Earning a baking badge

Browsing through the channels the other night, I came across one of the many food porn shows on TV, DC Cupcakes. Being the food safety observer I’ve become, I thought I’d watch for food safety faux pas. I wasn’t disappointed.

The owners were hosting the Girl Scouts of America, who needed to earn their baking badges. This was especially significant because the bakers had failed to earn their baking badges back in the day.

The cupcake experts started with egg and butter tips. One of them told the girls that the cupcake batter would be better if the eggs and butter were at room temperature prior to mixing them. As she said this, she handed an egg to each of the girls, one of which dropped it on the counter.

After they all cracked their eggs in a bowl, including the cracked one, they proceeded to feel how soft the butter was. No handwashing featured after touching the eggs or before contaminating the butter (and everything else they came in contact with for that matter).

As demonstrated by a recent salmonella outbreak in a Rhode Island bakery, which may have been the outcome of contaminated eggs, it’s important to follow simple safety practices such as handwashing. Especially in the food production business.

Maybe that’s why the DC ladies didn’t earn their baking badge when they were Brownies.

Salmonella tastes better in an expensive kitchen

I enjoy watching House Hunters on HGTV every now and then. I tend to get mad at people on that show because they base their decisions on the dumbest parameters.

Today I witnessed the latest dumb decision made by a couple in Lee’s Summit, MO (where I happened to be yesterday at my roommate’s parents house). They choose a $275,000 house because of the “huge kitchen and amazing garage,” while their two little girls share an 8 x 10 bedroom with two doll-sized closets in it.

As the family settles in, the food safety mistakes make an appearance as they make cookies in said huge kitchen. The two-and-a-half and one-and-a-half year olds help with the baking and eat a spoonful of raw cookie dough. Raw cookie dough contains the risk of Salmonella contamination, which is especially dangerous for the little ones. I admit that I have eaten it before, but not as a child and not after I learned about the risks involved.

The best part? Dad is a doctor.

No food safety culture in Paraguay

While showing my sister-in-law around Paraguay, we stopped at the mall to let her sample typical “snack” food. Back in the day, ladies on the side of the road sold this type of snack food with baskets on their heads. In some parts of the country, it is still sold this way – but that’s a whole different food safety story.

Nowadays this “snack” is a trendy thing and there are food stands everywhere. The company that owns the stand we stopped at even has a website and offers delivery. It is worth mentioning that a former food safety newsie trainee (who only lasted a week) owns the stand.

Out of three people running the little stand, only one was observed to have washed his hands properly – once. After taking out the trash and making sure it all fit down the bag, he went on with his cooking duties without washing his hands. I think his rationale was, “One hand washing is good enough”.

Similarly, the employee in charge of making fresh juice washed her hands only once and didn’t use soap, which was available. Her rationale was probably “plain water is good enough.”

It was obvious that food safety was not a concern, and customers don’t demand it either. Apparently, the stereotypical Paraguayan motto of “minimal effort” applies to the food safety culture as well.


The Contador Excuse

Teaching a recitation class for a General Psychology class is hard work.  It involves choosing appropriate material to cover, presenting that material accurately and grading papers. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is discerning students’ real excuses from made-up ones. I have heard stuff that you probably wouldn’t make up just to get out of class and a lot of stuff that sounds a little unlikely, if not straight out of a high school movie.

One of my fellow recitation teachers got the Contador excuse from a student; “It was the food.”
The student claimed food poisoning prevented her from making it to class – right before class time during tailgating Thursday. The excuse wasn’t entirely unlikely since food during tailgating might be cooked improperly, or cross-contamination might occur. However, alcohol poisoning is not entirely unlikely either.

To believe or not to believe, that is the question. While you can test athletes’ blood for illegal substances, you can’t ask students for stool samples. If it had been my student I would have asked for a doctor’s note, but the excuse worked for her (Contador, it seems, will not be so lucky).

Buddy’s Gourmet Meals

Buddy is my new roommates’ pet snake. It is an albino something-breed and his once-a-week nutrition consists of Gourmet Rodent meals (I am not making this up, that is the actual name on the bag of frozen rats).

Being aware of the dangers associated with frozen foods for reptiles – and reptiles themselves – every Friday (and Saturday just to be safe) I thoroughly wipe down the area where my roommate thaws out the poor little rat for the weekly feed.

Today, I came across a warning from the Public Health Agency of Canada regarding a salmonella outbreak from frozen rodents that may be associated to the outbreak in July here in the U.S.

The warning says all the usual things about cleaning reptile-areas and washing hands, but I have some problems regarding some of their tips, such as:

“Sealing frozen reptile food products in a plastic bag and place in a covered garbage can.”

How is the frozen food supposed to stay frozen in a garbage can? Or, if they mean the empty bag, why would it be important to seal it up before throwing it away?

Another thing they might want to include on their advice list is how exactly to clean “surfaces that come into contact with reptiles.” Will regular soap and water work? And what should be used on non-hard surfaces such as couches or carpets? 

For us newly-introduced-to-the-world-of-reptiles people, information like this is important and needs to be clear.

Disclosure of information, only for some recalls

The CFIA announced yesterday that Le Belle de Jersey cheese may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. They claim that no illnesses have been reported, but we’ve all heard that one before.

The news release doesn’t include specific information regarding the affected product, like weight, lot number or locations where it was sold; information needed to avoid the tainted product.

Another product, also recalled yesterday, President’s Choice®Decadent Chocolate Chunk Cookies had a very different news release. The company responsible included all the necessary information to identify and avoid the product, which is not tainted with Listeria but contains metal pieces.

The reasons for recalling the products might be different but they both pose a threat to consumer’s health. So why the difference in disclosure of information between these recalls?

The CFIA should require specific information regarding recalled products so that there is no expanded health hazard alert informing how many people have gotten sick since the last health hazard alert release.

Fairs, festivals and food safety

I’ve been hanging out at fairs and the sorts lately, like the Wamego Tulip Festival and Phillipsburg Rodeo. I always check for handwashing stations where there is contact with the animals and food involved. However, the animals are not the only risk at fairs and festivals and the consumer cannot always be the scapegoat.

Thirteen businesses and food stalls were ordered to shut down at the Oxegen and the Dún Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures in Ireland due to food safety violations.

“The FSAI said that it is unacceptable that some food businesses are continuing to breach food safety laws and warned all food business operators to place robust food safety systems and hygiene practices top of their agenda.”

Consumers should wash their hands and do everything they can to avoid foodborne illness, but when the food handlers are the problem there’s not much the consumer can do.

Restaurant Don’ts

Raw chicken is probably the first thing that most people think of when thinking of foodborne illness. You would think chefs would know to use a thermometer to prevent undercooked chicken from ending up on the table.

However, tonight I witnessed a chef on 24 Hour Restaurant Battle (on the Food Network) serve some raw chicken to his diners. Not just to any person at that, but Marcus Samuelsson and Scott Conant, who were judges on the show. At least they got it right, immediately recognizing the risks and spitting it out.

Every person in the vicinity turned around when Samuelsson pointed out: “That is dangerous; that is not undercooked, it’s raw.”

If your restaurant makes people barf, it’s not going to fare so well. Mr. Blumenthal learned that the hard way last year when his restaurant was shut down due to norovirus.
The chef on the show also learned the hard way; the raw chicken cost him the $10, 000 prize.

G. Brandt Meat Packers Ltd. recall

Ready-to-eat meat products from the above mentioned meat packer company are being recalled due to foodborne pathogens.

The press release from the CFIA did not mention which foodborne pathogens were involved, or where exactly the products were distributed.

They do mention that some of the meat may not have the original brand or product name so, “persons who may have purchased these products and do not know the original brand and/or product name are advised to check with their retailer or supplier to determine if they have the affected product.”

The press release with a list of the products can be found at:


Listeria recalls

Last night the Associated Press reported three separate recalls due to Listeria contamination.

Distribution of these products ranges from the West Coast to the Midwest to the East Coast, so make sure to check your “Raquel’s” food items, Specialty Farms, LLC sprouts salad, and Pasco Processing, LLC peppers.

More information regarding the recalled products:

“Quong Hop & Co. of South San Francisco, California is voluntarily recalling all "Raquel’s" hummus, salads, wraps, sandwiches, and other food items, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes”

 “Specialty-Farms, LLC is recalling its Specialty Farms brand of Organic Alfalfa Sprouts Blend and its Organic Sprout Salad. The voluntary recall of the four-ounce containers with sell-by dates of 7/26/2010 is because they may have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria Monocytogenes.”

“Pasco Processing, LLC, of Pasco Wash., is recalling 2087 cases of 20 lb. bulk packaged Corn and Poblano peppers, because of the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.”

No illnesses have been reported, yet.