White Castle frozen food division announces voluntary recall of a limited production of frozen sandwiches due to Listeria monocytogenes

Any excuse to write about White Castle means I get to recall the great movie, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

I had a hockey friend over for lunch one day, we ate steak and watched Harold and Kumar, and it was one of the best times ever.

White Castle has initiated a voluntary recall of a limited number of frozen 6 pack cheeseburgers, frozen 6 pack hamburgers, frozen 6 pack jalapeno cheeseburgers, and 16 pack hamburgers, 16 pack cheeseburgers for the possible presence of Listeria monocytogenes. 

The voluntary recall will impact product on shelves at select retailers with best by dates ranging from 04 Aug 2020 to 17 Aug 2020. Any product with these dates on shelves is presently being removed. Any product with a best by date before or after these best by dates is not included in the voluntary recall.

To date, public health officials have not reported any illness associated with these products.

“Our number one focus is the safety of our customers and our team members, and as a family owned business, we want to hold ourselves to the absolute highest standards of accountability in all aspects of our business – and especially food safety,” said White Castle Vice President, Jamie Richardson.

Uh huh.

Going public: Mexican-style restaurant chain A will look bad in salmonella outbreak; if consumers knew, they could better choose

When government health officials wrapped up a three-month investigation of a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that sickened 68 people in 10 states, the final report on Jan. 19 included nearly every detail — except the name of the place that sold the food.

JoNel Aleccia of msnbc.com writes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has refused to identify the source, other than as “Restaurant Chain A,” a Mexican-style fast-food chain.

“It will eventually come out and it will be the company that looks bad,” said Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University and author of a food safety blog. “A lot of these problems could be reduced if government agencies were more transparent about how they decide when to go public.”

Dr. Robert Tauxe, a top CDC official, defended the agency’s practice of withholding company identities, which he said aims to protect not only public health, but also the bottom line of businesses that could be hurt by bad publicity.

“The longstanding policy is we publicly identify a company only when people can use that information to take specific action to protect their health,” said Tauxe, the CDC’s deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “On the other hand, if there’s not an important public health reason to use the name publicly, CDC doesn’t use the name publicly.”

The trouble, say food safety advocates, is that it’s not clear when or why CDC officials decide to withhold the identity of firms involved in outbreaks and when they decide to go public.

"No one is happy, and that’s largely because there are no guidelines people can at least point to, whether they agree with the guidance or no," Powell said.

Tauxe acknowledged there’s no written policy or checklist that governs that decision, only decades of precedent.

“It’s a case-by-case thing and all the way back, as far as people can remember, there’s discussions of ‘hotel X’ or ‘cruise ship Y,” he said.

Epidemiology, like humans, is flawed. But it’s better than astrology. The more that public health folks can articulate when to go public and why, the more confidence in the system. Past risk communication research has demonstrated that if people have confidence in the decision-making process they will have more confidence in the decision. People may not agree about when to go public, but if the assumptions are laid on the table, and value judgments are acknowledged, then maybe the focus can be on fewer sick people.

I understand the flexibility public health types require to do their jobs effectively, but much of the public outrage surrounding various outbreaks – salmonella in tomatoes/jalapenos, 2008, listeria in Maple Leaf deli meats, 2008, the various leafy green recalls and outbreaks of 2010, and the delay in clamping down on Iowa eggs – can be traced to screw ups in going public.

It’s long been a tenet of risk communication that it is better to default to early public information rather than later. People can handle all kinds of information, especially when they are informed in an honest and forthright manner.

Runs from the border: Taco Bell is mystery Mexican-style restaurant chain ‘A’ 155 sick across US since April

"I’m about to have the worst case of taco sh**s."?

That prophetic line offered by Clarissa before engaging in a good-natured game of "Battlesh**s" with Christy in the movie, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, has been experienced by some of the 155 sick with salmonella who ate at a Taco Bell since April.

Earlier today, Phyllis Entis of eFoodAlert.com received independent confirmation that Mystery Mexican-style restaurant A was indeed Taco Bell.

In Dec. 2006, in the wake of the E. coli O157:H7 in spinach mess that killed four and sickened 200, Taco Bell became the butt of endless haranguing by David Letterman after the same bug in lettuce sickened over 100 people (“Their old slogan used to be ‘think outside the bun.. The new slogan is, ‘look outside for the ambulance.’” See the video clip, below).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said yesterday that no specific food item have been fingered but fresh produce was suspected.

The spinach outbreak of Sept. 2006 was supposed to be the tipping point (although I have argued the tipping point for fresh produce should have been the 1996 E. coli O157:H7 in Odwalla juice outbreak): for farmers dealing with collapsed markets; for retailers who say they were now going to get serious about questioning their suppliers; and, for consumers who now realize that fresh produce is a significant source of foodborne illness and are voting with their wallets and their forks how can they know if the fresh stuff is safe??

The way this information trickles out does nothing to instill confidence, just like the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recalls in Fresh Express lettuce earlier this year. It’s nice that Taco Bell fully co-operated with CDC and other health types, but they can do better: brag about food safety requirements and back it up by making test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more, even at Taco Bell. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — faith in the growers, distributors, processors, retailers and our own hands.?

Some in the farm-to-fork food safety system want more of the same: stronger checks of good agricultural practices on the farm (which have been available but not necessarily followed or enforced since 1998); more research on how dangerous bugs get on or in healthy produce; more vague press releases.?

The American economy is driven by competition and the produce sector should compete for the food dollar in grocery stores and restaurants across the country, using safety as a selling point. The farmers or company that uses the best science to keep poop off the plate matched with employee commitment through a strong food safety culture, will capture the imagination of a hungry public..

May the best food safety system win.? The diarrhea twins from Harold and Kumar will be first in line.

White Castle and food safety

Being Canadian, I’d never really heard of White Castle, the burger joint, until I saw the 2004 film, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Much more than a stoner comedy, the film was an incisive depiction of race in America. Chapman came over to my house in Guelph in 2005 one afternoon to move some furniture and we had steaks and watched the movie.

A Canadian visiting, “beautiful Northern Kentucky, famously (mis)marketed as the South Side of Cincinnati” writes in a recent blog about dining at  Covington’s White Castle:

“I’ll tell you what: never have my sense of both food AND physical safety been so violated before 11pm. I walk in, and for a few minutes, could only stare. Back in the kitchen (fully open), I see a woman lay out maybe a hundred of White Castle’s trademarked bite-size burgers, or ‘Slyders’, on the grill, and, while still completely red, put buns over top the raw meat to warm. Once the meat turns an unnatural shade of grey, she throws them together with some cheese and onion to form a ‘burger’. I’m tempted to walk away and head to the (in my opinion) much safer McDonald’s. …
“I sit, take a few pictures, and prepare to savour. Oh wait, while I’m taking pictures (and getting ‘who the hell is this retard tourist and why is out after dark in such a dodgy area’) stares, I’m distracted by a small child whose mother is letting her eat fries (not hers) off the floor. …

“Well, thinking back (it has been two weeks–but don’t worry, I did jot down some notes), I can still taste the fear. The fear that I was likely going to end up spending a good portion of the night over the toilet. No part of the burgers felt or tasted safe. The cooking process, over a bed of onions, under a bed of buns, is just very, very circumspect. And the whole place was pretty dirty. But I ate them, grey and mushy as they were."