First world problems: ‘People feel very strongly about their tomatoes’ Fruit flies are a factor in warm climates like Brisbane and Florida

Michael Pollan is an entertainer from a long line of American hucksters.

He’s not a professor, he’s a decent writer of food porn.

powell-tomato(Those with the least qualifications most actively seek the perceived credibility of a title.)

When his biggest soundbite is “I’d never eat a refrigerated tomato,” the absolutism shines through like any other spoiled demagogue.

Dan Charles of NPR fell into the gotta-be-cool trap without knowing shit, but eventually admitted it.

Charles says, There’s a laboratory at the University of University of Florida, in Gainesville, that has been at the forefront of research on tomato taste. Scientists there have been studying the chemical makeup of great-tasting tomatoes, as well as the not-so-great tasting ones at supermarkets.

“There’s a lot of things wrong with tomatoes right now,” says Denise Tieman, a research associate professor there. “We’re trying to fix them, or at least figure out what’s going wrong.”

These researchers studied this refrigeration question. They looked at what happened when a tomato goes into your kitchen fridge, or into the tomato industry’s refrigerated trucks and storage rooms.

Some components of a tomato’s flavor were unaffected, such as sugars and acids. But they found that after seven days of refrigeration, tomatoes had lower levels of certain chemicals that Tieman says are really important. These so-called aroma compounds easily vaporize. “That’s what gives the tomato its distinctive aroma and flavor,” she says.

The researchers also gave chilled and unchilled tomatoes to dozens of people to evaluate, in blind taste tests, “and they could definitely tell the difference,” says Tieman. The tomatoes that weren’t chilled got better ratings.

The scientists also figured out how chilling reduced flavor; cold temperatures actually turned off specific genes, and that, in turn cut down production of these flavor compounds.

Tieman speculates that someday scientists will figure out how to keep those genes turned on, even when chilled, so the tomato industry can have it both ways: They can refrigerate tomatoes to extend shelf life, without losing flavor.

tomatoThankfully, chilling didn’t seem to affect nutrition – the chilled tomatoes were just as nutritious as the non-refrigerated ones.

The new findings appear in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As significant as the results are, they probably won’t end the great tomato refrigeration debate.

“It’s not so clear cut,” says Daniel Gritzer, culinary director at, a food website. Two years ago, he did a series of blind taste tests with many different tomatoes, in New York and in California.

“Sometimes I found that the refrigerator is, in fact, your best bet,” says Gritzer.

That’s especially true for a tomato that’s already ripe and at peak flavor, he says. If you let that tomato sit on your counter, it’ll end up tasting worse.

Gritzer wrote a long blog post, detailing his results, and got a flood of reaction. “Some people wrote to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve always found, I’m so glad you wrote this,'” Gritzer says. “And then, a lot of people pushed back saying, ‘You’re insane, you don’t know what you’re talking about.'”

And when the hockey kids call me Doug, I say that’s Dr. Doug, I didn’t spend six years in evil hockey coaching land to be called Mister.

Piping hot becomes steaming hot; are you ready to cook safely? FSA thinks you’re dumb, fails to apply science to messages

Sometimes, it’s best to remain baffled.

Who can explain some things? Like why the UK Food Standards Agency insists it’s a science-based organization but publishes advice that panders.

In their annual food safety week blitz, FSA focuses on home cooks – industry likes it that way – without actually showing people cooking at home (like me
and Sorenne and a friend of hers, making pizza dough yesterday; Michael Pollan did not invent home cooking).

“Most people don’t believe the food they cook at home can make them ill, but the meals prepared at home can be a source of food poisoning. In a recent survey, we found that 80% of those questioned carry out one or more behaviors that put them at risk of food poisoning.

“We’ve created the Kitchen Check, a simple tool that helps you find out how safe your kitchen habits are and if they are putting you, or your family and friends, at risk of food poisoning. We have also created a fun young people’s activity pack so children can get involved too.”

Food safety is not simple; kids are smarter than bureaucrats reaching out to kids; and there was no evaluation of whether these messages work.

Not quite scientific.

And then there’s the kitchen check, a fun-filled survey, that only bureaucrats
dick.van.dyke.poppinscould actually believe is fun.

I make sure my food is properly cooked by:

“Following the cooking instructions on the label and making sure that the food is steaming hot all the way through

“Checking it with a temperature probe

“When cooking poultry I cut into the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and the juices run clear

“When cooking burgers I cut into the middle and check that they are steaming hot and cooked all the way through, with no pink meat or blood

“Checking that pork is steaming hot and cooked all the way through with no pink meat.”

Yet in a separate section on cooking hamburgers, thermometers aren’t mentioned.

Color is a lousy indicator.

And no comment on why or how contaminated food is showing up in the kitchen.

And some aren’t; some of my best friends are germs

Fresh off Michael Pollan’s New York Times magazine feature on microbiomes – the totality of microbes, their genomes and particular environments, such as the human digestive tract —  new research has shown mixed potential for diet in reducing the risk of E. coli O157:H7 infection, at least in mice.

Research on microbiomes has been around for awhile, but as humans, we’re limited in understanding how to strategically lever gut activity to reduce the human-microbiome-change_1risk of foodborne illness.

A cocktail of non-pathogenic bacteria naturally occurring in the digestive tract of healthy humans can protect against a potentially lethal E. coli infection in animal models according to research presented today at the 113th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. The research, conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, could have important implications for the prevention or even treatment of this disease.

Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O157:H7 is a food-borne pathogen that has been responsible for several recent outbreaks of potentially fatal disease. Severe manifestations of this disease include both hemorrhagic colitis (HC) and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a form of acute renal disease that can result in death or permanent disability.

“EHEC is of primary concern because HUS, the most severe outcome, preferentially targets young children,” says Kathryn Eaton, a researcher on the study. “Tragically, HUS occurs late in the course of disease, often after the child has recovered from the enteric form. Thus, children who appear to have recovered may relapse and even die.”

HUS is caused by absorption of Shigatoxins (Stx) that are produced by the bacteria in the intestine. Stx production occurs within a few days of bacterial colonization and once it is present in the intestines it can be absorbed into the bloodstream where it may cause systemic disease and even death. There is no specific treatment or preventative measure that prevents progression from HC to HUS.

The overall goal of research in Eaton’s laboratory is to identify potential therapies to prevent production or absorption of Stx before it can cause disease.

“In brief, the results of our study show that in a mouse model, non-pathogenic bacteria that are normal inhabitants of the human intestine can eliminate Stx from the intestinal contents and completely prevent HUS,” says Eaton.

In the study, the researchers gave EHEC to two groups of mice: one that had been been pre-colonized with a mix of bacterial species derived from normal human intestines and one that had not. In the pre-colonized mice, Stx levels microbiome 1remained undetectable and all mice remained completely healthy. In contrast, the control group had high levels of Stx and all developed kidney disease within one week of infection.

“The discovery that normal intestinal bacteria can prevent intestinal Stx accumulation and disease in an animal model may have important implications for prevention of HUS in people infected with EHEC,” says Eaton.

First, it could help explain why not everyone infected with EHEC develops HUS. Second, and most importantly says Eaton, it identifies specific, non-pathogenic, probiotic bacteria that could be used to prevent or treat Stx-mediated diseases

Zumbrun, et al, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, write in today’s PNAS that “dietary fiber content affects susceptibility to Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infection in mice. We showed that high fiber diet (HFD)-fed mice had elevated levels of butyrate, a beneficial gut metabolite that paradoxically enhances the cell-killing capacity of Stx. We also found that the amount of gut bacteria in HFD-fed mice increased whereas the percent of commensal Escherichia species (spp) decreased compared with animals fed a low fiber diet (LFD). These changes led to higher E. coli O157:H7 colonization levels, more weight loss, and greater rates of death in HFD-fed than in LFD-fed STEC-infected animals.


The likelihood that a single individual infected with the Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing, food-borne pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 will develop a life-threatening sequela called the hemolytic uremic syndrome is unpredictable. We reasoned that conditions that enhance Stx binding and uptake within the gut after E. coli O157:H7 infection should result in greater disease severity. Because the receptor for Stx, globotriaosylceramide, is up-regulated in the presence of butyrate in vitro, we asked whether a high fiber diet (HFD) that reportedly enhances butyrate production by normal gut flora can influence the outcome of an E. coli O157 infection in mice. To address that question, groups of BALB/c mice were fed high (10%) or low (2%) fiber diets and infected with E. coli O157:H7 strain 86-24 (Stx2+). Mice fed an HFD exhibited a 10- to 100-121022_r22702_p233fold increase in colonization, lost 15% more body weight, exhibited signs of morbidity, and had 25% greater mortality relative to the low fiber diet (LFD)-fed group. Additionally, sections of intestinal tissue from HFD-fed mice bound more Stx1 and expressed more globotriaosylceramide than did such sections from LFD-fed mice. Furthermore, the gut microbiota of HFD-fed mice compared with LFD-fed mice contained reduced levels of native Escherichia species, organisms that might protect the gut from colonization by incoming E. coli O157:H7. Taken together, these results suggest that susceptibility to infection and subsequent disease after ingestion of E. coli O157:H7 may depend, at least in part, on individual diet and/or the capacity of the commensal flora to produce butyrate.

Mr. (bathtub) Cheese sickens hundreds with salmonella in Utah

 Food hucksters sell nostalgia. See Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report for a fine example (video only works in the U.S.).

Biking home with Sorenne yesterday from school, a 20-something was walking a Brisbane sidewalk with pallets of strawberries and yelled out, “Want to buy some strawberries?”


He then sold a pallet to the owner of a shoe store.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that some 2,100 Utahns – people who live in Utah, I guess — have been sickened with salmonella from homemade queso fresco.

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department has tracked down one source of the outbreak — an unnamed man dubbed "Mr. Cheese" who was making the product with raw milk and selling it to a Salt Lake City restaurant/deli.

The health department has confirmed that 73 people were sickened with the illness that causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. But they estimate that hundreds more were ill and never reported it to the health department.

"They should not be purchasing food products in shopping center parking lots, [from people] distributing it out of their trunks or door to door," said Royal DeLegge, director of environmental health at the health department. "When you go into a retail setting, a deli or a store, you’re looking for labeling on the products."

The cheese probe took three years, involved a criminal investigator and extended to a fast-food franchise where Mr. Cheese’s wife worked.

People began to get sick in 2009 with Salmonella Newport, and the health department warned people not to buy the Mexican-style soft cheese from unapproved sources. Another 22 Newport cases popped up in 2010. The health department couldn’t find a common cause but heard of a woman selling cheese in a parking lot.

By June this year, another 32 people were sick with the strain. They commonly identified four restaurants and a market, where the local and state health department took samples of their queso fresco and samples from preparation areas. It found a positive DNA match from the cheese in the restaurant/deli.

That’s when the police got involved.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food had a name of a potential manufacturer of the cheese, who had a criminal past.

A criminal investigator for the county’s District Attorney’s Office put together a photo lineup for the restaurant owner, who identified his queso fresco source and called him "Mr. Cheese."

The health department later learned the man — whom they aren’t naming — made the cheese in his home using raw milk from a Midway dairy that is not authorized to sell raw milk. The man also is not licensed to manufacture cheese.
Food manufacturers are not allowed to produce products in their home because of the risk of contamination from sources such as pets and children.

Mr. Cheese’s wife may have contaminated her workplace with the queso fresco. Four customers and a food handler at four locations of a fast-food chain were sickened this year.

Kudos to Cargill for showing Oprah how meat is made

The bartender was riveted. So was the waitress. My requests for a beverage
on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Kansas City in 1998 would have to wait until
commercial. Such was the power of Oprah.

That’s Oprah Winfrey – actress cum talk show diva – who today did a segment on beef production as part of her go-vegan spiel.

The results were far more conciliatory than earlier meat outings on Oprah, and the credit goes to Cargill, who opened one of their Colorado processing plants to Oprah’s cameras and rather than resort to a corporate spokesthingy, featured a surprisingly effective Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, the plant’s general manager.

Things didn’t go so well for the meat folks in 1996.

On March 29, 1996, nine days after the U.K. officially linked bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, with a new human disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced they were expediting regulations prohibiting ruminant protein in ruminant feeds, boosting
surveillance and expanding research.

The same day, several producer groups, including the U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), issued a statement supporting the moves and instituted a voluntary ban on ruminant protein in ruminant feed. Draft legislation was published in January 1997 and enacted into law later that year.

Then came Oprah. On April 16, 1996, Oprah announced during a show on food safety and mad cow disease she would stop eating hamburgers because of fears over BSE and that she was shocked after a guest said meat and bone meal made from cattle was routinely fed to other cattle to boost their meat and milk production.

The camera showed members of the studio audience gasping in surprise as vegetarian activist Howard Lyman explained how cattle parts and downer cattle (downer is the generic term used to describe cattle who can simply no longer stand) were rendered and fed to other cattle, and that BSE could make AIDS look like a common cold. The chief scientist for the U.S. National Cattleman’s Beef Association, rather than stressing the risk management actions that had been taken, was left arguing that cows were not vegetarians because they drank milk.

Today’s broadcast was different. Foodie journalist Michael Pollan wants people to know where their food comes from; Cargill obliged.

“Lisa Ling travels to Colorado, where Cargill, the biggest producer of ground beef in the world, gives her a rare inside look at how our meat is made.

“Upon arrival, the cattle are held in pens for two hours to calm them before they’re sent to be slaughtered. Each cow is then shot in the head with a bolt, which renders it insensible to pain. The cow’s artery is then cut, and about two minutes later, it dies from blood loss. After the animal’s death, the body is immediately washed, the skin is removed, and within minutes, the workers also remove the hooves, the hide and the head. The carcass is then moved to a giant cooler, where it stays for up to two days. After it’s been inspected and graded, it’s packaged, loaded on trucks and soon ends up in our local restaurants and stores.

“Nicole says she was happy to have Lisa at the plant, because she thinks people should know where their food is coming from. ‘I would not ridicule people who believe that you shouldn’t eat animals, but I would say that we are committed to doing it right. And I believe that when animals are handled with dignity and harvested carefully, that’s the natural order of things,’ says Nicole.

Whether you eat meat or not, Nicole thinks everyone who’s interested in the American food system can work together to create better results. ‘I think we’re all on the same path trying to figure out the right way to get to good health for our families and environmental sustainability and humane treatment,’ she says. ‘We’ll find a better result together, even if we have perhaps different perspectives or different beliefs.’”

The slaughterhouse portion of the video is available at:=

Pollan gets $25,000 to speak with students?

I figure the Chinese–funded U.S. bailout has at least been good for Denis Leary, Howie Long, and the dude who does dirtiest jobs cause they all got gigs selling American cars.

What’s worse is that sustainably-minded Michael Pollan is stiffing students for $25,000 to come and share his menu planner.

As reported in Feedstuffs today, Pollan spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last week, some farmers and aggie types challenged Pollan’s, uh, views of agriculture, and that Pollan was paid  $25,000 to speak.

Pollan has a university gig like me, although I’m not sure how he got it. My cv or resume is on-line and anyone can see it. Today I got two requests to speak: one with the Missouri public health folks, one with some food safety conference in Chicago. In both cases, I said, cover my expenses, cause otherwise I’m taking money away from undergraduate and graduate students, money that I have to raise. But no fees.

Why anyone would waste $25,000 on Pollan is baffling.

Faith-based food safety

Michael Batz sent me a link to a story that took me on a magic carpet ride to the past (Batz also says he coined the term, ‘faith-based food safety’ but maybe he’s on his own magic carpet).

As an undergraduate university student some 25 years ago, I would read the N.Y. Times and Harper’s magazine, and marvel at the sentence structure and the issues that were exposed by hard-hitting journalists.

But over time, my own knowledge increased, and I realized that several of these exposes were really just literary clichés, citing a few sources here and there, usually to validate a pre-existing ideal.

The initial realization was sorta gross (and yes, Michael Pollan was an editor of Harper’s back then, developing the skill set of a committed demagogue rather than investigative journalist).

The same techniques are on full display at the Atlantic Food Channel in a piece by Josh Viertel entitled, Why small farms are safer.

The author offers absolutely no evidence why small farms are safer, but does drop that he studied philosophy, his educated customers may be dumb, rides barefoot in buses and that Subway subs smell of industrial food.

If wannabe farmer Josh wanted to convince anyone that small farms were safer, he would present outbreak data, and rather than saying what his farm isn’t – sorta like organics isn’t GE, isn’t synthetic pesticides, isn’t whatever – he’d state what his farm did to ensure food safety, specifically water quality and testing, soil amendments and employee sanitation.

The author even whines that in 2006, he had trouble moving his spinach crop “all because Cargill’s cows pooped in Dole’s lettuce. It didn’t seem right then. It doesn’t now.”

Except it was poop from a grass-fed cow-calf operation that contaminated the transitional organic spinach in 2006 that sickened over 200 and killed 5.

Data often interferes with demagogues.

Anyone can criticize Wal-Mart; can you provide microbiologically safe food? Food, Inc. version

I have a lot of respect for my friend Frank.

Anyone can be a poser and critic; Frank actually tries to make change.

Frank’s the head of food safety at Wal-Mart. He used to be head of food safety at Walt Disney in Orlando, and when I visited with Frank and his staff in Bentonville, Arkansas a couple of months ago, he was enthusiastically telling me about the challenges of providing safe food – that’s food that doesn’t make people barf – to millions of people on a daily basis.

“Disney was a challenge. This is a lot bigger.”

Frank’s even put his thoughts on paper, in a book called, Food Safety Culture, published last year.

Unlike Food, Inc., the movie version won’t be opening at theatres any time soon.

As far as I can tell, because I haven’t seen the movie and won’t until it comes on my cable movie channels, Food, Inc. is a little about food safety, and only because Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser figured out that if you mention food safety a bunch of times, it sells more books or movies (see the Colbert clip below). The rest is about all things perceived to be bad about food, like genetic engineering, animal welfare, and whatever else.

Frank has to provide safe food to millions of people every day … or he gets sued.

Some people, like Michael Pollan,  are journalism professors at Berkeley and can reiterate bullshit like grass-fed cattle have lower levels of E. coli O157:H7.

Dude, just cause it’s written a bunch of times on the Internet doesn’t make it true.

Some people are biology professors, like Dave Renter at Kansas State, who doesn’t make movies but does know that E. coli O157:H7 and friends are complicated, and show up in lots of places. Oh, and it was a grass-fed cow-calf operation that was responsible for the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in transitional organic spinach in 2006 that sickened 200 and killed four. There are many more outbreaks linked to biology rather than the politically convenient factory farming. Some people, like Frank, are actually responsible for delivering safe food.

Frank writes in his book, Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-based Food Safety Management System, that an organization’s food safety systems need to be an integral part of its culture.

Consumers at the local market, the stop-n-shop or the supermarket, can ask someone, how do I know this food won’t make me barf? While such talk may be socially frowned upon, it’s time to put aside the niceties and bureau-speak and talk directly about safe food.  Ask at Wal-Mart; ask at your local market. I know if Frank were there, he’d be able to answer.

Schlosser comers across as an idiot.

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