susceptible.”
Asper’s vaccine prototype could protect cattle against several non-O157 bacteria. It will be tested on mice and cattle over 3 to 5 years.
“We can protect humans by vaccinating animals before they come in contact with the pathogen,” he says. “I think that’s very important work that will lead to a lot fewer infections.”
Beef and dairy producers could also benefit from Asper’s work. When STEC is found in just one meat sample, beef processors are required to destroy the entire shipment—a significant cost to farmers.
Photo by Scott Bell
Read More:Stopping E. Coli at Its Source
October 8th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Last Sunday, the New York Times published E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection, in which reporter Michael Moss informs us that “eating ground beef is still a gamble.”
The newspaper obtained corporate records that indict our broken food-safety system. E. coli remains an ever-present threat, which is bad news for a nation that loves its burgers.
”The majority of E. coli comes into processing plants on the hides of grain-fed feedlot cattle and in their guts,” says Allen Williams, PhD, chief operating officer at Tallgrass Beef, a producer of grass-fed meats. “Most beef in the United States comes from cattle that are fattened on grain in feedlots. Grain diets alter the rumen pH in the gut to allow the acid-resistant bacteria, such as pathogenic E. coli bacteria, to grow and thrive.
“Grass-fed cattle are much less prone to the pathogenic forms of E. coli that usually lead to sickness and recalls,” he adds. “Since 100% of grass-fed cattle are fed only forage diets and raised in the pasture, they are clean inside and out.”
If you enjoy a good burger and haven’t yet switched to grass-fed organic beef, now’s the time. Burger lovers can follow my mom’s example.
Read More:Ground Beef “Still a Gamble”