Duncan Hines: Cake mix king and road warrior who shaped restaurant history

This is an outstanding story by Nicole Jankowski, a freelance food, history and culture writer based in Detroit, who writes Duncan Hines, traveling salesman and future purveyor of boxed cake mix, considered himself an authority on a great many things: hot coffee, Kentucky country-cured ham and how to locate a tasty restaurant meal, in 1935, for under a dollar and a quarter.

In 1957, Duncan Hines and his wife, Clara, cut a cake at the Duncan Hines test kitchen in Ithaca, N.Y.

By the 1950s, Hines’ name would be plastered on boxes of cake mix; housewives would turn to his products for consistent quality and superior taste. Newspaper photographs featured Hines clad in a white chef’s apron, hoisting a neatly frosted cake or thoughtfully dipping a spoon into a mixing bowl.

But Duncan Hines wasn’t a chef — in truth, he could barely cook. For most of his career, he had just been a businessman, desperate for a decent meal on the road. Through his search for the best restaurants across America, he became an accidental gourmand, an unlikely author and homegrown connoisseur.

Although boxed cake mix is the legacy that most people now associate with Duncan Hines (only after asking, “Was he actually a real person?”) the supermarket foods that bear his name are only an epilogue to a storied life traveling America’s back roads.

It was really his book, Adventures in Good Eating, that first put Duncan Hines on the map. And it was his tireless pursuit of good food that inspired his book.

Hines’ appreciation for a good meal arose out of mere necessity. From the 1920s through the ’40s, he motored across the country hawking letter openers and paperclips and subsisting on unreliable road food. It was an era long before any formal restaurant rating system existed in the U.S. The names and locations of good restaurants were conveyed by word of mouth; for an out-of-town traveler, locating a decent supper was often a daunting and discouraging mission. And although Europe had relied on The Michelin Guide since 1900, middle America in the 1920s and ’30s was still a land of culinary mystery and inconsistency.

Desperate for a clean place to dine, Hines became an investigative epicurean and self-made restaurant critic. He carried a tiny journal in his coat pocket, jotting down the precise locations of his favorite places. No restaurant was off limits for the inquisitive Hines. “The kitchen is the first spot I inspect in an eating place,” he wrote. “More people will die from hit or miss eating than from hit and run driving,” he joked — though Hines clearly thought food safety was no laughing matter.

He frequently popped into the kitchen to scrutinize how staff handled food and then swung around back to investigate the restaurant’s garbage pile. He meticulously recorded the names of the most pristine diners, the inns with the tastiest prime roast beef, and where to find the stickiest honey buns. He appreciated regional cuisine, quickly discovering in which part of the country to brake for broiled lobster tail (New England) and where to stop for fried chicken (Kentucky).

Hines noted whether a restaurant had air conditioning, its hours of operation and its prices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “His restaurant notes were extraordinarily accurate,” says Louis Hatchett, author of the book, Duncan Hines: How a Traveling Salesman Became the Most Trusted Name in Food. “As word spread among his family and friends, people were begging him to share the list he had created. There was nothing out there like it,” he says. “In 1935, sick of being pestered, he finally sent out a little blue pamphlet in his Christmas cards, containing a list of 167 restaurants across 33 states that he could safely recommend.”

Soon, Hines was receiving postcards from from salesmen, newlyweds and other travelers all over America seeking his recommendations for good, clean restaurants.

In 1936, at 55, Hines self-published his first edition of Adventures in Good Eatingand sold them for $1 each. It contained the names and locations of 475 restaurants from coast to coast that had Hines’ rigorous seal of approval. “The books were sold through word of mouth, but they quickly sold out. The following year he raised the guide’s price to $1.50 — and that’s where the price would stay for the next 25 years,” explains Hatchett.

“Recommended by Duncan Hines” became the gold standard in dining by the 1950s.

Two years before his death in March of 1959, the entire franchise was sold to Procter & Gamble.

Hines often said, “Nearly everyone wants at least one outstanding meal a day.” This seems as true now as it did a half-century ago. But long before Yelp or TripAdvisor offered restaurant reviews with the click of a button, Hines was doing it his own way, by traveling the highway with his pencil and notebook, changing the way America ate on the open road — one adventure at a time.

94 sickened: Sprouted chia seed powder – USA and Canada, 2013–2014

Salmonella is a leading cause of bacterial foodborne illness. We report the collaborative investigative efforts of US and Canadian public health officials during the 2013–2014 international outbreak of multiple Salmonella serotype infections linked to sprouted chia seed powder.

The investigation included open-ended interviews of ill persons, traceback, product testing, facility inspections, and trace forward.

Ninety-four persons infected with outbreak strains from 16 states and four provinces were identified; 21% were hospitalized and none died. Fifty-four (96%) of 56 persons who consumed chia seed powder, reported 13 different brands that traced back to a single Canadian firm, distributed by four US and eight Canadian companies.

Laboratory testing yielded outbreak strains from leftover and intact product. Contaminated product was recalled. Although chia seed powder is a novel outbreak vehicle, sprouted seeds are recognized as an important cause of foodborne illness; firms should follow available guidance to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination during sprouting.


Everyone has a camera, India restaurant edition

Tanu Kulkarni writes in The Hindu, the next time you spot a pani puri wala using unhygienic water or find that the food in your school canteen is not fresh, take a photograph or a video of the food safety violation and send it on WhatsApp to the Department of Health and Family Welfare and your complaint is as good as registered.

The department has decided to work with resident welfare associations (RWAs) in the city to spread awareness about safe and unsafe food and also look into complaints pertaining to food safety. Subodh Yadav, Commissioner of the department, said active volunteers will also be given an identity card so that they are taken seriously. The department’s local officials will be given a three day deadline to attend to the complaint. Apart from flagging off the department about these complaints, citizens can also raise awareness about food safety practices among others.

RWAs have welcomed the move. Nitya Reddy, vice-president, Richmond and Langford Town Residents’ Welfare Association, termed it a much needed one. “It will be great if the Health Department ropes in RWAs as we will be able to point out to unhygienic neighbourhood eateries, restaurants, and roadside vendors. We can be in constant touch with them and help them monitor food quality.”

Too much monkey business: Brisbane’s restaurant inspection sucks, city councillor’s parents fined for food safety breaches

The restaurant inspection system in Brisbane is hopeless beyond belief.

For a cow town that wants to profit from tourism rather than coal and cattle, they are beyond stupid about it.

At least we got good folks to coach the little kids in hockey.

The disclosure system is voluntary. If a restaurant gets two-stars-out-of-five, for example, they don’t put up the sign.

How is it that Toronto, LA, NYC and hundreds of other places figured out how to make restaurant inspection disclosure mandatory, yet Brisbane and most of Australia go on a faith-based system – which usually involves someone blowing someone.

According to the Courier Mail, the parents of a Brisbane city councillor have admitted breaking food safety laws enforced by the council, with inspectors finding cockroaches “happily living” in the carvery they run in a city foodcourt.

Paddington councillor Peter Matic’s parents Milovan and Milena Matic were slapped with fines after a council health inspector unearthed issues with cleanliness, maintenance and cockroaches at their Carvey and Seafood in the Myer Centre in January last year.

The couple were fined $3000 each after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the business complied with the food Act.

The company, Nano Investments Pty Ltd, also copped a $29,000 fine for five counts of failing to comply with the food standards code.

Kevin Cartledge, for Brisbane City Council, said officers inspected the eatery on January 19, 2016, and issued an improvement notice.

So a whole bunch of people ate at that shitshow after the Jan. 19, 2016 inspection, but no one bothered to tell customers.

It’s some perverse British legal system thing, that potentially puts consumers at risk for months after the failings are discovered.

When they returned two days later, the officers discovered the business was still breaching food safety laws, triggering a suspension the following day.

He said the most concerning element was the presence of a large number of cockroaches.

“You have, essentially, the perfect circumstances for cockroaches to live and breed,” he said.

“Given that there were adult and juvenile cockroaches in the premises, it clearly suggests that there was a life cycle and these cockroaches were happily living and feeding.”

He pointed out the company has had compliance issues in the past, and infringements notices had been served.

“This is a company that has been put well and truly on notice yet has still failed to comply with their requirements under the Act,” he said.

So why the fuck wouldn’t you make it public to warn unsuspecting consumers that the place was a shithole?

Too much monkey business.

Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health

NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14

Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell


Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.

Make it mandatory: Voluntary restaurant inspection ratings are silly

According to new research by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), only a third (34%) of us regularly check food hygiene ratings before eating in a restaurant or takeaway. With an estimated 4.3 million meals expected to be eaten out over this festive period, FSA is urging people to check a restaurant’s food hygiene rating before booking this Christmas.

respect-authorityThe research, released ahead of the expected Christmas spike in restaurant bookings, found that although food hygiene and safety were of concern for 37% of people, only 6% said that they actively consider the food hygiene rating when deciding where to eat. Other priorities included:

quality/type of food (58%)

own experience of the place (32%)

location/convenience (23%)

good service (21%)

price (20%)

appearance (20%)

recommendation (19%)

Mark O’Neill, senior advisor, local authority policy and delivery, Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland said: ‘We are pleased to see that so many food businesses in Northern Ireland are already compliant with the Food Hygiene Rating Act, which came into operation in October, making it mandatory for food businesses to display their hygiene ratings. This means that around 90% of businesses should now be displaying hygiene information on a green and black sticker somewhere easy to spot outside of their premises. We expect that consumers will be pleased with this development as our recent survey showed that 95% of people in Northern Ireland believe that businesses should have to display their ratings, which now they do.

We are now urging people to look for hygiene ratings and choose restaurants which score three or above this Christmas.

Nearly 700 NYC restaurant-goers found something gross in their food last year

Yoav Gonen of the New York Post reports restaurant customers have called in a record number of complaints to the city’s 311 hot line for the second year in a row.

mr-creosote-monty-pythonRecords show there were 10,373 complaints to the municipal call center in the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30 — up from 8,653 the year before.

The top complaints were the discovery of rodents, insects or garbage inside an eatery — with 2,832 such calls, up from 2,213.

New York diners also complained of spoiled food (997), concerns about a restaurant’s letter grade (804) — such as no grade being posted — and bare hands coming in touch with their food (775).

An additional 676 grubsters said they found a foreign object — usually a piece of hair or plastic — in their meal, an 18 percent increase.

The surge came even as the city rated 92.7 percent of the city’s 24,000-plus eateries with a grade of “A” in fiscal 2016, according to the Mayor’s Management Report.

That was close to the 93 percent that got the top grade in fiscal 2015.

Health Department officials didn’t provide data requested by The Post for the number of violations issued to restaurants last year, making it impossible to know whether the complaints spurred a higher number of summonses.

Smart as trees in Sault Ste. Marie: Restaurant grades come to Seattle

The Sault (pronounced Sue) is on my mind today.

barf-o-meter_-dec_-12-216x300-216x3001-216x300-1-216x300-216x300Lots of feedback about the Esposito brothers (Tony and Phil) who hail from Sault Ste. Marie (in Ontario, Canada) and, more importantly, most excellent graduate student Katie, who hails from the Sault, got an undergrad at Guelph, did her Masters research in New Zealand and got her degree from Kansas State.

So when JoNel Aleccia of The Seattle Times e-mailed me to get my take on the county’s proposed restaurant inspection disclosure system, I used it as an excuse to get back in touch with Katie.

It’s taken nearly two years, but King County restaurants will soon start posting storefront signs that display their health-inspection status at a glance, giving diners a new view into food safety.

Exactly what those signs will say, however, is still up to the public to decide.

Starting in January, officials with Public Health — Seattle & King County plan to roll out a long-anticipated public grading system that rates restaurants based on an aggregate score of four recent inspections.

Depending on the results, a restaurant may be ranked excellent, good, fair or needs improvement on signs that could feature smiley-face emoji in shades of green and yellow.

“It’s exciting,” said Becky Elias, Public Health food and facilities section manager. “We feel like this is thorough and evidence-based.”

Local diners can vote on six variations of the placards online by Thursday, Nov. 17.

Elias and her crew originally thought a restaurant-grading system could be in place by the start of 2015, but it took longer than anticipated to get it right, she said.

Local health officials overhauled the system that regularly sends 55 inspectors to review more than 11,000 permanent food businesses and an additional 3,000 temporary sites in King County.

With the help of Daniel E. Ho, a Stanford University law professor who has studied restaurant-rating programs extensively, they refined and standardized the way inspectors make decisions and then came up with placards to convey that information to the public.

Throughout the process, they sought out opinions from everyone involved, including restaurant owners and food-safety advocates. Such collaboration was appreciated, said Patrick Yearout, director of recruiting and training for Ivar’s restaurant company, which operates 25 sites in King County.

Food-safety advocates said they’re pleased that King County is unveiling a new ratings system, but they’re not enthusiastic about the smiley-face signs.

Sarah Schacht, 37, of Seattle, is a two-time victim of E. coli food poisoning who has been lobbying the county to help warn consumers about restaurants with unsatisfactory inspections. She’d prefer to see numeric scores on the new signs, not just emoji.

“If you look at these placard examples, in the end, the information you’re supposed to absorb and make a decision on comes down to the size of the smile on the smiley face,” she said. “I think the options are better than nothing, but they’re problematic.”

seattle-rest-inspect-disclose-nov-16Doug Powell, a former Kansas State University food scientist who runs the food-safety site, barfblog.com, said the proposed King County signs “all seem too busy.” If he had to choose, however, he’d choose options B or D, he said.

“At least they are asking people, which is good,” he added.

Katie and I e-mailed, and she said she preferred C, because it was clearly visible from distance, the colour is prominent, the universal symbol avoids language barriers and has better use of space on the card.

I like B and D because the gauge reminded me of something Katie created years ago while goofing around.

And this is my favorite Tragically Hip song, but no live versions of it.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Brag about a good restaurant inspection store, diners more positive

It’s a stretch to say that posting restaurant inspection results – letter grades, color cards, numbers, smiley faces – affects much of anything because of the limitations involved in studying the question.

larry-david-rest-inspecDo letter grades reduce foodborne illness?

Probably not.

Do they make food safer?

Probably not.

Do managers pay attention and go crazy on staff when they get a lousy score?


Do consumers pay attention?


Given these exceedingly scientific answers, what I’ve observed over the past 15 years is that the biggest benefit of public disclosure is its role in the overall rise of food-safety-kind-that-makes-people-barf awareness.

Here’s another group having having-a-go at the role of inspections and disclosure.

Ensuring the safety of food served in restaurants continues to be an essential issue in the hospitality industry. An important part of the efforts to stem the outbreak of foodborne illnesses are the mandatory inspections of any entity that serves food to the public.

rest-inspection-color-sacramentoUnfortunately, while posting food safety scores is intended to help consumers make better dining choices, interpreting these scores can often be difficult and confusing. The purpose of this study is to use information processing theory as a framework to investigate how consumers evaluate food safety inspection scores. To achieve this goal, this research provides an account of the effect of food safety concern on consumers’ attitudes toward restaurants under conditions of both positive and negative health inspection results.

The results identify a moderating effect of health score in the formation of consumers’ attitudes toward restaurants. The downstream effects on expected satisfaction and behaviors are also established.

Understanding responses to posted restaurant food safety scores: An information processing and regulatory focus perspective

International Journal of Hospitality Management, Volume 60, January 2017, Pages 67–76

Kimberly J. Harris, Ed. D., Lydia Hanks, Ph. D., Nathaniel D. Line, Ph. D. and Sean McGinley, Ph. D.


Restaurant inspection grades suppressed in Bermuda

Sam Strangeways of The Royal Gazette writes that environmental health officials have refused to reveal the health and safety “grades” given to every restaurant in Bermuda.

pati-access-info-bermudaThe information was requested by The Royal Gazette under the Public Access to Information Act but the Department of Health’s information officer denied our application after consultation with Susan Hill Davidson, the acting Chief Environmental Health Officer, on four grounds.

This newspaper sought the information in order to publish a list of all restaurants and their most recent grades, similar to the inspection lookup tool offered by NYC Health.

The New York version enables members of the public to search a database and retrieve health inspection results for each of New York City’s 24,000 restaurants before deciding where to eat.

It also mandates disclosure on the entrance, using letter grades (NY.C. and L.A.) or color grades (Toronto) for example.

In Bermuda, it is estimated there are between 150 and 200 food and beverage premises.

The Department of Health said in its refusal letter that to comply with our request would, “by reason of the nature of the records requested, require the retrieval and examination of such records [and] cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of the other work of the public authority”.

Information officer Verlina Bishop wrote that complying with the request would require pulling the inspection records of each individual file of food and drink establishments.

“The files are maintained by street address and are not filed according to food and beverage establishments,” she said. “The environmental health section of the Department of Health does not have the manpower to review and compile the records requested.”

Other reasons given for the refusal to disclose information were that the records contained personal, commercial and confidential information, exempt from disclosure.

Restaurant inspection grades easier to spot in Northern Ireland

Starting from, Friday 7 October, people in Northern Ireland will find it easier to see the food hygiene rating of places they eat out or buy food, as food businesses will now have to display their rating sticker by law.

fhrs-niThe Food Hygiene Rating Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 and associated regulations have come into force, and this new legislation means that the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is now mandatory, replacing the voluntary scheme run since the end of 2011 by district councils and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

No matter what the rating of the food business, they will have to by law display the rating sticker given by the district council following inspection. This can range from ‘5’ which means the food hygiene standards are very good, down to ‘0’ where urgent improvement is necessary. This instant and visible hygiene rating information will help people choose where to eat out or shop for food, including restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways as well as supermarkets, other food shops and hospitals, care homes and schools.

The FSA has built a case for mandation in England using evidence from Wales where display is mandatory and where there has been an increased positive impact on hygiene standards compared with England. It is also exploring how a viable statutory scheme could be delivered in the future in line with the FSA’s Regulating our Future programme. In the meantime the current voluntary scheme in England is being aligned with the statutory schemes in Wales and N Ireland as far as possible without legislative requirements.