Sunday, February 19, 2017


I really think I need to see my doctor about my blood pressure. It rises every time I read a food company recall with that sentence "No illnesses have been reported" particularly when Listeria bacteria are suspected. I wish that the government food safety agencies would insist that the sentence be following by something like: "However, symptoms of Listeriosis may appear as late as a month after eating contaminated food."

In fact, appearance of symptoms can range from a few days to 30 days, and occasionally even longer. Or, you may have Listeriosis but not really feel sick at all. So what should you be on the lookout for?

If you are a relatively healthy adult, who is not pregnant, you are likely to come down with fever, nausea, diarrhea and muscle aches, which you could dismiss as a case of the flu. In fact symptoms of a Listeria infection can be so mild that you won't notice them at all. That is the case if you are pregnant. Sadly, the baby may die before birth or come down with a life-threatening infection soon after birth. The symptoms in a newborn may be quite mild too and easily confused with some other problem. Perhaps nothing more than a little irritability, fever, little interest in feeding and some vomiting.

While most Listeria infections in adults tend to be very mild, they can get serious for older people or those with a weakened immune system, leading to complications such as septicemia or meningitis. So do be careful, particularly if you are in a high risk group. Right now, you should be checking any cheeses in your refrigerator against those that are being recalled (press the Recall link on this blog).


Friday, February 17, 2017


Well, here we go again. In the U.S. we are seeing recalls of all kinds of cheeses and products made with cheese. Large, snowballing recalls of contaminated cheese have occurred on a pretty regular basis over the years. The usual culprit is that nasty little bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, that I mentioned in connection with Ruth’s spreads a couple of blogs ago.

I am sure we have not reached the end of this particular wave of cheese and related product recalls yet. Cheese is a food product commonly used in a number of snacking and cooking products and in prepared foods of all kinds.

Here are a few of the companies issuing recalls “out of an abundance of caution” as some of them so self-righteously note (I hate that phrase). Deutsch Kase Haus, LLC of Middlebury, Ind. Is recalling its Colby cheeses that it supplied to a number of other companies. Sargento Cheese Company is recalling select Sargento branded cheeses (which it apparently got from Deutsche Kase Haus). Guggisberg Cheese Inc. is recalling various types of Colby type cheeses. Meijer is announcing a recall of its Meijer Brand Colby Cheese and Colby Jack Cheese, sold at deli counters.

And then there are companies such as MDS Foods Inc., of Massillon, Ohio, which is recalling multiple products because it unfortunately got the Colby cheeses it used in them from Deutsch Kase Haus and Choice Farms LLC which is conducting a small recall of stuffed mushrooms.

Press on the recall button on this blog and you will get more recalls. New ones are coming out all the time.

Yes, you may have kept these foods you bought in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, that won’t do you much good. Listeria can grow and multiply at those cold temperatures.

And if you are older, or have a weakened immune system, you are more vulnerable - along with young children and pregnant women (who may suffer miscarriages or stillbirths).


Friday, February 10, 2017


The previous post was about a recall by Ruth's Salads of one lot of 7 ounce containers of Pimento Spread in 5 states in the U.S. Well, no surprise. The recall has now expanded to many more of Ruth's products and to 8 states. So what else is new? After all, this is the usual pattern. Many food recalls start small but expand, and keep expanding.

That is why I keep warning readers to stop eating ANY similar products as soon as you learn of a recall. Living a few days without your favorite spread is not going to kill you. But a case of food poisoning just could do that, especially if you are a senior or someone else with a weakened immune system, or a pregnant woman (in that case, it would be your unborn child who is in danger).

And don't sit back and relax when you read that "no illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem." That phrase always sends my blood pressure up. If the tiny bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is to blame - as it is in this case - it could take up to 70 days for symptoms to develop. Dah....

So keep a watch out for any high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, especially if you are older. And while it is fresh in your mind, write down exactly what you ate and when, and keep the container if you still have it. In fact, you might be wise to give your doctor a call just in case.

And don't eat any of the below, or even anything similar, since we still don't know what ingredient in these or similar products was the contaminated one.

Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-00005 7 oz.
Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-12023 12 oz.
Ruth’s Original Pimento Spread 74952-24023 24 oz.
Ruth’s Old Fashion Pimento Spread74952-15005 16 oz.
Ruth’s Jalapeno Pimento Spread 74952-12014 12 oz.
Ruth’s Lite Pimento Spread 74952-12000 12 oz.
Ruth’s Cream Cheese w/Pineapple-Pecans
74952-12008 12 oz.


Saturday, February 4, 2017


If you have read The Safe Food Handbook (my book, not this blog) you will probably guess that one of my favorite agents of food poisoning is the tiny bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It is believed to be the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States.

Listeria turns up on a regular basis in our processed foods and in restaurant meals. Recently, it was suspected in Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is distributed in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

This blog has often highlighted how dangerous the Listeria bacterium is for pregnant women, that is, for their unborn child (causing miscarriages and stillbirths). But today I want to touch on how dangerous it is for older adults and anyone else with a weakened immune system (such as those receiving cancer therapy).

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, more than half of all Listeria infections occur in people age 65 and older. Why? The CDC points to the fact that as we age our immune system and organs aren’t as good at recognizing and ridding our body of harmful germs as they used to be. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer also tend to occur more in people who are older and also weaken the immune system. Add to this the fact that as we age, our whole body, including our digestive system, tends to become more sluggish and ineffective, allowing pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes to multiply and cause us more harm.

I suspect it also had something to do with the fact that older people who still live independently tend to eat more processed "easy" foods such as Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is a typical place for this nasty bacterium to hide.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Well, it seems that burnt toast has brought me back to blogging. It was bound to happen eventually, but I sort of wish it had been something more dramatic (another Fukashima?).

Today seems to be “acrylamide” day in the United States. A long list of on-line sites have suddenly discovered this potentially cancer-causing cooking chemical (MSN, CBS,,,,,, and many, many more). Most have associated it with burnt toast and/or potatoes. It seems that Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) started the ball rolling.

I hate to be doing a Trump and knock the media. But while it may not be fake news, it is very old news. European countries recognized acrylamide as a potential cause of cancer ages ago and have been educating the public well before Britain joined the chorus. And as for the United States…well. It has gone back and forth, but has been afraid to stick its bureaucratic neck out (the potato chip lobby at work?).

Now I am going to boast, which seems to be fashionable these days, at least in political circles. I did a thorough review of the issue about ten years ago. The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food, has a relatively short section on it – much shorter than originally went to the publisher.

And if you read it, you may find some other surprising foods that can contain acrylamide, not just burnt toast and certain kinds of potatoes.

But let me finish on a positive note about toast. One or two slices is not going to do it, so don't worry too much.

TSF (By the way, for those who always wondered, that stands for "The Safe Foodie."

Friday, December 26, 2014


Bad food in the U.S. has been much the same in 2014 as it has been in preceding years. Looking back one month, I found a fairly typical array of Listeria and Salmonella bacteria- contaminated foods, as well as the usual number of undeclared allergens, foreign objects (such as bits of marker pen in canned soup), and a range of recalled uninspected products that contain who knows what.

As you will see from the below, prepared (ready-to-eat) foods and sprouts continue to be among the most risky items on the U.S. market. No amount of gourmet or health labelling guarantees safety.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which pose a major threat to pregnant women, young children and people with a compromised immune system, are still very much a problem. Most recently this bacterium has cropped up in Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream products (ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet). It also turned up again in December in sprouts. Kkot Saem Sprouts, Inc. of Spanaway, Washington, had to recall its Soybean Sprouts and Mungbean Sprouts for this reason. In late November, soybean sprouts also had to be recalled by Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, Virginia, because of Listeria.

Not surprisingly, this bacterium was also a suspect in prepared salads. Giant Eagle has issued a recall of Giant Eagle Apple Pistachio Salad and Apple Pistachio Salad with Chicken because of it. Global Garlic, Inc. of Miami, Florida, also had to recall a couple of its fresh curd products because it turned up. In addition, Acme Smoked Fish Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, had a nasty surprise when its imported (Product of Denmark) vacuum packs of Smoked Nova Salmon were found to be potentially contaminated with Listeria - another common location of the bacterium, particularly this time of the year.

Salmonella bacteria are also still present in our food, in spite of all the efforts to control them. During the past month for example, the company "Perfect Bar", had to issue a nationwide recall of large numbers of its Peanut Butter and Cranberry Crunch flavor nutrition bars due to potential contamination with Salmonella. And it has cropped up in cheeses too: Flat Creek Farm & Dairy of Swainsboro, Georgia, had to recall some of its Aztec Cheddar and Low Country Gouda. Another prepared food was also found to be contaminated: Overhill Farms, Inc. of Vernon, California had to recall its frozen Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas due to potential Salmonella contamination.

So...not much has changed. Let's enjoy our great food, but be careful what we buy and eat, especially if we are in a high-risk category for getting sick.

To your good health,


Friday, December 19, 2014


We have a bad “holiday spoiler” food outbreak in the United States. It’s caramel apples. Several people have died, and many more are seriously ill. So far there is no actual recall, because we don’t know what brand of caramel apple is involved.

Here are the latest numbers from this food threat according to the CDC:

o Case Count: 28
o States: 10
o Deaths: 5
o Hospitalizations: 26

You’ll notice that there aren’t that many conclusively identified cases, but of these, a very high percentage ended up in hospital, and the death rate is also high.

The bacterium involved is Listeria once again. For those of you who have read the book (The Safe Food Handbook: How to Make Smart Choices about Risky Food), or who read this blog regularly, you will know that Listeria monocytogenes is often present in prepared foods – especially deli meats, sandwiches, salads, cheese and similar. This is the first case I can recall of it turning up in caramel apples.

Unfortunately, this tiny bacterium is a huge danger to pregnant women. Young children are also at more serious risk. In fact, in this case, nine of the serious illnesses were pregnancy-related (that is, they occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant). Three of the very serious “invasive” cases were among otherwise healthy children, ages 5-15.

So what can we do to be safe? At the present time, the official CDC advice is for consumers to avoid all caramel apples – plain, with nuts, chocolate, sprinkles, or anything else. It could turn out to be one of the toppings, or the caramel itself. It seems that you can still keep eating caramels though. I am delighted that we don't need to give those up as well.

Investigators are hard at work trying to identify which ingredient in the caramel apples is contaminated, and the brand involved. I guess they won't have much time off this year.

To your good health,