US: Majority of consumers read and use food labels

Grocery shopping is one of my favourite activities. I love perusing the aisles, checking out foods I’ve never seen before, and examining food labels. Almost automatically I flip over the package and take a gander at the food label, curious to see what is in my potential purchase.

It seems I am not alone in my label love. A recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration survey found that the majority of consumers read food labels, and are aware of the link between good nutrition and health.

The 2008 U.S. Health and Diet Survey of more than 2,500 adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that, for the first time, more than half of those surveyed “often” read a label the first time they buy a product. Yet, while the number of consumers reading a food label the first time they buy a product has risen, consumers are skeptical of industry claims such as “low fat,” “high fiber,” or “cholesterol free” on the front of packages.

While not all shoppers are label lovers, the survey does indicate the opportunity to use food packaging as an information source for consumers. Placing warnings on food packages for susceptible populations is a way to get food safety messages to at risk populations.


Restaurants proud to show off their history of food hygiene awards

Before heading to the airport yesterday I stopped into a café, and although I miss the toonie Tim Hortons bagel (mine was 8.50 $NZ), I was impressed to see I was dining somewhere that values food safety. There at the counter was a Wellington City Council “Excellent” certificate, and two others from previous years.

It’s good see operators recognizing the marketing potential of a restaurant inspection disclosure program, however, there can be issues with operators displaying expired certificates. In a discussion with an inspector recently, she voiced the issues she had with restaurants keeping their old letter grade cards. Although it can show a great history of food safety inspections, if a restaurant is downgraded keeping the other cards displayed may get confusing.

Sydney eateries need to lift their game

This Christmas will be my first away from snowy Canada and the family. Although I’ll miss the Filion family funtivities, I will not miss the cold. Rather I’m quite looking forward to seeing kangaroos for the first time, and attempting to surf in sunny Sydney.

While I generously apply the SPF, New South Wales (NSW) eateries will be preparing for new food safety requirements in the coming year. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 10% of NSW eateries failed to meet inspection standards in 2009, and as a result a mandatory food safety supervisor will be required starting next year.

The State Government will today release its first food safety report card, detailing the amount of inspections, fines and prosecutions handed down over the year.

Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said,

”The report shows 10 per cent of food businesses did not comply with the standards and required ongoing intervention.”

The minister said the Government had amended the Food Act and a mandatory food handler training program would come into effect to ensure every food business had a designated food safety supervisor.

NSW lists inspection results online where premises are Name and Shamed.

There is a town in Northern Ontario that posts inspection results online

You can take the girl out of Northern Ontario, but you can’t take the Northern Ontario out of the girl. Since moving to New Zealand I’ve picked up a few Kiwi-isms, but I’ve managed to keep my awful hick accent, and still occasionally read the news for happenings near my hometown.

Sudbury, home of the OHL (that’s ice hockey) team Sudbury Wolves, has begun posting the results of restaurant inspections online, reports Northern Life Online. The website,, launched today, and reports go back to November 1, 2009.

Stacey Laforest, a manager in the Health Unit’s Environmental Health division, said,

“Before we had the technology to go online, the public could call us for inspection and enforcement information for restaurants and other food premises. Posting the information on our website makes it more accessible to the public.”

[F]ood premises in the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts are listed alphabetically by name. Information includes food premises inspection reports, food safety convictions reports, food safety closures reports, an explanation of commonly used terms, and a link to the applicable legislation.

I took a gander at the website, curious what East Side Mario’s received on its most recent inspection – it hasn’t been inspected since November. Neither have the majority of restaurants in the database, with every one I clicked on returning a blank screen. I’d rather see a card at the door.

For the Neil Young fans, Helpless (below), because There is a town in Northern Ontario…

Meth doesn’t make for safe burgers

During a drive to Kansas City, MO I remember Doug telling me about the abundance of methamphetamine labs in the Midwest, and to keep an eye out for stray bathtubs on the side of the highway – I guess that’s where the meth is made.

Bathtubs and fast food kitchens it turns out. reports that a Cape Girardeau, MO Sonic restaurant was closed after there were allegations of a shift manager manufacturing methamphetamine inside the kitchen.

Dennie Bratcher, 27, faces charges of burglary and manufacturing meth in the case. According to Cape Girardeau Police Sgt. Jason Selzer, officers found Bratcher, still wearing his Sonic uniform, inside the business after responding to a burglar alarm. Bratcher apparently worked a night shift but went back to the restaurant after closing time.

According to Selzer, Bratcher told officers he planned to make the meth on the roof, but he opted for the kitchen because it was too cold outside.

Environmental Public Health Specialist Amy Morris said the incident has forced the restaurant to completely restock the store,

"We’re talking everything from sugar packets to hamburgers, to straws to the ice cream in the machines."

Morris also stressed that the store would have to be "100% safe" before the store would be allowed to reopen.

Sonic officials have offered no comment.

Missouri-born Brad Pitt (right) would be so disappointed.

Tweens banned from kissing cardboad Robert Pattinson

The second movie in the Twilight series, New Moon, hit theatres last month and though ashamed to admit it, I went to see it. A friend asked me to go to the midnight screening, so I entered the tween-packed theatre (2 hours past my bedtime) and begrudgingly watched the hyped film into the wee hours of the morning. I would have rather just slept.

But Twilight tweens are crazy in love with Edward Cullen, the vampire played by actor Robert Pattinson. So in love, that some fans kiss the cardboard cut-outs of the vampire, requiring a UK cinema to ban the potentially disease spreading act.

This Is Staffordshire Online reports,

[The Reel Cinema] has banned fans from kissing the cardboard cutout of a film’s lead actor – because they might catch swine flu.

Teenage girls had been planting kisses on, or hugging, the cutout of Brit heartthrob Robert Pattinson, but the fun is now over after a warning was slapped across Robert’s face.

It reads: "Please help reduce the spread of germs by refraining from giving Edward, or any other character for that matter, a kiss or hug."

New Moon fan, James Meek, said,

"I understand why the cinema has put the sign up but we had a little bit of a chuckle at it. It’s a bit silly."

Listeria lessons from Gossip Girl Blair Waldorf

Last night while watching the Thanksgiving episode of Gossip Girl, queen of the Upper East Side Blair Waldorf was up to another one of her schemes. In an attempt to prove her mother is pregnant, Blair offers her food and drink pregnant women should avoid: champagne and soft cheeses.

Over Thanksgiving dinner she coyly tempts,

“Mother, here, try some camembert, it’s from Artisanal!”

When her mother refuses, Blair concedes she is pregnant.

Blair’s mother turns out not to be pregnant, and Blair never explains why pregnant women should avoid camembert. Camembert is a soft cheese, traditionally made from unpasteurized cow’s milk (although pasteurized forms exist). Soft cheeses should be avoided during pregnancy as they have been identified as sources of listeria which can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

Amy has written more about what to avoid during pregnancy, here.

Summer means melons

In my current neck of the woods summer is approaching. I’ve decided only the oldies station will play in my pimpin’ ride, and I’ve been purchasing strawberries and watermelon on every trip to the grocery store. Nothing says summer like fresh melon(s).

But melons have their risk. Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon have been linked to outbreaks of Salmonella in the past, and currently the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a health hazard alert for Melon up! brand large seedless watermelons from Mexico.

You can check out a video on how to safely prepare melon, here. Or the FDA guidance for industry document, here.

Green means go, rat means no

Just like in the Beyonce song (and video featuring Lady Gaga – pictured right), photos of a rat in a Toronto eatery were captured “on a video phone.”

Kyle Fisher almost lost his lunch when he saw a rat in a restaurant he frequents.
The Toronto Sun obtained pictures yesterday from a reader of a large rat lounging on tables and chairs of the Famous BBQ Express at 385 Queen St. W.

"I’m shocked. They are really nice people, but I’m not going to eat there anymore."

The Sun took the photos to Toronto Public Health and it immediately arranged for a new inspection of the restaurant, which had a green pass indicating it had received a clean inspection in October.

Jim Chan, food safety manager for public health, said,

"There isn’t a major problem with rats in that area so the problem could be in the restaurant. It’s not normal for a rat to be sitting on a chair being looked at."

Adam Wang, the manager of Famous BBQ Express, says he has an exterminator come in every month but could provide receipts for only 2008.

Wang explained,

"The building is old and I try to do my best. There is an old building being torn down behind us and I think that is where they come from. I feel really bad about it. It could ruin my business in this economy."

The restaurant will remain closed until tomorrow and will have exterminators come in.

This year seven restaurants have been closed because of rats. In October, 2008, rats were seen licking themselves and frolicking in the window of the Happy Seven Restaurant on Spadina Ave. and the images were shown on TV.

After seeing the broadcast, public health slapped a red closure sign on the door.

Grimy grub at Texas restaurant

Having never been to Texas, much of what I picture when I think of the state comes from creepy child pageant shows where mothers dress their daughters in outrageous outfits and coat them in self-tan. I should probably visit Texas just to dispel these odd visions.

When and if I do visit, I won’t be dining at La Cocina De Susana in San Antonia. According to, the Mexican-style restaurant has had three follow up inspections and multiple violations this year.

During a recent inspection, the health inspector found employees using grocery and black trash bags to store food. There was also no soap or towels at any sink in the restaurant for employees or customers to clean their hands.

All the violations added up to 48 demerits. Anything higher than 30 is considered a poor score.

Nearly eight months ago, the restaurant received 58 demerits on an inspection. Back then, evidence of roaches and rodents was found and the restaurant shut down to clean things up.

No one would speak with us on camera, but an employee did tell us they are continuing to work on all the problems.