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CDC: Food Poisonings on the Rise, Improved Prevention Needed

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a rise in food poisonings in 2012. The cause: Two strands of bacteria—one commonly found in livestock such as cows and chickens, the other in seafood such as oysters.

An estimated 48 million Americans—or about 15 percent of the population—experience some kind of food poisoning each year, with only a handful of that number requiring hospitalization.

Overall, there were 19,531 cases of infection confirmed by a laboratory in 2012, which resulted in 4,500 hospitalizations and 68 deaths. In 2011, there were 18,964 casesIn 2008, there were 18,624 cases.

The rise in confirmed incidences of food poisonings is pushing experts to continue to fight for stricter safety standards in the processing and handling of food.

In its annual FOODNet report, the CDC stated the increase “showed a lack of recent progress in reducing foodborne infections and highlight the need for improved prevention.”

Food poisoning causes an array of symptoms that affect the digestive system, such as nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Severe problems typically only occur in children, the elderly, or people with comprised immune systems.

Campylobacter and Vibrio on the Rise

The CDC reported a 14 percent increase of food poisoning caused by theCampylobacter bacteria and a 43 percent increase in Vibrio bacteria.

Campylobacter is a group of bacteria that typically causes diarrhea. It’s found in the intestines of livestock—most commonly chickens—and pets, although infected animals have no symptoms. The infection a problem when extended periods of diarrhea can cause dehydration and other complications. The CDC report statesCampylobacter was highest among children under five years old.

Vibrio vulnificus normally lives in seawater and is ingested through contaminated seafood, like oysters. It causes typical food poisoning symptoms in healthy people, but it can cause more severe complications in people with compromised immune systems. It’s typically rare, but like all forms of food poisoning, it’s under reported.

Compared to the first three years of FoodNet surveillance (1996-1998), the incidence of Vibrio infections has risen 116 percent. However, incidences of other foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella, was either unchanged or lowered.

However, the CDC estimates, that for every Campylobacter infection confirmed in the lab, another 30 cases aren’t diagnosed. For Vibrio, it’s as many as 142 unreported cases for each confirmed one.

More Room For Improvement

Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s foodborne disease division, said Thursday that despite industry and regulation changes that have addressed specific problems and new regulations should better improve the disease rates.

“This information helps us know how we’re doing in reducing foodborne illness and what germs or pathogens are most responsible for those illnesses,” he said in a teleconference with reporters. “Following the trends over time, which pathogens are increasing, infections decreasing or staying the same offers some insights to many partners on how to save lives and protect people.”

The CDC isn’t alone in saying the latest numbers show room for improvement in food safety practices.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest called the rise in Campylobacter andVibro “troubling,” not because of the number of cases, but because of the significant illness it causes. The watchdog group called for better controls in the food industry, including testing chicken flocks for the bacteria.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more authority to regulate food industries. One change included adhering to Campylobacter contamination standards of chickens in processing plants.

The latest foodborne outbreak involved a possible E. coli contamination of Rich Farm and Markey Day products. The company, Rich Products Corporation in Buffalo, N.Y., issued a recall earlier this month for all products produced at their processing plant in Waycross, Geo., with the best-buy dates ranging from Jan. 1, 2013, to Sept. 29, 2014.

Ensuring Your Food Is Safe

“It’s important to also note that consumers have a role to play following simple food safety guidelines for the foods they prepare for themselves and others, especially when they prepare them for people at higher risk for severe illness,” Tauxe said.

Food poisoning is best prevented through proper handling and storage. Some ways to keep your family safe include:

  • Properly washing hands, utensils and all produce (even if it’s bagged)
  • Avoiding cross-contamination with produce and uncooked meat
  • Cooking meat to the proper internal temperature
  • Freezing or refrigerating food below 34 degrees

For more information about what kinds of organisms can cause food poisoning, as well as their symptoms and treatments, see the CDC’s Foodborne Illness Fact Sheet.


Deal approved in Muslims’ suit against McDonald’s

Final deal approved in lawsuit filed by Mich. Muslims against McDonald’s over non-halal food.

By Jeff Karoub, Associated Press | Associated Press – Wed, Apr 17, 2013

<p> A McDonald's restaurant in Dearborn, Mich., involved in a suit over non-halal food is seen on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. A judge on Wednesday finalized a $700,000 settlement between McDonald’s Corp., the franchise owner of the Dearborn restaurant, and members of Michigan's Muslim community over claims the suburban Detroit restaurant falsely advertised its food as prepared according to Islamic law. (AP Photo/Jeff Karoub)

DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Wednesday finalized a $700,000 settlement between McDonald’s Corp. and members of Michigan’s Muslim community over claims a suburban Detroit restaurant falsely advertised its food as prepared according to Islamic law.

Ahmed Ahmed, the Dearborn Heights man who represents plaintiffs in the class-action suit, claims he bought a chicken sandwich in September 2011 at the restaurant but found it wasn’t halal. Islam forbids consumption of pork, and God’s name must be invoked before an animal providing meat for consumption is slaughtered.

The McDonald’s restaurant chain and one of its franchise owners agreed in January to the tentative settlement that would be shared by Ahmed, as well as a Muslim-run Detroit health clinic, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and lawyers.

The two sides met Wednesday for final approval before Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald, who has overseen the case and refereed objections by outside groups since a preliminary deal was announced in January. The settlement was originally set to be finalized March 1, but Macdonald extended the public comment period after pressure from Dearborn lawyer Majed Moughni, who criticized the class-action settlement on Facebook and was temporarily barred from communicating publicly about the case.

Ahmed’s portion of the settlement is considered an “incentive award” and represents his work on the case, his attorneys say.

“As a firm, we’ve borne the burden of litigating this case for over 19 months, and have paid a steep price in time and money to do so,” Kassem Dakhlallah, an attorney whose firm represents Ahmed and the class, told The Associated Press in an email. “We are happy that we are able to finalize this case and get the settlement funds paid to the Huda Clinic to be used for medical care for the community, and to the Arab American National Museum to be used to allow our young ones to continue their educations after high school.”

Macdonald said she was “proud to preside over” the long case and resolution reached by both sides.

The lawsuit technically covered anyone who bought the halal-advertised products between September 2005 and January from the restaurant and another McDonald’s in the city with a different owner. The other location wasn’t a defendant or a focus of the investigation.

Dakhlallah has said he was approached by Ahmed, and they conducted an investigation. A letter sent to McDonald’s and the restaurant franchisee, Finley’s Management, by Dakhlallah’s firm said Ahmed had “confirmed from a source familiar with the inventory” that the restaurant had sold non-halal food “on many occasions.”

In the settlement notice, Finley’s Management said it “has a carefully designed system for preparing and serving halal such that halal chicken products are labeled, stored, refrigerated, and cooked in halal-only areas.” The company added it trains its employees on preparing halal food and “requires strict adherence to the process.”

McDonald’s attorney Thomas McNeill said the investigations and negotiations proved that if a problem arose, “it was isolated and rare.”

Dakhlallah said giving money to the charities is the best outcome, since most people wouldn’t have kept their receipts, making “identifying class members who have valid claims nearly impossible.”

Moughni argues that Dakhlallah and his colleagues could have made greater attempts to find those who were harmed and, failing that, identified more relevant organizations, such as Dearborn’s public schools. He said the clinic is several miles away from the restaurant and the museum has nothing to do with halal food.

Macdonald disagreed, calling the charities “appropriate recipients,” but Moughni said he’s considering an appeal.

“We think it’s wrong,” he said. “It’s unfair for the class members.”

There are only two McDonald’s in the United States that sell halal products and both are in Dearborn, which has one of the nation’s largest Arab and Muslim communities. Overall, the Detroit area is home to about 150,000 Muslims of many ethnicities.


How Much Plastic Are You Eating?

Are you eating too much plastic?

by Cristina Goyanes for

You already know that microwaving your leftover chicken stir-fry in its plastic container is a major no-no, but that’s not the only way to end up with a mouthful of chemicals.

An alarming new report from the University of Texas Health Science Center and the U.S. government suggests that most popular supermarket foods-including dairy, meats, condiments, drinks, and pizza-may be contaminated with a variety of plastic chemicals called phthalates. These chemicals are commonly used as plasticizers (what makes plastics soft, rubbery, and less breakable) in items such as fragranced shampoos, detergents, cleaners, lotions, and shower curtains. But now researchers are saying that some small amounts of the stuff may be traceable in your favorite packaged foods too.

“When phthalates get added to plastics, they don’t fuse into a new atom, so they stay separated, which means they can leak out and get picked up through the air, skin, water; they’re everywhere and nearly everyone has been exposed to them,” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center who isn’t associated with the study.

Which is a scary thing since studies have been linked phthalates to breast cancer, birth defects, obesity, asthma, motor and behavioral problems in kids, and sexual dysfunction in men. “The good news is that the estimated levels of contamination through diet were much lower in this study-and considered ‘safe’ according to the Environmental Protection Agency-than in some previous similar studies,” Ochner says.

While it’s pretty impossible to avoid exposure to phthalates completely-even the “boy in the bubble” couldn’t hide from ’em (his bulbous plastic capsule made to protect him would surely be full of the stuff)-minimizing exposure is doable. Follow these four smart tips from Ochner to lower your phthalates levels and reduce your risk of developing health issues.

1. Eat less dairy and pork. These foods had the highest levels of contamination in the study. “It might be because of the plastic tubing used to milk cows or the plastic packaging containing the meat,” Ochner speculates, “but we don’t really know how phthalates are getting in there, and more studies are needed.”

2. Limit your use of plastic containers and wrap. Try to use glass to preserve leftovers, and most definitely never heat up food with plastic. “Lots of studies are going on right now that show that microwaving food in plastic is horrible for you,” Ochner says.

3. Order fresh fish and meats from the market or butcher. “Anything that hasn’t been wrapped or packaged in plastic is better for you,” Ochner says. “And beef, in general, proved to have the lowest concentrations of phthalates levels compared to the 72 different foods that were tested.”

4. Choose better plastic drinking bottles. “If the recycling code on the bottom of the bottle reads #3 or #7, put it back,” Ochner warns. “Those types of plastic are more likely to contain phthalates.”


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Healthy Food Tip- How to select your poultry and meat

What is the best way to select poultry and meat?
When selecting any type of meat we should try and meet two broad health goals. First, we should be trying to select meats that are high-quality and not contaminated with residues of hormones, antibiotics, and other health-compromising substances. Second, we should be choosing meats that are not high in total fat or saturated fat.
Luckily, when it comes to that first goal of high-quality meat, the national organics law does a good job of protecting us. The quality of animal foods can be more difficult to assure than the quality of plant foods since animals (compared to plants) eat relatively large amounts of food and live for relatively long periods of time before slaughter. For this reason, environmental contaminants can be more readily stored and concentrated in meat through a process called biomagnification. This makes the selection of high-quality meat products especially important.
Organically certified beef and chicken protect you in a fundamental way from many contaminants potentially found in these animal foods. Organic also guarantees animal husbandry that has not relied on routine use of growth hormones or antibiotics to keep the animals healthy. While organic does not always guarantee that the animals were grass-fed or range-fed, many organic producers also use these practices (indicated on their labels as “grass-fed” or “range-fed” or “free ranging”). Certified organic chicken and beef obtained from range-fed animals gives you the best chance to obtain extremely high quality products.
We’re still left with the question of fat content, however. Organically raised, grass-fed or range-fed animals can still be slaughtered and packaged into products that are high in total fat or saturated fat. In order to make sure that you’re selecting lower fat products, I strongly recommend that you consider the cut of meat involved. Cows use their hind legs as their primary source of locomotion, and for this reason, cuts of beef from the back legs are the lowest in fat and highest in muscle protein. Therefore, if you select cuts from the back leg bone (called the round bone) you will be getting cuts with the least amount of fat. My top recommendation here is eye of round, followed by top round, and then bottom round. These cuts of steak can also be handed back to the butcher in your supermarket for grinding into ground beef. They are almost always lower in fat than the ground beef sitting in the meat section, since that ground beef has seldom been cut from the round.
With poultry, the equivalent low-fat area is the breast. Therefore my recommended cuts for both turkey and chicken are the breast sections. Ordinarily, I would also recommend that you purchase skinned chicken or turkey breast since the skin contains a substantial amount of fat. However, in this case, I recommend that you purchase chicken and turkey breast with the skin still on. I’m making this recommendation in order for you to cook the breast with the skin on, which helps retain its moisture; the skin is removed once it has been cooked. Based on the research in this area, I am confident that you will not be consuming a problematically higher amount of fat by waiting to skin your poultry after cooking. But you will end up with a more spectacular meal!
Remember that these two health goals go hand-in-hand. Certified organic and grass-fed or range-fed chickens and cows will give you the high quality that you are looking for. Selecting certain cuts from each type of meat will give you amounts of total fat and saturated fat that can usually be integrated into a Healthiest Way of Eating.