Pot-laced candy packaged like Halloween candy

“Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

Those words of wisdom from Lindsay Lohan as Cady in the movie Mean Girls ring true, like the warning from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which recently identified thousands of illicit edible products have been seized in the form of candies, cookies, cereal snacks, and bottled soda, all containing varying amounts of concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive substance found in the marijuana plant. ?

According to the Sheriff’s Department, these items, packaged to resemble licensed commercial candy and snacks, are being produced locally in clandestine labs and residential kitchens. The items are packaged to be attractive to children and teens. Some items have no label to warn the consumer of their content, and many that are labeled do not contain a reasonable indication of drug content, recommended dosage, or instructions for use. Because their makers intend to remain anonymous, no contact information is listed.?

Some of the processes used to extract and concentrate the THC for the manufacture of these items include the use of chemical solvents, such as liquid butane, to extract THC from the plant material. We are concerned that the methods used to extract the drug may also extract any pesticide or fertilizer residue as well, carrying those potentially toxic chemicals into the items. We are currently pursuing additional testing of these items to better determine this possibility.

?Sheriffs Narcotics Detectives found that the places in which these items were manufactured were highly unsanitary, bringing the potential of other health hazards to users as well. It is the intent of the Sheriffs Department to seek and prosecute similar crimes in the Los Angeles area.

Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer, said,

“There are too many unknowns regarding the preparation and the amount of marijuana contained in these products. They can be easily mistaken for common foods due to improper labeling and packaging, leading to cases of intoxication from accidental ingestion of ‘pot cookies’ and ‘pot brownies’ that were thought to be ordinary, drug-free snacks. During the coming holiday, we urge parents to carefully screen their children’s treats to ensure that they are properly packaged and labeled, and are from trusted sources.”

L.A. County wants food trucks to carry health letter grades

Why not? Wherever people eat, they should be able to get publicly-funded information about food safety; the smart operators will market their excellent food safety.

Los Angeles County public health officials are asking the Board of Supervisors to expand to food trucks the county’s popular letter grading system that evaluates safe food handling practices. The vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been pushed back a week.

If approved, 6,000 full-service catering trucks and 3,500 hot dog, churro and other limited food service carts would be covered by the ordinance. If the supervisors approve it, enforcement would first begin in unincorporated areas of the county.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health, said,

“Even before this trend, we felt people were asking us: We go to a restaurant, we like the grading system, but what about all these trucks that are coming? How do we know? We’ve been looking at this for some time.”

Public health officials said the current program does not meet annual inspection goals because they cannot locate food vehicles that move constantly. The new ordinance will require vendors to give information about their vehicle whereabouts and mandates that the trucks be inspected twice a year.

Erin Glenn, chief executive officer of Asociacion de Loncheros, an association of lunch trucks, said,

“As long as enforcement is fair, and the inspectors treat local food vendors with respect, just like they do with the brick-and-mortar establishments, hopefully the inspection standards are the same, I think the regulations are fine. I think it’s a step in the right direction to improve public health, and we’re all for it.”

Bad food safety reporting I. Would your home kitchen fail a food safety inspection? Mine would

There has been a proliferation of terrible food safety reporting, especially nonsensical stories targeting the home as the overall number 1 super-duper source of foodborne illness.

The most recent round started with a study published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control weekly report on Sept. 3, 2010, by the folks in Los Angeles who popularized letter grades for displaying the results of restaurant inspections. This time they used the same criteria to grade home kitchens, and concluded “at least one in seven home kitchens would flunk the kind of health inspection commonly administered to restaurants.”

So what? Based on the way the study was done, my kitchen would fail.

The problem with many of the results garnered from the L.A. study is that home kitchens where food is prepared for a few family members and friends are not restaurants where food is prepared daily for thousands of strangers: the risk is amplified, and so are the required precautions.

The results are based not on actual inspections, but  an Internet quiz taken by about 13,000 adults. So it’s the same self-reported nonsense, and only by people who surf the Intertubes, and could be bothered to take the quiz.

Direct video observation is a far more reliable indicator of human behavior in the kitchen, and yes, people make mistakes all the time, especially me.

But how those mistakes are defined can really mess up the results; food safety is not simple, so basing scores on answers to 45 questions could be erroneous and magnify the error rate.

I went through the survey and spotted some possibly problematic questions, depending on how the answers were scored and weighted (that information is apparently not available to mere mortals).

Q. I cook meat thoroughly until the juices are clear, not bloody.

I cook meat until it reaches the safe temperature endpoint as verified by a tip-sensitive digital thermometer. Color is a lousy indicator of meat food safety. Do I lose points?

Q. I defrost frozen foods by either storing them inside the refrigerator, under cold running water, using a microwave oven, or during the cooking process.

I would never defrost under cold running water because that is a microbial cross-contamination disaster and is not recommended by the federal government. Do I lose points?

Q. I check to make sure that there are no foreign objects such as glass, hair, etc., in my food.

I pay attention. I don’t specifically check for glass or hair using my special glass and hair goggles. Do I lose points?

Q. I thoroughly rinse my fruits and vegetables before cooking or eating them.

Depends. If it’s pre-washed bagged salad, I do not rewash because scientists have said the re-washing process is more likely to cross-contaminate the greens with whatever crap was previously in my sink. The paper is in Food Protection Trends and available here. Do I lose points?

Q. I always have soap and paper towels available for hand washing.

At home I use tea towels and go through a couple a day, ensuring they are routinely washed and cleaned. Do I lose points?

Q. I remove all jewelry from my hands and maintain my fingernails trimmed before I prepare foods.

No. I’m not a sandwich artist making subs for thousands. I’m preparing food for my family. Do I lose points?

The authors conclude, “Use of interactive, online learning tools such as the Food Safety Quiz can be used to promote home food safety in the community” but provide no evidence to support this claim, and state in the next sentence, “further research is needed to evaluate and improve the program content and to assess its effect on changing food handling and preparation practices in the home kitchen.”

The study was crap. Worse, blaming people is a lousy motivator for behavior change, if that was indeed the goal.

The Associated Press, and every other story about the study stated, “experts believe the bulk of food poisonings are unreported illnesses from food prepared at home.”

Experts believe foodborne illness has multiple causes from multiple sources. Casey Jacob and I tried to contribute to the public conversation about foodborne illness, where it happens and who’s to blame, with the appropriately titled paper, Where Does Foodborne Illness Happen—in the Home, at Foodservice, or Elsewhere—and Does It Matter? in the journal, Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. The paper has been published online ahead of print. We conclude, ??While some occurrences of foodborne illness result from unsafe practices during final preparation or serving at the site where food was consumed, others are consequences of receiving contaminated food from a supplier, or both. Data gathered on instances of contamination that lead to illness make greater contributions to the development of programs that reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, than data or assumptions that describe locations where contaminated food is consumed. The abstract is below:

Foodservice professionals, politicians, and the media are often cited making claims as to which locations most often expose consumers to foodborne pathogens. Many times, it is implied that most foodborne illnesses originate from food consumed where dishes are prepared to order, such as restaurants or in private homes. The manner in which the question is posed and answered frequently reveals a speculative bias that either favors homemade or foodservice meals as the most common source of foodborne pathogens. Many answers have little or no scientific grounding, while others use data compiled by passive surveillance systems. Current surveillance systems focus on the place where food is consumed rather than the point where food is contaminated. Rather than focusing on the location of consumption—and blaming consumers and others—analysis of the steps leading to foodborne illness should center on the causes of contamination in a complex farm-to-fork food safety system.

New web site, letter grades go into effect for New York City diners

The New York City health department unveiled a new Web site today to go along with the beginning of its A-B-C restaurant inspection disclosure system of more than 24,000 restaurants in the five boroughs.

Daniel Kass, a deputy commissioner, told The New York Times,

“There is no shortage of sources of information on restaurants, but there is no other central source to find information about restaurants’ hygiene practices. We hope that this Web site will help spread the food safety message.”

The Web site displays restaurants’ current A, B or C letter grades and the specifics of their violations, and is designed to allow searches by restaurants’ first names or even first letters, by letter grades in specific ZIP codes, by boroughs and by dates of inspection. It also offers maps of restaurants’ locations, and Google street views of the restaurants’ exteriors.

John La Duca, the department’s director of online editing said a widget on the home page will permit readers to type in restaurants’ names for their latest inspection results. This widget can be installed on other Web sites or home pages — for example, on the Zagat Survey’s online version, or on bloggers’ sites, or Facebook and other social media platforms — to permit quick access to the inspection ratings from places other than the department’s home page.

Inspection results on the site were formerly updated weekly, Mr. Kass said. “Now, in most cases, it will be updated daily, when it is uploaded overnight from the inspectors’ hand-helds,” he said, referring to the portable computers in which inspectors enter restaurants’ cleanliness scores.

Associated Press commemorated the beginning of the new letter grades by recycling old arguments – the same ones heard when Los Angeles started it’s a-B-C system in 1998 and Toronto started its red-yellow-green system in 2002.

Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the New York State Restaurant Association, which vehemently opposes the letter grades, said,

"Some will undoubtedly close if they get a B or a C."

Others say they accept the new system and will strive for an A.

David Chang, whose hotter-than-hot restaurants include Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ko, said,

"It is our goal always to get an A," said. "If we don’t get an A, we fail."

Chang said he has sent his sous chefs to city Health Department workshops to get up to speed on the new system.

That’s a much better approach. The best restaurants will not only embrace the letter grades and provide critiques to improve the system, they will brag and promote their A grades. It’s a form of marketing food safety, which helps enhance the overall culture of food safety.

Madelyn Alfano, who owns nine Maria’s Italian Kitchen restaurants, said Los Angeles restaurateurs still are not fond of the system, adding,

"If you don’t have hand towels in your restroom that’s points off. We don’t like it but we’ve learned to live with it."

That’s because paper towels should always be available. And what about a sticker on the dispenser that says,

“No towels? Please tell a server immediately. Yours in hand cleanliness, the owners.”

I just made that up.

Larry Michael, head of food protection for North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said letter grade systems also are in effect in North and South Carolina, and the system works well, adding,

"Consumers really pay attention to the rating cards. The A, B, C system is familiar and it’s easy to interpret."

For those still wondering, here’s a review paper discussing the pros and cons of disclosure systems.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Backyard gardens supplying fancy restaurants in L.A.

During a visit to a large, international city, I was hanging out with a public health type, who pointed out some row housing visible from the building we were in, and each one seemed to have a decent-sized garden. He said those gardens supply a lot of the produce to the high-end restaurants in the city. And they all use night soil.

Human poop.

I wonder what kind of controls those fancy restaurants in Los Angeles are employing as the availability of backyard entrepreneurs for meat and produce increases.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times,

Locking up his station wagon, the one with the scratched paint and unpaid bills covering the floor mats, Cam Slocum crossed the parking lot and stepped into the kitchen of the swanky French restaurant Mélissein Santa Monica.

A cook set down his knife and walked over to greet the stranger. Slocum held out a Ziploc bag filled with lettuce.

"Hi," said Slocum, 50, his deep voice straining to be heard. "I grow Italian mache in my backyard. It’s really good, only $8 a pound. Would you like to buy some?"

A few feet away, chef de cuisine Ken Takayama glanced curiously at the lanky stranger in jeans and a worn plaid shirt. He’s heard this sort of pitch before (Takayama didn’t buy any).

"Every day, every week, it’s something new," Takayama said. "You name it, they have it."

Since the economy took a dive three years ago, Takayama and others say they’ve seen more and more people showing up unannounced at restaurants, local markets and small retailers, looking to sell what they’ve foraged or grown in their backyards.

No one keeps track of the number of people selling their homegrown bounty, but scores of ads have cropped up on Craigslist across the country, hawking local produce, home-filtered honey and backyard eggs.

Laura Lawson, an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says the trend harkens back to the U.S. depression of 1893, when cities encouraged owners of empty lots to let unemployed people farm them and sell the excess produce.

She said that changed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when civic leaders, reluctant to create competition for struggling farmers, advocated gardening for food — not profit.

In Los Angeles, it’s unclear whether such entrepreneurship is legal: A 1946 zoning ordinance allowed "truck gardening" but didn’t define what that meant or identify what could be grown for sale in residential areas. Because of the ambiguity, the city has shut down some backyard enterprises, but not others.

An outcry by urban farming advocates last summer prompted Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti to introduce a motion dubbed the Food and Flowers Freedom Act, which would allow people to grow "berries, flowers, fruits, greens, herbs, ornamental plants, mushrooms, nuts, seedlings or vegetables for use on-site or sale or distribution off-site."

The city’s building and safety department has stopped enforcing the old ordinance for now. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance Friday.

No mention of microbial food safety.

An A for the ice cream shop on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Finally getting around to watching last week’s Curb Your Enthusiasm before delving into this week’s, and once again, the Los Angeles restaurant inspection disclosure program is the money shot of the show.

In addition to the A, the 31 Ice Cream has some sort of food safety seal I haven’t seen before.


The Hills and restaurant inspection disclosure

The Hills is probably the worst thing on TV. My 14-year-old daughter watched the Hills marathons while in Florida with us last August. Now we watch it on DVR, Katie’s totally hooked, and daughter Courtlynn doesn’t even watch it.

With a baby, there’s a lot of bad TV on in the background.

On tonight’s episode LC and Stephanie go into some restaurant and there’s an A in the window. So yeah for restaurant inspection disclosure.

And someone tried to speak French during the episode. Amy said it was horrible.

Salmonella outbreak at California preschool sickens dozens

At least 15 children have been hospitalized and nearly 30 children and adults as part of a Salmonella outbreak at several preschools in the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles.

The outbreak was traced to a North Hollywood kitchen that supplies food to the 29 preschools operated by the Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles, a faith-based nonprofit organization, said David Dassey of the L.A. Co. Public Health Department.

County public health officials inspected the kitchen, which voluntarily closed at the end of last week and reopened Tuesday. Letters were sent home to parents informing them of the situation and urging frequent hand-washing and other healthy practices.

All 29 facilities report at least one person coming down with salmonella-type symptoms, including fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Los Angeles drowning in road apples

Not just the title of the 1991 album by Canadian rockers, The Tragically Hip, road apples is slang for horse shit.

And Los Angeles has lots of it (and doesn’t even freeze to use as a makeshit hockey puck).

Bloomberg reports that zoning restrictions have resulted in the closure of all the traditional "manure mulcher" businesses in Los Angeles County, forcing stables to haul their horse poop to ordinary land fills, which charge up to US$47 a ton, or roughly five times what the mulchers used to charge.

L.A. County is home to about 45,000 horses and almost 10 million people. Horses generate an estimated US$900-million a year in revenue from things such as riding lessons, blacksmiths, feed sales.

But more about the Hip.

Released in 1991, the original title of the record was Saskadelphia, but the record label considered it "too Canadian." As a joke, they re-titled it Road Apples, slang for horse dung. After the album was released, they created the Another Roadside Attraction festival — another joke referring to "road apples."

The album is often cited by fans and critics as the band’s finest work. As with most Tragically Hip albums, Canadian themes appear in the album’s lyrics. "Three Pistols" is an English translation of the name of the Quebec town Trois-Pistoles, and refers to Tom Thomson, a Canadian painter, as well as Remembrance Day, the Canadian commemorative day for its war dead. "The Luxury" refers to the fleur-de-lis, provincial symbol of Quebec, while "Born in the Water" is about the controversy surrounding Ontario municipalities (particularly Sault Ste. Marie) declaring themselves "English-only" in the dying days of the Meech Lake Accord debate.

Three Pistols is used in the opening and closing credits of our safefoodcafe videos. Like this one: