Thanks to public health

After barfing for the sixth time, Sorenne has fallen back to sleep beside me on the couch, around 4 a.m.

For the second time this year, it appears like it’s classic foodborne illness, which means I’m wracked with guilt. I buy the food; I prepare the food; I make Sorenne’s lunch; I nag at the school about petting zoos and handwashing. And I got a PhD in this stuff.

So it’s probably my fault.

I still marvel that epidemiologists and public health types and are able to pinpoint the source of any foodborne illness, especially the obscure ones, and can apparently separate rigorous investigation from emotional tug strings.

Michéle Samarya-Timm, a registered environmental health specialist with the Somerset County Department of Health in New Jersey and one of those health types I’m thankful for, writes that Thanksgiving is more than eating. As noted in 1973 by Charlie Brown. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving.’

This is the time of year to reflect and appreciate life’s blessings.  For some families, this holiday is anything but traditional.  Nearly 4 weeks after Hurricane Sandy left a path of destruction in the northeast, there’s a lot to think about, but there’s also much to be thankful for.

Thousands of folks were hit hard by this Frankenstorm, and still have challenges ahead. Despite the stereotypes promoted by television, folks in New York and New Jersey are among the most resilient  around.  among other things, they turned to MREs as a solution to food supply and food safety problems. Warm, safe food in an empty stomach truly fosters a feeling of thanks.

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat – commonly known as the MRE or heater meal – is a self-contained, individual buffet of food. Shelf stable, the packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 27 °C (81 °F), nine months at 38 °C (100 °F), and short durations from −51 °C (−60 °F) to 49 °C (120 °F).  Unopened, they can be tossed around or dropped like a Bowl-Game football without damage — MREs are designed to withstand parachute drops from 1,250 ft, and non-parachute drops of 98 ft.

Spreading the warmth is made easy — MREs come packaged its own method of heating. The flameless heater uses a simple chemical reaction to provide sufficient energy to warm the food – 165ºF is the standard – in a nearly foolproof way (if you follow the easy directions, that is).

These culinary delights are a blessing when there is no power, no unspoiled fresh food, no [legally] open restaurants, and when the Doritos and canned beans have run out. Unlike the packaged rations of Grandpa’s day, these MREs have a reasonable menu selection – like roast beef, vegetable lasagna, and Ratatouille. And during natural disasters, anything that comes with a serving of chocolate is welcome.

Luckily, MREs are NOT on the menu here tomorrow. On a sheltering oversight call this morning,  the American Red Cross assured that a traditional Thanksgiving meal – turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing — will be provided on all their feeding routes  tomorrow.

Much gratitude to them and all the folks who stepped up to supply, feed, and serve the victims, responders, and public health professionals.  Everyone brought their A-game, and these folks continue to assure food is readily available and safe.

In the aftermath of disaster, and on a routine day, food safety is assured by many dedicated professionals, who truly deserve our thanks.

At the table this year, let’s echo Peppermint Patty — Are we going to have a prayer? It’s Thanksgiving, you know. 

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day; early morning Brisbane

I got up about 1:50 a.m., had a student presentation about 4 a.m.; did some baking in between and the result was the best whole wheat biscuits I’ve made to date.

Sorenne got up about 6 a.m. and liked the homemade strawberry stuff on the biscuits, and
then decided she wanted some of the 5-year-old vintage cheddar on top of the jam and biscuit.

Immediately after this picture was taken, she said cheese on jam was a bad idea.

Another Tuesday night dinner — seafood edition

I scored some clearance seafood yesterday at the shops – new shipments coming in. Dinner featured blue swimmer crab (they’re blue before they’re cooked) and bay bugs, with strawberries, honeydew melon, herbed potato wedges, and a salad of Romaine lettuce, spring snap peas and Lebanese cucumbers


Sunday morning muffins

I have a muffin problem.

As a kid the family would often drive the two hours to the grandparents for the weekend.

I barfed a lot.

This one time, I ate a muffin, and it came back up.


I didn’t try them again until my 30s, and never made them.

But today, Sorenne and I made muffins. Half whole wheat, half all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, honey, canola oil, blueberries, strawberries and cinnamon.

We’ll try these again.

Jeremy Lin throws up for Facebook, so does Sorenne

Three-year-old Sorenne is doing her best Jeremy Lin.

Started at 9:30 p.m. Brisbane time with explosive vomit involving volume and chunks of undigested and curdled stuff.

Then another.

She’s at about vomit number seven, lying beside me on the couch, sleeping for 15 minutes and then gasping before the next vomit. Little containers don’t work so well with little kids; I have a pail on the floor.

It’s classic foodborne illness, which means I’m wracked with guilt. I buy all the food; I prepare all the food; I make her lunch; I nag at the school about petting zoos and handwashing. Even the French professor chimed in with her diagnosis of norovirus.

That’s how food safety infects and inflects our lives.

Yesterday was the Easter celebration at school, so lots of chocolate was involved, but that’s not what’s involved here. Just a feeling of helplessness, self-doubt and concern. It happened with all my other kids growing up, it’ll probably happen again, but it sucks.

And then there’s the laundry.

Famed basketball star Jeremy Lin tried to run an online Facebook Q&A yesterday just hours after undergoing knee surgery.

Until he threw up.

As reported by Mashable, the numbers and demographics of the Facebook chat are pretty astounding. According to The Wall Street Journal, 90% of participants were Asian and 50% were evangelical Christian. The average age of the chatters was 15, with males and females equally represented. And the thousands of participants asked more than 8,000 questions — a rate of about two per second.

Lin answered a range of questions including his biggest pet peeves, the video games he plays, how he stays humble and plans for rehabilitation.

With the sheer volume of participants and the rate of participation, the session turned out to be a “tremendously disorienting experience,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

And it wasn’t just that way for the viewers. Lin, still reeling after his surgery, had to interrupt his own chat for some post-surgery puking — which he announced on Facebook as well:

“WOW just threw up in the middle of the Q&A lol. time to get some rest but before i go just wanna say much love to all you fans! thanks to you guys who make MSG the best arena and thanks to all the NY media/beat writers for all your hard work in getting information to the fans. goodnight!”

More than 43,000 people liked his vomiting update alone.

We’re not famous. Explosive diarrhea three just accompanied vomit eight.

California cantaloupe sales crumble in wake of listeria outbreak

Instead of picking the melons and supervising a work crew, Dora and David Elias of Mendota, California – the cantaloupe center of the world — were unemployed — laid off along with hundreds of others as the cantaloupe listeria outbreak traced to Colorado rippled across the nation.

Associated Press reports the pangs were particularly felt here in the top cantaloupe-producing state. Sales of California cantaloupes plummeted, even though their fruit was safe to eat. Farmers abandoned fields. Farmworkers lost jobs.

"We can’t sell the fruit," said Rodney Van Bebber, sales manager for Mendota-based Pappas Produce Company. "Retail stores are taking cantaloupes off the shelves, and growers are disking in their fruit because people are afraid to eat them."

Federal officials quickly isolated the contamination to Jensen Farms in the Colorado town of Holly, which recalled its cantaloupes in mid-September. The tainted cantaloupes should be out of stores now because their shelf life is about two weeks.

But farmers said the outbreak’s source mattered little. In recent weeks, Van Bebber fielded more than 300 phone calls from customers asking whether his cantaloupes were contaminated. This despite the fact that the company has put California stickers on every piece of fruit; that the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board sent letters to customers informing them that California’s crop is safe; and that supermarkets have put up signs explaining that California cantaloupes were not part of the recall.

Growers are making similar efforts in Arizona, the second-biggest cantaloupe-producing state, where the season has just begun.

Cindi Pearson of Santa Rosa Produce in Maricopa, Ariz., who started harvesting 3,000 acres of cantaloupes last week, is labeling fruit with Arizona-grown stickers. She has placed laminated

"I say we should just quit," Van Bebber said. "There is no reason for us to keep picking."

California-grown cantaloupes have never been linked to any foodborne illness outbreak, Patricio said. In fact, growers here funded research that helped refine their food safety practices. California and Arizona growers — who share a similar desert climate — have limited the use of water when growing cantaloupes by minimizing irrigation (it’s turned off several weeks before packing), field packing the fruit and no longer dunking cantaloupes in water to cool or sanitize the fruit.

School lunch food safety

School lunches are on the buffet of N.Y. Times stories and columnist Jane E. Brody comes in with some somewhat contradictory advice.

Brody correctly notes that chances are you worry more about whether your children will eat the food in their lunch boxes than about whether that food will be safe to eat after spending hours unrefrigerated.

(Sorenne is 2.5-years-old and I’m having daily debriefing sessions with various teachers to figure out what she likes and doesn’t like. Yesterday I was told by three different teachers that Sorenne was hungry and I needed to do better. Today, below, featured yoghurt and frozen berries, the usual morning snack, a lunch of whole-wheat rotini covered with a tomato, chicken and capsicum (red pepper) sauce left over from dinner along with whole wheat bread and butter, and afternoon snacks of orange slices and watermelon.)

Brody says that just as it is unwise to consume at any time foods made with raw egg, undercooked poultry or ground meat, or unpasteurized milk, these absolutely should be avoided in a packed lunch. Also, all raw fish, and shellfish that can be safely consumed raw, must always be kept cold.

No, I won’t be sending any raw shellfish to school with Sorenne.

How to be tired: older dads try parenting the second time around

This isn’t about food safety, although it has a pic of Sorenne and me cooking, when I constantly tell her about food safety.

In a father’s day homage, Sharon Jayson writes in today’s USA Today about a bunch of dads who married young by today’s standards, worked hard and built careers. Divorce may have followed, then remarriage to a younger partner who wanted kids (but did not violate the half-your-age-plus-7 rule).

Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University-Manhattan, spends much of his day with his daughter Sorenne, 2.

Because he teaches from home for his distance-learning courses, Powell, 48, has created a routine.

"When she sleeps, I go record lectures on my computer and put on a clean shirt."

Powell also says he’s a more relaxed parent with his young daughter than he was when his four older daughters were growing up. They range in age from 16 to 24.

"I do enjoy having a 2-year-old to take care of. I just like hanging out with her.”

Powell says he had a vasectomy in 1996, so he and his wife, Amy Hubbell, an associate professor of French at Kansas State, used a sperm donor for Sorenne.

Probably more information than you wanted to know.

Nice safefood Queensland apron I got in 2004.

Gratuitous food porn shot of the day: Mother’s Day scallops and asparagus

When I think Kansas, I think sea scallops. I also appreciate the technology of freezing.

So for moms, grandmothers, moms-to-be and everyone else who cares for children, here’s to you.

Sea scallops in a chicken stock reduction with asparagus, strawberries, blackberies, Camembert cheese, multigrain bread, bagels, smoked salmon, tomatoes, basil, shrimp, pistachios, bloody Caesar’s, champagne, and chocolate cheesecake.