Baseball, cars, and food: Controlling the risks

"If it provides more safety, then I’m all for it," says the New York Mets’ All-Star third baseman, David Wright, of his new Rawlings S100 batting helmet. Wright was clocked with a pitch two weeks ago (see video here) that left him on the disabled list with post-concussion symptoms until tomorrow’s opener in Denver, where he hopes to try out the new helmet.

It has a thick Polypropelene liner and an additional composite insert. "We’re confident that it will withstand a pitch up to 100 mph," said Mike Thompson, Rawlings senior vice president for sports marketing and business development.

The AP reports that all Minor League Baseball players will be required to use these helmets next season, as beanballs and subsequent concussions are inherent risks to America’s pastime.

"It’s one of those things that happens," said Scott Rolen of the Cincinnati Reds, who recently landed on the Major League’s DL with a concussion. "Nobody’s out there trying to throw at guys’ heads – that’s the idea. We’ll go out there and compete. I mean, we drive home every day, too, and that’s not real safe."

It’s true: people accept risks everyday. But they do so trusting that everyone involved is controlling the risks to the best of their ability – from pitchers to helmet manufacturers, from fellow drivers to auto makers, and from cooks (at home or elsewhere) to food producers.

When eating, it’s the culture of food safety of everyone from farm to fork that will determine the level of risk an individual is accepting. They should all adopt the attitude: "If it provides more safety, then I’m all for it."

New hand dryer eco-friendly, food safe

I’ve waited a whole month for this Saturday to roll around. For weeks, I’ve been rinsing, drying, crushing, and collecting our cans, bottles, and boxes in anticipation. This Saturday is the day the county picks up our recycling. I have to drive my tubs to the library parking lot, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to be counted among those who choose to waste less. This reflects one particular side of my personality.

Another side is evident when I wash my hands: I soap up my palms and fingertips. I get between my fingers and up my wrists. After I rinse away the soap, I dry them thoroughly.

And this is the point where the two collide: When I go to dry my hands (and am not at home where clean cloth towels are available), I always reach for the paper towels over a blow dryer.

I know many trees are felled in the making of single-use paper towels, but blow dryers are disgusting: They collect microbes that may have been aerosolized when the toilet was flushed and then blow them onto your hands.

At least, most blow dryers do. HACCP Australia thinks the Dyson Airblade hand dryer can effectively dry hands without recontamination.

Australia Food News reports that the Dyson Airblade is the first hand dryer to be approved for use in food handling areas. AFN explains,

“Using high velocity sheets of unheated air, hands are dried in just ten seconds while, at the same time, 99.9% of bacteria and mould is removed from the air using HEPA filtration…The dryer, unlike conventional warm air hand dryers, does not blow bacteria back onto freshly washed hands nor use a heating element that can induce bacterial growth.”

As an added ecological bonus, the Dyson Airblade uses up to 80 per cent less energy compared with conventional hand dryers.

“Recently unveiled in Australia, the Dyson Airblade hand dryer has already had local success by receiving a New Product Award at its first public launch. It has now been introduced in food manufacturing areas at Cargill’s, Kellogg’s, Fletcher’s International, KFC, Tabro Meats, Wingham Beef and George Weston Food’s Tip Top bakeries, as well as a number of kitchens at McDonalds Restaurants.”

Until these are available in all the kitchens and public bathrooms I visit (and the data shows up on their microbial safety), I try to strike a balance between food safety and eco-friendliness: I use one paper towel to its fullest (two, if necessary), and avoid grabbing a handful out of assumption that they’ll be needed.

I hate assumptions.

Burger King outs baby for ‘no shoes’ rule

No shirt, no shoes, no service, baby!

According to KSHB-TV, the manager of a Burger King near St. Louis, Missouri, told Jennifer Frederich she would have to get her food to go because her daughter, Kaylin, wasn’t wearing any shoes. 

"She doesn’t own shoes. She’s only six months old,” said Frederich after the manager explained that feet without shoes were against the health code, and, no, socks would not suffice. 

“She doesn’t walk, so she’s not touching the ground," Frederich continued, "There is no reason for her to have shoes on.”

While the manager’s apparent commitment to the health code was admirable, the misplaced emphasis suggests it was not a product of a culture of food safety.

"In fact," the Associated Press later reported, "shoelessness is not a health code violation in St. Louis County."

A statement by Burger King, cited by the AP, says the owner of that particular franchise "apologizes for this guest’s experience…The franchisee is retraining his restaurant team on the proper use of the ‘no shoes’ policy."

The franchise owner also contacted Frederich to apologize in person.

Human milk bank uses pasteurization

From cream soup to cancer treatment, I discovered many interesting uses for surplus breast milk after learning that PETA requested Ben & Jerry’s use it to replace cow’s milk in ice cream products.

"Whatever floats your boat," I said, "as long as it’s pasteurized for the kiddos."

Probably, the most widely-accepted use for extra breast milk is as a supplement for nursing infants whose mothers are unable to produce enough safe breast milk to sufficiently feed them. Several human milk banks exist in the US for this purpose.

One such bank opened this week at the Portland Adventist Medical Center and has a plan in place to ensure the safety of all donations before use.

"We’ll do a blood screen on the moms who are going to donate," said Angel Pyles, a lactation nurse. "The milk is pasteurized and rescreened before given to babies who are in need of it."

Young children are one group whose health and well-being are most greatly affected by the culture around them. Those babies are lucky this organization recognizes that even a woman’s breast milk has risks that should be controlled.

Home, free Laura Ling anxious for “fresh food”

This morning, I watched the live coverage of the return of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee from North Korea with a grateful heart.

Ling and Lee were arrested while on assignment at the Chinese-North Korean border in March and sentenced to 12 years hard labor for "hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry."

"The past 140 days have been the most difficult, heart-wrenching days of our lives," Ling said at their homecoming, her voice cracking.

Lisa Ling said of her sister, "She’s really, really anxious to have fresh fruit and fresh food. She said there were rocks in her rice. Obviously, it’s a country that has a lot of economic problems."

I’ve heard it said that food safety sometimes has to take a backseat to food security. However, the agreed-upon WHO definition of food security is "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life."

All food producers should recognize their responsibility to the world’s food security.

Those who don’t share my dream of feeding the world can at least recognize the value of safe food to paying customers, like the home and free Laura Ling. 

Dubai restaurant requires signed disclaimer with purchase

What a cop-out.

After the tragic death of Nathan, 5, and his sister, Chelsea, 7, in connection with home-delivered Chinese food in June, the importance of food safety should have come into sharp focus for restaurateurs in Dubai.

On the off-chance that restaurant owners didn’t catch the news, the Dubai Municipality stepped up restaurant inspections and conducted a food safety awareness campaign under the banner "Food Safety is our Priority."

Establishments like Kempinski Hotel in Mall of the Emirates were given the opportunity to demonstrate to customers that food safety was indeed a priority.

Instead, as Gulf News reports,

“Hotel Kempinski in Mall of the Emirates is getting its customers to sign a disclaimer note stating that its restaurants would not be responsible for the quality of food once it is taken out of their premises.”

The disclaimer reads,

"Please note that the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates takes no responsibility whatsoever for any food or beverage bought from the hotel or any outlets of the hotel for personal consumption.

"This is due to the fact that the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates has no more control or any way of ascertaining the safety and hygienic condition of this food and beverage once outside the premises. Please sign the waiver below to indicate your acceptance of the terms stipulated.

"Otherwise the hotel is unable to permit any food or beverage to be purchased."

The establishment’s haughty and self-serving culture is absolutely disgusting and leaves me with very little faith in the safety of its food.

Another outlet, Calicut Paragon in Karama, invested their resources in stickers for take-out bags that advise consumers to eat their food within two hours of purchase—a step that suggests a shared responsibility for the safety of food and that I find a little more palatable. 

I agree with this guy:

"I think it is completely unethical to make customers sign disclaimers like that. It is good to safeguard the business, but not at the cost of displeasing customers," said Ronald D’Souza, operations manager at Sofra Worldwide – a firm that owns restaurant chains like Gelato, NaanPlus and Uno Chicago Grill.

"From your side, you have to ensure that quality and hygiene standards are maintained at the highest levels. But as we are in the business of food, there is an element of risk that you must take," D’Souza said.

Kempinski Hotel should step up to the plate and recognize that selling microbiologically safe food is a good way to protect your business, and showing a commitment to food safety is a good way to promote it.

Army colonel tries old C-ration pound cake, doesn’t get botulism

Field rations for soldiers are designed with two primary motives: 1) providing lots of calories and 2) lasting in a combat zone.

For the most part, taste is greatly sacrificed. But retired Army colonel Henry A. Moak, Jr., thought his 40-year-old C-ration can of pound cake was "good."

Moak got the drab olive can as a Marine helicopter pilot off the Vietnamese coast in 1973. He vowed to hang on to it until the day he retired, storing it in a box with other mementos.

"It’s even a little moist," he said, wiping his mouth after downing a handful in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes following a formal retirement ceremony.

Retired Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, who was the U.S. Army Europe commander when Moak served overseas, took an even bigger piece. "Tastes just like it always did," Mikolashek mumbled with a mouthful of cake as Moak laughed and clapped.

The AP reports,

"Moak said he wasn’t worried about getting sick from any bacteria that may have gotten into the old can, because it looked sealed. But the military discourages eating from old rations.

"’Given the risks … we do everything possible to ensure that overly aged rations are not consumed,’ said Lawrence Levine, a spokesman for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

"Levine named the threats as mold and deadly botulism if the sealing on the food has been broken, which isn’t always visible."

Mold, maybe. Botulism, no; it arises from improper canning initially – or denting later – but not broken seals. (They only open the possibility of contamination to microbes that like air: B. cereus, Lavine…)

Awful-tasting Pepsi may have mouse inside

When her husband dumped out a can of Diet Pepsi that "tasted awful," Amy Denegri saw what looked like pink spaghetti spill out.

"We’re not sure what it is…It’s really sick," Amy said, though she suspects it may be a mouse.

According to WFTV Orlando, lab results from an FDA investigation of the incident will be available in one to two weeks.

When Pepsi learned of the incident, a spokesperson contacted the Denegri’s. The can was traced to an Orlando bottling facility and a review of production logs showed "absolutely no evidence to suggest that any foreign object or substance entered the package at the time of production."

In addition, a statement was sent to WFTV Orlando, which reads in part:

"This is not the first time we have dealt with this type of claim. In every previous incident where lab testing has been conducted, the results have concluded that the specimen did not enter the package during production.

"That said, we treat all consumer claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We have been in touch with the investigating authorities in this case. They are conducting laboratory tests to learn what may have happened here. We’ll assist them however we can."

The Denegri’s aren’t planning a lawsuit. In fact, Amy’s husband, Fred, is still drinking Pepsi. But he pours it into a cup first.

Surplus groceries sold at auctions

Half-price cream cheese? And the brand name, no less! I saw they were getting close to their expiration dates, but I bought three, anyway. They’ll keep just fine in the freezer until I’m ready to bake another pumpkin cheesecake.

Lots of shoppers buy groceries with this money-saving mentality, which has opened the market for expired food sold at discounts. It has also sparked an increase in grocery auctions for the sale of damaged, dented or surplus foodstuffs that are often close to passing their expiration dates.

At Big Harry’s Auction in New Jersey, regular runs to regional food distribution centers and a wholesale food auction provide an ever-changing variety of food items for the public to bid on.

"And while Big Harry’s is subject to health department inspections and offers a money-back guarantee on food purchases," writes an Asbury Park Press staff writer, "buying frozen food at auction requires something of a leap of faith. [Auction operator Vince] Iacono says he’d never sell perishable frozen food that was thawed and then refrozen, which can cause spoilage, but all he can do is trust that his haulers will abide by the same policy."

That’s true for all food businesses: they have to rely on everyone before them in the farm-to-fork food chain to handle products as safely as they do. It’s always important to know your suppliers.

How safe are free-range eggs?

Years ago – before we moved here and put a dog inside – the shed out back was a chicken coop. These were the original backyard chickens. A resurgence of small-flock rearing has led many to wonder (and make assumptions) about the safety of free-range eggs.

Joel Keehn wrote on Consumer Reports’ Health blog this weekend that,

"About a year ago I took my 11-year-old daughter to the emergency room with what turned out to be salmonella poisoning. My first thought when I heard the diagnosis: Did she pick up the infection from our flock of chickens? But the public-health outreach worker at the local department of health said that was unlikely.

"While eggs are indeed a leading cause of salmonella poisoning, the bacteria that causes the infection may be more likely to breed in the cramped confines of factory farms than in free-range, backyard chicken runs like ours."

Oh? That’s an interesting assumption. And Keehn doesn’t provide anything to support it.

As far as I can tell, salmonella contamination of eggs from various farming methods has not been well-researched…save for one study rumored in January 2008 to have been conducted by the UK government that "showed that 23.4 per cent of farms with caged [egg-laying] hens tested positive for salmonella compared to 4.4 per cent in organic flocks and 6.5 per cent in free-range flocks."

The closest thing I could find was a report by the UK Food Standards Agency in March 2004 of testing results of 4,753 containers of six eggs each (with 16.9% from free-range production systems) that found "no statistically significant difference…between the prevalence of salmonella contamination in samples from different egg production types."

Keehn’s blog post concluded by saying,

"By the way, the health department official who called me up said the most likely source of my daughter’s salmonella poisoning was our pet turtle. That critter is now gone. But I’m picking up four new hens from my neighbor down the road later this week."

I have no reason to believe their eggs will be any safer than those of caged hens. Keehn’s reason is not good enough.