Tag: food safety

Tracking Food Recalls

By: Courtney Luecking, MPH, MS, RD Doctoral Candidate: Nutrition

Back around Labor Day, I blogged about ways to prevent foodborne illness. Another way to keep your loved ones safe is to pay attention to food recalls. According to Foodsafety.gov, food recalls and alerts are made when “there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill”. This could be the result of a bacteria or virus being present in a food, a potential allergen, or the mislabeling or misbranding of food.

In preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday, two headlines jumped out to me – “Heinz Recalls Hundreds of Cases of Gravy Just Ahead of Thanksgiving” and “Sabra recalls hummus amid listeria contamination fears”. These were particularly concerning because I knew foods like this were on the menu. What if I had missed those news stories?

Here are some tips to proactively get information about potentially contaminated food products and what to do if you have one of these products in your home.

Checking for Product Recalls

  • Visit the Foodsafety.gov website to see information about recent recalls
  • For packaged products, compare your labels to the recalled product for: brand name, sell by date, and the package code
  • For fresh produce concerns, call your grocery store and ask to speak with a manager

Staying Aware of Food Recalls

What to Do When You Have a Recalled Product

  • Do not eat the food product
  • Check the FDA or USDA website for instructions on what to do
  • Check with your grocery store to see if they are issuing refunds or replacement products
  • Clean your kitchen to ensure the contaminated food hasn’t affected other parts of your kitchen


Foodsafety.gov – Recalls & Alerts. https://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/

How to Check Food Recalls. http://www.wikihow.com/Check-Food-Recalls

Farewell to summer (and food poisoning)

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

How will you bid summer farewell this Labor Day holiday? If your plans are like mine, they might include a backyard barbecue or festival. But one thing I don’t want my, or your, weekend to include is foodborne illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 1 in 6 (or about 48 million) people gets sick from bacteria, viruses, or microbes in food. Older adults, pregnant women, and young children are the most vulnerable groups. Symptoms of food poisoning may include: fever, fatigue, or gastrointestinal side effects like cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. While most people recover, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from severe complications.

Outdoor events in warm weather are the perfect breeding ground for those bacteria in food, but following these 4 Fight BAC!® practices can help keep you and your loved ones safe.

  1. Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
    Wash your hands before and after handling food. If you won’t have access to soap and water, consider throwing a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag.
  1. Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate.
    Keep raw meat separate from fresh foods, like fruit and veggies, that you don’t need to cook. And don’t reuse that marinade or plate that stored the raw meat.
  1. Cook. Cook to the safe internal temperature.
    Food thermometers are the best way to tell whether a food is ‘done’. Use this temperature guide to help you grill to perfection.
  1. Chill. Refrigerate promptly.
    Keep cold foods cool. Bring an insulated cooler packed with ice and consider serving cold foods from a dish on ice.

Last but not least, don’t let hot or cold food sit out for more than two hours. The longer these foods are in the Temperature Danger Zone (40 – 140°F), the more those bacteria will grow.

And if in doubt, throw it out.



Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The Danger Zone (http://www.eatright.org/resource/homefoodsafety/safety-tips/food-poisoning/the-danger-zone)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States (https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html)

Fight BAC! Partnership for Food Safety Education (http://www.fightbac.org/food-safety-basics/the-core-four-practices/)

FoodSafety.gov: Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures (https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html)

Creating dangerous products will not be punished ?

Does F.D.A. allow supplement companies to introduce dangerous and adulterated products with impunity? At present, with the advent of a newly published study on BMPEA, there is a hot debate on the responsibility and the speed on reaction towards new products of F.D.A.

Dr. Pieter A. Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard MedicalSchool and also an internist at the Cambridge Health Alliance, points out in the new study published on Tuesday that BMPEA is dangerous and cause lots of illnesses. The authors of this study stated that BMPEA, a synthesized chemical and a replacement for amphetamine, has never been fully studied in humans. What’s more, the new study also notes that this synthesized chemical is not an authorized dietary supplement ingredient. Similarly, The Canadian government issued a public health alert on BMPEA via informing consumers about its consequences such as increasing blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

However, the F.D.A. claimed the results of the newly published article is partial. The F.D.A is waiting for substantial evidence for proving the side effects of BMPEA. While Dr. Cohen argued that it would be late for waiting in that BMPEA was and continues harming consumers. Vitamin Shoppe, one of the largest specialty retailers of dietary supplements, also supports the opinion on adverse consequences of BMPEA by pulling all products containing BMPEA from its shelves. Likewise, the Council for Responsible Nutrition called on the F.D.A. “to enforce the law” and remove products related to BMPEA.

What should F.D.A, do to address BMPEA? Does the F.D.A. send a signal for supplement companies to create hazardous products with impunity?

Photo credit: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/09/retailers-to-stop-sales-of-controversial-supplements/?ref=health&_r=0

Wellness Wednesdays: The Truth about GMOs

First things first – eating genetically modified (GM) foods poses no legitimate risk to human health. Since 1986, only eight GM crops have been approved for commercial production in the United States: soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa, squash, and papaya. Of these, only three are eaten ‘whole’ by consumers – sweet corn, squash, and papaya. The rest are either worn as clothing (GM cotton), processed into non-food items (GM corn used for ethanol production), or processed into food ‘additives’ (GM soybeans into soybean oil, GM canola into canola oil, GM sugar beets into refined sugar).

The majority of human exposure to GM foods comes through those crops that have been processed into food ‘additives’. The primary concern about these foods is that they could cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, like children or pregnant women. The symptoms of an allergic reaction, like itching, swelling, hives, etc., are caused by the interaction of a food protein (antigen) with immune cells (Immunoglobulin [Ig] E) in the body. Some foods, like peanuts, can cause life-threatening reactions even if the exposure is limited to microscopic amounts.

It is perfectly understandable that parents would be concerned about such potential danger. However, when GM soybeans are processed into soybean oil, for example, the only part of the food being extracted is the fat-soluble [oil] component. There is no DNA or protein present in the final processed product, and therefore, no antigens capable of causing an allergic reaction.

Why is it important to dispel these myths and change consumer perception about GM foods? Foreign countries have been watching the ‘controversy’ over GM foods play out in the United States; out of fear for the ‘health’ of their citizens, many have chosen to ban importation of GM crops. In most cases, this is not a serious problem. However, in Asiatic countries that depend on rice as the primary source of nutrition, vitamin A deficiency kills nearly three million children each year while millions more suffer from permanent blindness. Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) spent years developing a new strain of rice that produces beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Called ‘golden rice’ because of the yellow-tinge resulting from its high carotenoid content, this food could help alleviate the suffering of nearly 250 million children affected by vitamin A deficiency around the world. Despite its tremendous potential, the governments of several countries refused to accept shipments of this lifesaving crop. Instead, they set fire to the possibility of using science to alleviate human suffering.

It is unethical to let this ‘fight’ continue. I encourage all consumers to educate themselves about the Truth behind GMOs. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a completely independent non-profit organization that accepts no government or corporate funding, has excellent resources available on their website: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/biotech-faq.pdf

Cancer + Toxics Update – Everyday Action for Everyday Products We Use

For many cancer patients + advocates, the link between toxics in our environments, and our environment’s role in igniting cancerous activity in our bodies, is increasingly apparent. Scientific research is catching up to what we might guess, intuitively — that toxic chemicals to which we’re repeatedly exposed in our homes, transit, and places of work, might spell bad news for cancer spreading in our bodies.

Many toxic chemicals which disrupt the function of our hormonal and endocrine systems, our nervous and respiratory systems, are a part of our “normal” daily experiences, such as foods with petrochemical pesticides,  and cosmetics with parabens. Consumer campaigns have often focused on products once research is able to prove their carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, effects, such as in the case of BPA.  Another example is Triclosan — a common “anti-microbial” agent in most soaps, many toothpastes, and hygienic cosmetics. Several years ago, Triclosan was proven as an environmentally ubiquitous endocrine disruptor (J. Applied Toxicology), possibly linked to breast and other cancers. While the FDA provides no conclusive answer, many research advocacy groups, like the renowned Environmental Working Group and affiliate programs in “Safer Chemicals Healthy Families“, recommend against the use of Triclosan, which also has no proven increase in “cleaning” capacity over other soap components. (Indeed, with many industry bulwarks to Safe Chemicals Legislation, the FDA “caution” may prove to be “as good as it gets” unless we can advocate for more resounding chemicals legislation for consumers!)

The most recent President’s Cancer Panel Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now?” walks through the environmental impacts of the status-quo (i.e. stuff we just don’t question) when it comes to our manufacture of carcinogenic products. In 2010, the panel posited that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” While legislation to regulate toxics in our everyday lives has been introduced in the house and senate each year since that time, it has yet to be voted upon in Congress.

Why is this concern about toxics in our everyday lives not a part of our everyday conversations and everyday actions for cancer prevention and cancer advocacy?

Let us know what you think, readers — !


PS – In the meantime, here are some great “everyday” approaches* you can take for:

(1) Cosmetics …. scroll to see which “ingredients” mean you should throw away, or avoid buying

(2) Pesticides in Produce ….. what are the “clean 15″ or the “dirty dozen“? ….how to eat well on budget?

(3) Cleaning Products ….how do your cleaning products “rank”?

(4) Household Items …. and things we use with our kids (sunscreen, and bug repellent, stuff in cans)

(5) ….and best of all, advocacy for Safer Chemicals Legislation, in your district (call or email today!)

Perfumefam at beachfoods veggies fruitsCapitol Buildingcleaning585px-Breast_cancer_cell_(2)  585px-Breast_cancer_cell_(2)  585px-Breast_cancer_cell_(2)  585px-Breast_cancer_cell_(2)  585px-Breast_cancer_cell_(2)     Perfumefam at beachfoods veggies fruitsCapitol Buildingcleaning



BONUS: Readers, in order to match up to all these well-designed guides by EWG Scientists, let us know: what approaches to advocating against and reducing toxicity do you value in your own life?



Watch Out for MSG in Food Labels

What is MSG? Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor-enhancing food additive commonly used in Asian cooking, canned vegetables, soups and as well as packaged food products such as chips, crackers, salad dressings etc.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined MSG as a food ingredient that is “generally recognized as safe,” researchers found out that MSG in food can trigger side effects and symptoms including headaches, facial pressure or tightness, nausea and heart palpitations (refer to Mayo Clinics Factbook). Thus, the use of MSG remains controversial.

For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label. There are, however, a variety of names for monosodium glutamate (MSG). Since companies are unlikely to clarify MSG exactly and avoidance of these ingredients is the only way to ensure against the symptoms, it is important for consumers to recognize MSG’s alternative names (See Livestrong post).

1. Glutamic Acid

According to California State University at Dominguez Hills, the trade name of monosodium glutamate is sodium hydrogen glutamate. As MSG is the sodium salt of the glutamic acid, whenever glutamic acid is listed on a food label, the food always contains MSG.

2. Yeast Extract

Food that lists the ingredient yeast extract always contains MSG, according to Vanderbilt University. Avoid foods with yeast extract if you have adverse reactions to MSG, even though you find the enhanced flavor highly appealing.

3. Hydrolyzed Protein

Hydrolyzed protein is another common term used for MSG, whether it is hydrolyzed vegetable protein, animal protein or plant protein.

4. Caseinate

MSG can hide under the names sodium caseinate or calcium caseinate and even under natural-sounding names, such as bouillon, broth stock or malt extract.

5. Natural Flavors

In addition to yeast extract, a common name for MSG is “natural flavors.” Variations are natural flavor, natural flavorings, natural beef flavor, chicken flavoring, seasoning, spices and simply “flavoring.” We should be aware of these on ingredient labels if you suspect headaches or other sensitive symptoms come from your food.

I didn’t expect MSG has various alternative names like this. Of course, it would be the best if companies clearly list the monosodium glutamate as “MSG”, but it is not feasible these days. However, MSG can cause serious adverse effects for people who have allergies to it. To take a strong legal action is needed in food labels. Moreover, from consumers’ perspectives, if you are sensitive or allergic to MSG, we recommend you to make a list of these alternative names when you go shopping.

Image source:


Communicating a Foodborne Outbreak

News about the recent E.coli outbreak in Germany reminded me of other recent news about food safety, such as U.S. multistate outbreaks of Salmonella associated with eating turkey burgers and cantaloupes. Reviewing the CDC’s food safety website there have been eight multistate foodborne outbreaks investigated this year and twelve in 2010. That means, on average, we hear about foodborne outbreaks in the news about once a month.

When I was reading about the recent E.coli outbreak, believed to be caused by salad vegetables, one thing that struck me was the comments by other newsreaders who expressed their fear of eating salad in the wake of this news. That left me wondering: how can news about foodborne outbreaks be communicated in a way that provides accurate and useful information to the public about what specific foods may be harmful to ingest and what to do if they may have already eaten potentially tainted food, without creating fear that spreads to entire categories of food? Or is a little bit of food fear healthy, perhaps making us more diligent about washing food and other known food safety practices? When you hear about foodborne outbreaks, what questions do you have that you would like reported in the news?


A cheese by any other name…

Most Saturday mornings when I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, I would head downtown to shop at the Farmer’s Market.  My first stop? “The Free Cheese Guy.”

John Coles could reliably be found at the first stall in the market, in front of a small white box truck that he drove in from his farm.  He was always wearing the same T-shirt, beside him a sign read: “Free Cheese.”  Coles’ T-shirt depicted federal agents charging in on a shocked farmer, whose hands were raised as they shouted, “Give us the milk!”

Coles gave away his goat cheese (often in return for a donation) because the government forbade him to sell it. It is unpasteurized, or raw, depending on which ideo-semantic camp you fall.

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CDC’s “winnable battles” face losers’ wrath

Van Gogh painting - skull with a burning cigarette

Tobacco use is one of the CDC's six "winnable battles," but opponents fear the campaign is short changing other important health issues.

It sounds like a reasonable idea: list six of the country’s pressing public health problems where research points to proven remedies, and then focus on fixing them.

But when the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, chose HIV, obesity/nutrition/physical activity/food safety, teen pregnancy, automobile injuries, and health care associated infections as the top six “winnable battles” in the public health realm, he angered advocates for all the left-out problems.

The AsianWeek Foundation sent out a press release condemning the absence of liver cancer from the winnable battles list. The disease is mostly caused by Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C (there is a vaccine for Hep B, and Hep C can be treated acutely and prevented behaviorally). Asian Week Foundation Director Ted Fang had this to say about the list:

“Hepatitis B and liver cancer are the greatest health disparity for Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, yet CDC has ignored their own data and in the past refused to even list hepatitis B as a leading American health disparity.”

So what will happen to the diseases and problems not on Frieden’s list?

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Frankenfish and the FDA

A joke photograph of Rotarians holding Pat Rood's 500 pound salmon, courtesy of the Galt Museum archives

While AquaBounty Technologies has yet to produce a salmon this big, opponents of the genetically modified fish fear the unknown consequences and indirect impacts of the fish.

To allow genetically modified fish to be sold in the U.S., or not. To label it as genetically modified, or not. Those were the questions presented on Tuesday at a hearing held by the Food and Drug Administration in the face of AquaBounty Technologies request to allow its salmon to be the first genetically modified animal to be allowed in the U.S. food market.

The fish produced by this Boston-based company grow to maturity in 18 months, twice as fast as your run-of-the-ocean Atlantic salmon. AquaBounty, however, does not want the salmon to be labeled differently than non-GM salmon. And according to current FDA rules, it doesn’t have to be. Because the FDA has found the flesh of the faster-growing salmon to be the same as its slow-growth brethren, unless there is a rule change, no special label will be required. The FDA did not make any final decisions at its Tuesday hearing, but observes think approval is likely.

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