Blame it on the Paraguayans: Tyler says food poisoning brought on shower fall

Aerosmith frontman, American Idol judge and androgynous scarf-model Steven Tyler fell in his shower this morning in a Paraguay hotel, requiring treatment for injuries to his face, including loss of teeth.

Sources connected with Tyler told TMZ dude was suffering from dehydration caused by a bout of food poisoning.

TMZ spoke with the singer’s manager … who described Tyler’s injuries as "minor" and said Steven has already been released from the hospital.

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.


Food safety vs food security

My month-long break in Paraguay is coming to an end. It has been a hectic month – packed with family visits, celebrations, and of course, lots of [un-safe] food.

With concepts like “cross contamination”,  “meat temperature”, and “hand washing” floating around my head I’ve been able to look at things differently.  I concluded that we are decades behind the U.S. in terms of food safety. 

While Americans worry much about food safety, Paraguayans are more occupied with food security. Access to food is more important than stopping to think whether it’s safe or not. I even have a hard time explaining what food safety is. I am not surprised; I had no idea when I started working for Doug. Food safety topics are not in the news much and I have not heard people discussing about it.

To find out more, I’ve sat around the kitchen a lot. I tried a few times to explain to the cook why she should wash her hands every time she touches raw meat and goes on to something else. All I got back were looks of ‘you are just crazy’. Her food is still delicious.

I asked her how often her kids have diarrhea. She said, not often, maybe once or twice a month. I asked her if she’s worried about it, she answered she’s not, it’s a normal part of being a kid. 

Or maybe our stomachs are used to handling salmonella and E. coli better than others. It’s hard to know. When I moved to Kansas two years ago I survived on rice and toast for a week because I couldn’t stop barfing.

But sitting back and recalling some of my experiences on this side of the world, I am surprised I have not yet barfed once (not counting the New Years party, when I had too much champagne).

A couple of weeks ago I went to eat one of my favorite meals – steak sandwich – better known as lomito. The best place I know is just a few blocks away – a humble-looking lomito stand. I took a bite out of my lomito and realized the meat was still pink on the inside. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the mayonnaise tub by the grill.

I wondered how long the mayo (probably home-made, with raw egg) had been sitting out in the heat. I wondered where he kept the raw meat or how he knew if it was done or not. Should I ask? I resolved that some things are better left unknown. I finished munching and handed him the money. He grabbed the bills with bare hands, put them in a box, and continued flipping steaks. (Note: the pic to the right is actually another lomito I ate during a short visit to Brazil, but that’s pretty much how it looked like)

We do have nice restaurants where things like these don’t happen or at least we don’t see them happening. But in a broader picture, citizens and leaders of the country have plenty to figure out before they can tackle food safety concerns.

In the meantime, I will keep savoring the lomitos, chipa guazu, sopa paraguaya, asados, and such. For me, it is still awesome [un-safe] food.

Paraguay, cockroaches, and food safety

I arrived to Paraguay yesterday, escaping the freezing rain from Kansas right on time. It was close to 90 °F (around 30° C). A lot of my friends back in Kansas were jealous, but with 50% humidity, the heat is almost unbearable.

This weather is also perfect for disease-transmitting mosquitoes and cockroaches. I have almost substituted body lotion with bug spray. And just yesterday, a dandy cockroach was climbing the curtains beside my bed (picture to the right).

I cannot even imagine how many of these are roaming the restaurants that I normally go to. Actually, I’m not even sure if there is a governmental agency dedicated to food safety or anything of the sort. If there is, I probably wouldn’t trust it.

Paraguay is one of the poorest nations in South America, with poverty levels of up to 50 percent and rising. Our government is a fiasco; corruption is institutionalized. We have lots to worry about.

The culture of food safety that Doug is all over about is not often one of these worries. I didn’t know what that meant until I became a news puller. It will be interesting to ask around and see what people think.

I will introduce my dad to the meat thermometer the next time he cooks an asado – typical barbecue of the region pic bellow – and I will report my findings. So keep tuned.