Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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How to Have a Very, Very Happy Thanksgiving

I wish everyone a Happy Thankful Thanksgiving to enjoy the wonderful food we all know and have loved for decades. However, the holiday can be so much better  when we know the foods we are eating are as safe as possible. As a microbiology person, I can’t help but remind everyone to follow some simple rules for not only a Happy Holiday but also be aware of  food safety from purchase to leftovers. Providing a Thanksgiving dinner for family or friends can be hectic and it is easy to make mistakes, for  example, forgetting about cross-contamination of foods in the kitchen. And with more helpers and distractions in the kitchen,  the risks can become even  unintentionally more common. Nevertheless, if you practice common sense food safety rules from purchase to leftovers,  you will have a very, very Happy Holiday.

Bon appétit and enjoy.



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How to Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables


Recently, fresh produce has been involved in some outbreaks of foodborne illness since they are often eaten raw. Protect against this by thorough washing before eating and store them properly.



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Recalls and More Recalls


This has been the month of recalls, many for possible Listeria contamination which we seem to be seeing more and more of.

Listeria species can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures. Many types of food  items  can also contain Listeria bacteria and the latest appears to be deli cheeses.  People at high risk for listeriosis (elderly, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems, and infants) and those who prepare meals can take steps to lower risk. Healthy adults experience few symptoms and the illness does not appear to be transmissible from person  to person.

  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating.  Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them.
  • Heat hot dogs, deli meats and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
  • Do not drink raw milk (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican soft cheeses like queso fresco. Organic and non-organic products both can be contaminated.
  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any food.

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is caused by species of Listeria bacteria called monocytogenes and it is estimated that there are 2500 cases in the U.S. every year.  Twenty percent of these cases result in death. The incubation period can be prolonged, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. In  these cases, the illness can cause symptoms of fever, malaise, arthritis, and jaundice. It can occur as meningoencephalitis with headaches, stiff neck and coma. Or another form is septicemia, a blood disease with high numbers of infected white blood cells called monocytes, thus its name. There is a third form that infects the uterus with vague flu-like symptoms and if contracted during pregnancy  may result in miscarriage or mental damage to the newborn.

A notable outbreak of listeriosis occurred in late 1998 and early 1999. Close to 100 illnesses were reported in 22 states that were all linked to hot dogs and deli meats. Fourteen adults died during this outbreak, and six pregnancies resulted in miscarriages.


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Can Sprouts Cause Food Poisoning?

alfalfa-sproutsSprouted foods have become a food trend for 2017. However, beware of raw sprouted foods. Eating raw or slightly cooked sprouts can be a food safety issue.  In my opinion, they are best avoided.  From my experience in the microbiology lab, we found E.coli contamination in purchased alfalfa sprouts from a local supermarket. Please read the facts HERE.

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The Complications of A Stomach Bug

danger zone

Food-borne illness may sometimes can result in lifelong complications.  Some people think they cause a few days of misery and then it’s over. Fortunately, for most people, that can be true. However, for others, the effects can be devastating. Therefore, it provides all  the more reason to be aware of the risks and practice food safety practices at home. See a previous post HERE.