Spoiler alert: 15-minute “sexy” burger on Top Chef LCK

(Technical difficulties: Written by Amy Hubbell not me — dp).

In Episode 5 of Bravo’s Last Chance Kitchen, Top Chef’s online spinoff, Tom Colicchio challenged the three chefs to make their best burger in 15 minutes.

One chef chose lamb, one chose to grind pork belly and mix it with beef, and the other did a beef and pork patty.

The food safety nerd in me knew there would be no time for thermometers and wondered how 15 minutes could be long enough to do all the prep and properly cook the meat. Yet among the chefs, there is a lot of talk about fear of overcooking the burgers.

Watch the tasting from the 8-minute mark here: http://www.bravotv.com/last-chance-kitchen/season-5/videos/lck-ep-5-a-delicious-burger

raw burger TopChef LCKep5When Tom cuts into the center of Burger #3, the beef-pork mix, it is apparently raw inside. “It’s a little raw dog,” says one competitor. “No! I think that’s a pretty sexy slice right there,” retorts Tom as he gobbles it.

Colicchio eating burger

And the raw burger wins. Tom apparently hasn’t died from E. coli yet.

The byzantine world of government speak; E. coli O157 again in walnuts in Canada

In CFIA-speak, ‘no confirmed illnesses’ means there are sick people, but we can’t say so until we’re super-duper sure through testing, no matter how many more people get sick. It’s part of a disturbing trend where government agencies are pressured to downgrade the findings of epidemiology and rely only on positive test results. It’s on display in the Del Monte vs. Oregon lawsuit, and was on full display in the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak of 2008 that saw 23 people die and 53 others sickened; CFIA led with a press statement then “There have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.”

So no one should be comforted after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported this morning that certain prepackaged raw shelled walnut products described below are being voluntarily recalled because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

“There have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.”


When no one is sick, CFIA says, “there have been no illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.”

It’s the kind of wiggle-room bureaucrats thrive on – and shows the overall importance of public health.

The following raw shelled walnut products, imported from USA and packaged in Canada, are affected by this alert.

President’s Choice
Raw California Walnut Halves Unsalted 250 g 0 60383 87185 7 Best Before 2012 OC 07
Reddi Snack Hand Selected
California Walnuts 350 g 0 64777 28695 1 16581

Earlier this year, 14 people were sickened after eating E. coli-contaminated walnuts distributed by Montreal-based Amira Enterprises.

One patient in Quebec with an underlying medical condition died during the outbreak, which also affected people in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Casey Jacob, guest barfblogger: What to do with breast milk?

Hans Locher of the Storchen restaurant in Switzerland, experienced “excellent results” in creating novel dishes utilizing his wife’s surplus breast milk after the birth of their daughter 35 years ago. Recently, he noticed several new mothers in his neighborhood and told the Swissinfo website, “One evening I thought that they must have a lot of extra breast milk that I could do something with." His recipe for Chantarelle sauce with breast milk and cognac can be found here.

Moms willing to experiment have also found good use for breast milk in cream soup, once its been bottled up for baby, but sat in the fridge to long to be considered “sterile.” The pot of cream of carrot shown here was reportedly sweeter than recipes using other milks.

Last November, the Associated Press reported that a young mom donated much of her breast milk that was pumped and immediately frozen (since her infant daughter refused to drink from a bottle) to the University of Iowa’s Mother’s Milk Bank.

Several human milk banks exist in the US, and benefit newborns whose mothers are unable to produce enough safe breast milk to sufficiently feed them, as well as a few adults who seek it out as a prescribed cancer treatment.

The Iowa mom hit a snag, though, when 100 ounces of the milk pumped before her enrollment in the program was not accepted as a donation. Therefore, she took out a newspaper ad asking $200 (equivalent to $16 per 8 oz. baby bottle, or $2 per each ounce) for its sale, after confirming that the state of Iowa held no laws against the sale of breast milk. A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Health was also not aware of any laws in Iowa restricting the sale of breast milk, but said that state health officials advised against it.

Mr. Loucher, who offered less than 50 cents per ounce, was threatened with lawsuits by his canton’s food regulatory body if he purchased human breast milk for his restaurant, because the product was not a registered or regulated food.

Of course, regulation does not ensure safety … but it might do more to encourage it.

Casey Jacob, guest barfblogger: Swiss restaurant barred from serving human breast milk

The Swiss restaurant hailed as the inspiration for PETA’s plea to Ben and Jerry’s to replace the cow’s milk in their ice cream with human breast milk is facing legal action if it continues with its plan to use breast milk purchased from new mothers in its soups and sauces.

The public was startled by Hans Loucher’s newspaper advertisements to new mothers to purchase their excess breast milk for $14.50/liter (or about $3.50 per 8oz. baby bottle) for use in his restaurant, the Storchen, whose name ironically refers to a stork in English.

“The mother’s milk is the most natural thing in the world – how can anyone be against it?” Mr. Loucher asked the Times Online. “I served the meals to my friends without telling them about the new ingredient and the feedback was excellent.”

Of course, being a “natural” food does not make it free of disease-causing microorganisms. It would be very difficult to regulate how the milk was handled before purchase by the restaurateur, and it is not likely he possesses the equipment necessary to pasteurize it before use.

Last week, as reported by the Times Online, the canton’s food regulatory body ruled that Mr. Locher would not be able to store the human milk properly nor guarantee that it was fresh and safe for consumption, since the product was not a registered or regulated food. Along with the Association of Swiss Milk Producers, Zurich’s food regulator has threatened lawsuits against Mr. Locher and anyone who provides human milk for his cause.


Casey Jacob, guest barfblogger: PETA wants human breast milk in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., urging them to replace cow’s milk used in their ice cream products with human breast milk.

"The fact that human adults consume huge quantities of dairy products made from milk that was meant for a baby cow just doesn’t make sense,"
said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a press release. "Everyone knows that ‘the breast is best,’ so Ben & Jerry’s could do consumers and cows a big favor by making the switch to breast milk."

Whatever floats your boat, I guess… as long as it’s pasteurized for the kiddos. And, yes, evidence suggests that Ben and Jerry are fans of pasteurization.

A blog post in The PETA Files explains the inspiration behind their request. “Storchen, a (very innovative) restaurant in Switzerland, has just announced that they will be unveiling a new menu that includes soups, stews, and sauces made with at least 75 percent human breast milk,” blogged Carrie Ann Harris. “Some folks might think that drinking human breast milk is strange … but really, what’s even stranger is that humans are the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species.”

Ben and Jerry’s responded by saying, “We applaud PETA’s novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother’s milk is best used for her child.”

Don Schaffner, guest barfblogger: Looking for ugly in the food industry

One of my favorite books of all time is "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelley.  It’s a non-fiction book that deals with understanding complex  systems.  Kelley is a bit of a polymath.  He was a hippie, who edited the hippie bible, the whole earth catalog.  He was there at the beginning of the internet with the creation of the Whole Earth ‘Lectric Linkup.  I’ve starting reading his blog recently, and he  always has something interesting to say… like how to build foam robots.

Anyway, he recently blogged about "Looking For Ugly" where he writes "Preventing errors within extremely complicated technological systems is often elusive. The more complex the system, the more complex the pattern of error".  He’s writing generally, but I immediately thought about the food system.

Kelley goes on to write specifically about the airline industry, saying "The safety of aircraft is so essential it is regulated in hopes that regulation can decrease errors. Error prevention enforced by  legal penalties presents a problem, though: severe penalties discourages disclosure of problems early
enough to be remedied.  To counter that human tendency, the US FAA has generally allowed airlines to admit errors they find without punishing them."

Hmmm.  "severe penalties discourages disclosure of problems early enough to be remedied".  Sounds to me like he’s talking about a "zero tolerance" vs. regulatory limit for Listeria.

Of course the counter argument (for the airline industry) also maps well to the food industry, as Kelley writes "The general agreement in the industry is that a policy of unpunished infractions encourages quicker repairs and reduces the chances of major failures. Of course not punishing companies for
safety violations rubs some people the wrong way."

Yup.  He’s nailed it.  This idea dovetails nicely with Doug’s call to "make all data of Listeria testing in plants public so others in the industry can improve and consumer confidence can be enhanced with data not just words."

Michele Samarya-Timm, guest barfblogger: Seattle has officially washed its hands of the five self-cleaning toilets

Oh, the news stories that catch the eye of one immersed in public health.  

While we spend most of our time on this blog discussing issues that have to do with what comes after toilet use (handwashing, hopefully),  the toilet facilities themselves occasionally come into the spotlight ….

The Seattle Times recently reported that  Seattle has officially “washed its hands” of their self-cleaning public toilets.  Which leaves visitors to that city without a convenient place to, uh, relieve themselves – as well as leaving them without a convenient place to wash their hands. 

Too bad Seattle did not work toward finding a way to deal with any problems these public toilets may have caused.     Finland found they could reduce/eliminate illicit behavior in their roadside toilets by allowing one to unlock the door by text messaging with a mobile phone.   The toilets have been secured, and a sign outside explains that the user just sends the word "open" (in Finish) to a short code and the door will be unlocked remotely. The company managing the service will keep a short-term record of all users’ phone numbers, simply so that if the toilet is then damaged by criminals, they can be traced by the police.   

And across the globe, even now, more than 600 cities have automatic public toilets — Singapore alone has 750, London 678, and Athens 500.    And there are traditional facilities across the globe as well. 

So what’s a tourist in Seattle – or elsewhere — to do? Do you ask a stranger for directions?  Advocate for conveniently located facilities?   Or map out toilet and handsink locations before you ever leave the comfort of home?   How about all three:

•    Visiting England?  The Public Toilets-Gut Trust recently began a campaign,  Can’t Wait, Won’t Wait: Public Toilet provision in the UK to educate stakeholders on need to retain or provide adequate public toilets:  

•    How about those travels down under?  Australia’s National Continence Management Strategy Project readily publishes locations of rest rooms on their searchable public toilet map:   www.toiletmap.gov.au

•    Traveling wherever the world will take you?  The Bathroom Diaries www.thebathroomdiaries.com lists, describes and rates toilet facilities in cities throughout the world. Whether you stay close to home or are planning a trip, say, to China, Turkey or Florida, you can print out a list of public facilities in the cities you plan to visit.  One can also enter search terms such as “soap” “changing table” or “don’t eat poop.”

•    Do you ever find yourself desperately looking for a clean toilet in the city? MizPee purports to find the closest, cleanest toilets in your area and sends the information to your cell phone. One can add and review rest rooms, and check their toilet paper ratings. 

•    Then there’s Diaroggle which helps one locate public toilets from a mobile phone. In addition to location, the website includes user ratings for cleanliness, the rules of gaining entrance, and occasionally even pictures snapped by users to show how good or bad the porcelain sanctuary is.  According to the site, this is  “ for the discerning, on-the-go defecator who is brave enough to use a public bathroom, but still demands a hygienic and private bathroom experience.”

In Seattle or elsewhere, we all can map our comfort breaks along with our travel itineraries.  What a wonderful resource for a discerning on-the-go handwasher.

Michéle Samarya-Timm is a Health Educator for the Franklin Township Health Department in New Jersey. 

Restaurant sinks are not bathtubs

An Ohio man is in hot water for taking a hot bath in a Burger King bathtub. The video shows a man sitting in the sink, while other employees look on laughing. At one point the employee with the camera goes to ask the manager if she wants to come watch. The manager declines, but also fails to take any action. The video was then posted on Myspace. The fast food restaurant has fired all employees involved. They added that the sink was sanitized twice and all utensils were thrown out. Health officials are working with prosecutors to see if charges will be filed. However the health department has declined to issue any fines. If bathing in a kitchen sink isn’t worth a fine, what is?

The video contains some not safe for work language.

Burger King Employee Takes Bath In Sink – Watch more free videos

I feel naked without my thermometer — when cooking

Me and Misti Crane, of The Columbus Dispatch, had a chat about all things food safety yesterday, as 18 people in Ohio and another 20 in Michigan have been stricken with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7, linked to hamburger from Nebraska Beef.

As Bill Marler pointed out last night, Nebraska Beef tried to downplay the seriousness of its recall of over 265 tons of ground beef and components when it said in a press release,

"The Company has processed over 10 billion pounds of product without a confirmed customer illness."

Not sure what confirmed means, but …

What I tried to explain with Misti was that it’s not nearly enough to expect people to just handle things safety because food safety is so simple; that pathogen loads – the sheer numbers of dangerous microorganisms on product like hamburger – need to be reduced from farm-to-fork.

If you’ve ever tried making hamburgers from scratch, you’ll know why.

The opportunities for cross-contamination — a few of those E. coli O157:H7 moving from hamburger to hands or counters or utensils, and then somewhere else –are just overwhelming.

And if the burger does make it to the grill, it has to be cooked. As I said,

"I feel naked without a thermometer," and that brown meat is not necessarily cooked meat. "Color is just a terrible indicator. Over half of hamburger will turn brown before it’s actually done.”

That’s why a risk reduction approach, beginning on the farm and right through to the fork, is essential. Especially with E. coli O157:H7.

Casey Jacob, guest barfblogger: The south central Kansas omnivore’s dilemma

My husband and I just moved to south central Kansas after I graduated from Kansas State University’s food science program in May and we got married.  I’ve talked him into taking me to see Pixar’s Wall-E tonight, but we need some dinner first.

We thought we might try Acapulco Restaurant, a Mexican franchise in town. That is, until I read on FSnet that the restaurant had just been named as the source of a 19-person salmonella outbreak. My new hubby was suddenly not too keen on going.

I, however, reasoned that after gaining some bad press and losing a bit of business, the restaurant’s management would be preaching food safety harder than they ever had before. The chances of an outbreak due to kitchen hygiene issues likely decreased dramatically.

In August 2007, Donna Garren, vice-president of health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association trade group, said outbreaks were leading restaurant chains to “[spend] additional resources outside of the typical food safety domain.”

Donna also admits, however, “There are costs associated with not knowing your suppliers.” If ingredients aren’t sourced from safe suppliers, even that assumedly sparkling-clean kitchen is no guarantee I’ll be served safe food.

Her quote was included in an article that claimed it was statistically safer to eat at fast-food chain restaurants than to cook for yourself at home.

While the title of Biggest Source of Foodborne Illness – home, restaurant, elsewhere — is still hard to pin down, it can be safely said that both chain restaurants and the household kitchen are still in the running. So who knows where I’ll have dinner tonight… or if I’ll make it out without barfing. 

As one Acapulco Restaurant patron confessed, “You compare all the bad to the good, sometimes it’s worth the risks.”

Casey Jacob is the married version of former barfblogger Casey Wilkinson, and continues to work with her Kansas friends.