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Buying Food Online: What Are the Risks?

Americans are all about convenience, especially as our lives get busier and busier with work and family responsibilities. We want things quicker and easier, and online shopping is one of those brilliant conveniences that has come to the rescue in our thriving, busy lives. But is it actually safe to grocery shop online? While much online shopping is perfectly safe and trustworthy, there is a nagging worry for a lot of people as to what quality and freshness their online-ordered food will be delivered. What are the risks? What are the results? Keep reading to find out!

Online Grocery Shopping Pros

Honestly, the convenience of this luxury is fairly incredible. You can order your food anytime, day or night, weekday or weekend. The delivery process tends to be very easy and you can choose your delivery window. Stores like to send their best-quality products, paying special attention to the freshness of ingredients, in order to minimize the complaints from online customers. You’re able to avoid crowded parking lots and grocery store aisles, and you don’t have to wait in line to check out. And you also get to browse for the best prices on your desired items at your own convenience!

But is this ease-of-shopping worth the delivery fee and risk factors?

Online Grocery Shopping Risks

Anytime you’re shopping online, there are a list of risks and concerns involved. Here are the top five that you should consider before ordering food online.

  1. Online Reviews Could be Faked!

While it’s good to see a reasonable supply of five-star ratings on a business’s page, many businesses have confessed to posting fake reviews in order to boost their rating. While some of these companies are offering refunds in exchange for a write up, when ordering from a new company online, be sure to look into more than just their star rating to determine their reliability. Be skeptical of stars without a detailed review. Check into their Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp reviews and look for real-people comments before diving in and purchasing a week’s worth of groceries.

  1. Lack of Full Disclosure on Prices and Fees

Watch out for “hidden fees,” or carefully hidden fineprint that’ll keep you from getting a discount or free shipping. It’s not unheard of for a seller to advertise free shipping, only for you to find out later that you must subscribe to their membership in order to get the free shipping, which often ends up being far more expensive of a bill than if you just paid for shipping to begin with!

  1. Counterfeit Goods or Contaminated Foods

No matter what you’re buying or where, there will be someone in that market trying to sell counterfeit goods. Even Amazon has difficulty keeping all of their merchandise clean of counterfeit. Just remember that if the price is too good to be true, then that’s most likely exactly what it is. Also, keep an eye out for recalled products. It is still common for online retailers to still sell foods that are recalled by the FDA. This is part of the reason the FDA is pursuing further authority to release the names of retailers of recalled products.

“Knowing where a recalled product was sold during the most dangerous food recalls can be the difference between a consumer going to the hospital or not,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “While we can’t prevent every illness, we can make sure we provide information to consumers to prevent more people from becoming sick from a recalled or hazardous food product…Identifying retail locations can be complex…It can involve obtaining information from multiple parts of the supply chain, including the recalling company and intermediate distributors. But we also know this information can be very important to consumers.”

Do your research and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Never be pressured into buying things and learn to trust your gut. Additionally, it isn’t unheard of for perishable goods to be delivered already perished. If such a thing happens, be sure not to eat it and report the issue at once.

  1. Your Order Might Never Arrive

That could be the fault of the online seller, or the mailing service. Even big and reputable companies like Walmart and Amazon can struggle with reliable delivery services. This risks cannot be 100% helped, but you can certainly choose your online sellers carefully in order to reduce the risk as much as possible. Only shop from reputable buyers and pay special attention to their delivery reputation.

  1. Identity or Credit Card Theft

Placing your identification or credit card information online is automatically putting you at risk of getting these things stolen. Be especially careful when offering your private information to unknown online retailers, and be sure to check your financial information on a regular basis in order to catch any unwanted activity as quickly as possible. Be sure you maintain careful records of your banking information and pay special attention to your credit report.

Conclusion

Buying food online can be a great convenience for some people, especially those with busy lifestyles, but it certainly presents a great deal of risk to the buyer. When purchasing food online, establishing seller credibility is key to ensuring the food the food delivered  is fresh and pure of contamination. Check reviews, do your research, and be careful what foods you buy. If you ever encounter suspicious activity after online shopping–be it unwanted credit card activity or signs of a food-related illness–report the issue immediately.

October 20, 2018
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Halloween Food Safety

That time of year is coming when the spooky and adorable costumed children come knocking on your door. We love Halloween and everything about it. We really get into the spirit of things, and while we do not hand out as much candy we we once did before we had children of our own, I still find myself becoming quite festive in dressing the boys and taking them out trick-or-treating. Halloween food safety is a big deal at our place.

We have to be food-aware this time of year for more reasons than just our waistlines from indulging in one too many sweet treats though. Obviously we don’t take candy from strangers, but the FDA goes a little further into food safety when it comes to Halloween.

To make sure treats are safe for children, follow these simple steps:

  • Snacking: Children shouldn’t snack on treats from their goody bags while they’re out trick-or-treating. Give them a light meal or snack before they head out – don’t send them out on an empty stomach. Urge them to wait until they get home and let you inspect their loot before they eat any of it.
  • Safe treats: Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pin holes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious. Each year it seems that more and more rumors hit the internet with candy issues including needles and other horrifying information. Be sure to check and double check your candy stash.
  • Food Allergies: If your child has a food allergy, check the label to ensure the allergen isn’t present. Do not allow the child to eat any home-baked goods he or she may have received.
  • Choking hazards: If you have very young children, be sure to remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.

Bobbing for apples is an all-time favorite Halloween game. Here are a couple of ways to say “boo” to bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

  • Reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Try this new spin on apple bobbing from FightBAC.org: Cut out lots of apples from red construction paper. On each apple, write activities for kids, such as “do 5 jumping jacks.” Place a paperclip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string. Let the children take turns “bobbing” with their magnet and doing the activity written on their apple. Give children a fresh apple for participating.

If your idea of Halloween fun is a party at home, don’t forget these tips:

  • Beware of spooky cider! Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties.
  • No matter how tempting, don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter that contain uncooked eggs.
  • “Scare” bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings.
  • Bacteria will creep up on you if you let foods sit out too long. Don’t leave perishable goodies out of the fridge for more than two hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).

Be sure to check to make sure that if you are applying makeup to your child (or even yourself) that you test a portion on your skin as allergies that can creep to other areas of your body. While not food safety related, the idea of having an allergic reaction to makeup when you are just trying to have some Halloween fun is definitely not on the menu for a good time. Many people choose to do their “test run” several days before the big event to ensure there are no issues.

Personally, we take our boys to the local assisted living facility which is also connected to a nursing home and rehabilitation center so that not only the residents can get a peep of the children in their adorable costumes but we also know that this is safer as far as accepting treats than going door to door. They also hand out a variety of snack bag sized portions instead of just mounds of candy. In our community there are also fun events at local fire departments and also the downtown businesses participate in a door to door style trick or treating that has children heading into the business spots instead of inside homes.

We have attended Halloween parties inside the homes of friends in the past, too. These bring forth a variety of food safety concerns especially when preparing foods for a crowd. When we host events in our home we make sure that the hot foods stay hot and the cold foods stay cold. We do not leave anything out and also use those warming trays for hot foods. They work great and are not very expensive when entertaining a bunch of people. We also prepare a lot of foods ourselves with ingredients that we get from local farmers who supply seasonal produce and the Halloween icon; the pumpkin!

Whether you find yourself heading out to trick or treat with your children, attending events or even hosting one inside your own home be sure to practice the above tips to ensure that everyone not only has a great time and makes many memories but also avoids sickness.

At the end of the night you want to remember what a great time that was had by everyone, and send your kiddos to bed so you can collect your parent tax– If you haven’t heard of that one be sure to look it up. I am one of the fortunate ones that has kids who aren’t really fond of candy and love to share.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 20, 2018
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Crops and Flood Waters – Is The Food Safe?

The southern states have been slammed lately with one hurricane or tropical storm after another. It seems like we take a breath and there will be another one coming or stirring around in the ocean and we are waiting to see where it is going to strike. Crops and flood waters can be a concern, with E. coli and other issues.  

Hurricane Florence was a dodged bullet for us in Virginia. We didn’t get so lucky with Hurricane Michael. These floods bring so many concerns from the safety of drinking water to mold growing on literally everything. We are also left wondering about the safety of crops that are grown locally and in the other states that have been hit so hard. And as the rumors pour in, people are concerned if their food is safe.

Being a farmer is tough work; a job that I say I would love to have but it often comes with heartache when a storm comes through and you lose often years of hard work. The recent storms brought loss that will cost millions to get back, but also there are some things that only time can repair and with some aging farmers time is something that there just isn’t enough of. Social media accounts have been filled with photos of damaged farm lands including apple orchards with literally acres of apples laying on the ground often beaten and bruised beyond anything we would bring into our homes to consume. The pecan crops were heavily damaged in Georgia as well and many farmers were unable to harvest crops prior to the storms coming through because they were securing their own homes for the impending weather event.

The FDA has given us some thoughts about the storms and crops that have been hit with flood damage, but let us not forget that not only flooding damaged crops but winds wreaked havoc on them as well.

What Should Farmers Do?

Safety of food crops when flood waters contacted the edible portions of the crops

If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated under section 402(a)(4) (21 U.S.C. 342(a)(4)) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating “clean” crops

Section A applies to ALL food crops, including:

  • Surface crops such as leafy greens, tomatoes, string beans, berries, and corn;
  • Underground crops, such as peanuts, potatoes, carrots, and garlic;
  • Crops with a hard outer skin or shell, such as watermelon and winter squash
  • Grains, nuts, corns, and similar products stored in bulk

For crops that were in or near flooded areas but where flood waters did NOT contact the edible portions of the crops, the growers should evaluate the safety of the crops for human consumption on a case-by-case basis for possible adulteration.  We encourage growers to work with state regulators and local FDA offices to assess their unique situations and to take into consideration all possible types and routes of contamination from flood waters in determining whether a particular crop is adulterated.

Factors to consider in terms of evaluation may include:

  • Assessment of flood waters
  • Flood waters may have been exposed to sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants..  In addition, there might have been localized catastrophes such as petroleum leak, chemical spills or other disasters due to flooding.   Therefore, knowledge of the sources of flood waters and any possible upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants will help evaluate the likelihood of crop contamination by flood waters..
  • Type of crop and stage of growth
  • The likelihood of contamination may be low if:
    • The edible portion of the crop has developed after the flood water receded, or
    • The lowest edible portion of the crop was above the floodwaters level with minimum risk of contamination due to splashing;
    • and
    • The crop can be harvested without cross-contamination from nearby environment, including flooded soil and flooded portion of the crop.

FDA recommends that, depending on the results of the assessment described above, the growers consider testing any one or more contaminants, as needed, to determine the suitability for human food use.  Sampling should be representative of the crop being evaluated and testing appropriate for the specific crop and flood situation. FDA recommends that growers discuss their testing plans with state and local FDA regulators and technical specialists for case-specific evaluations.

These situations do not just end with current crops though. The land can be damaged as well and before planting the soil must be tested, too especially if the flood waters have not receded or if the land is very wet. Again time comes into play because the crops may not have time to grow and mature in time for a harvest. This happens locally with corn here in Virginia. Often a second planting is unable to happen because there is just not enough time.

Ensuring that crop foods affected by floodwaters are safe to eat is just another farming stress and for that I have to say that today and every single day we thank our farmers. Farmers are told to use a 30 feet buffer zone between contaminated and non-contaminated crops to keep them separated. Farmers are also urged to check their wells if they were under water and to have the water tested by a local extension office to ensure that the water that is often used for crops is safe to consume.

Our thoughts remain with everyone who has been affected by the recent storm events in the United States and beyond. These storms often leave a lifetime of devastation and memories behind and they take a lot of time and effort to clean up afterwards, especially in farming communities. The loss of crops and even most recently animals put a financial burden on everyone.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 19, 2018
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Phthalates: The Harsh Chemicals in Restaurant Foods

There is a new study that proves burgers and other fast foods consumed at restaurants, fast food outlets, and cafeterias are often associated with higher levels of phthalates. This means that dining out at these fast food outlets, cafeterias, and restaurants can increase the total level of potentially health harming chemicals called phthalates in our bodies, according to the latest study.

What Are They?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are used in food packaging and processing materials that are known to disrupt and change hormones in the body. Studies have linked them to various health problems, including birth defects and others.

The study is one of the first completed to compare exposure of phthalates in people who preferred dining out to those who rather eat home cooked meals. People who reported to have more meals at a cafeteria, fast food restaurants, and other restaurants had much more phthalate levels than those who ate at home. The levels were approximately 35 percent higher than people who had food purchased from the grocery store, the study concluded.

The study has clearly suggested that food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates and other harmful chemicals that are linked to an increase in fertility problems, pregnancy complications, and other health issues, as reported by senior author Ami Zota, ScD, MS and assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

The findings of the study point out an important and previously unrecognised source of exposure to the phthalates for the US populations.

Experiment:

Lead author of the study, Julia Varshavsky who is PhD, MPH and did conducted the study while she was present at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, Zota and their colleagues extracted and used the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2005 and 2014. There were a total of 10,253 participants in the study that were asked question on what they ate and where the food they had came from in the last 24 hours. The researchers collaborated the answers and analyzed the links between what people ate and the levels of phthalate break down products that were found in each participant’s urine sample.

Findings:

The team found out that 61% of the participants reported that they dined out at a fast food outlet, cafeteria or a restaurant the previous day. Here is what the researchers found:

  • The association between exposure to phthalate and dining out was quite significant in all the age groups but the magnitude of association was found to be highest among the teenagers;
  • Adolescents who were frequent consumers of fast food and other food that was purchased outside the home had 55 percent higher phthalate level as compared to those who preferred to consumed home cooked food;
  • Certain kind of foods especially cheeseburgers and other variety of sandwiches were associated with an increase in the level of phthalates. These foods had more phthalates only when they were purchased at a cafeteria, restaurant or a fast food outlet.
  • The study revealed that sandwiches that are sold and consumed at fast food outlets, cafeteria or a restaurant are associated with 30% higher levels of phthalate in all age groups.

The toxic effect of these hormone disrupting chemicals can cause much more of a problem in pregnant women, children and teens. Therefore, it is important that we find ways to limit the exposure, adds Varshavsky who is a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California, San Francisco. Studies in the future should investigate how to effectively intervene to remove phthalates from the food chain.

A previous study done by Zota and colleagues found that people who are more fast food, burger, fries and other foods had 40 percent higher phthalate levels than people who ate such foods rarely. The new study looks much more broadly at dining out and not just at the fast food outlets to find out the link between outside food and amount of phthalates in the body. According to the author, the findings are quite disturbing as almost two thirds of the population in US eats some food outside the home everyday.

The study has additional authors like Rachel Morello Frosch at the University of California, Berkeley and Tracey Woodruff at the University of California, San Francisco.

Research team used an innovative way to assess the real world exposures to multiple phthalates called cumulative phthalate exposure. This way takes into account that some forms of phthalates are much more toxic than the others. The National Academies of Sciences has recommended using these cumulative assessments twice – first, it was in a 2008 report when the cumulative risk assessments was suggested to estimate human health risk caused by this class of chemicals and next in 2017, when there was a report pointing out that certain phthalates can lead to reproductive hazards to humans.

There are a lot of products that contain phthalates like gloves used in handling food, food processing equipments and take out home boxes among a lot other items that are used in day to day operations at restaurant, cafeteria and fast food meals. There are research work that suggests that these chemicals can leach from the containers or wrappings and processing equipments into your food. When verifies with additional research, the study findings suggest that people who are frequently dining out at the outlets are getting a side of phthalates with their delicious meals.

How to reduce exposure to phthalates?

Home cooked meals are one of the best ways to limit the exposure to phthalates and other harmful chemicals. Not only are home cooked meals good for your health, it also is a good way to reduce sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. The study also points out that home cooked meals might not have as many phthalates as a restaurant meal.

Phthalate contamination in the food supply represents a much larger public health problem that must be considered and addressed by policymakers. Previous research proves that policy actions such as bans can help in reducing human exposure to phthalates and other harmful chemicals.

By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 18, 2018
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MMWR & The Burden of Food Poisoning

United States has been taking continuous food safety measures, but the burden of food poisoning still has taken a toll on the government. So, CDC examined the trends of foodborne illnesses in 2017 and also detailed on the changes in its incidence since 2006 in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for March 23, 2018. In 2017, FoodNet reported a total of 24,484 infections, 5677 hospitalizations, and 122 deaths.

The Breakdown

When you compare the numbers with the 2014 – 2016 statistics, the incidence of infections for Campylobacter, Listeria, STEC E.Coli, Vibrio, Cyclospora, and Yersinia have increased. The increase, however, is also attributed to the fact that the testing was previously limited, and the rates of reporting of illnesses have grown. This is likely due to escalated use and sensitivity of the culture independent diagnostic tests. In 2017, infections related to Salmonella serotypes Typhimurium and Heidelberg decreased as compared to 2006-2008 and the incidence of serotypes Infantis, Thompson and Javiana increased. The decrease could be because of the new regulatory techniques that mandate testing of Salmonella in various poultry products. Cases of STEC E. coli O157 also have decreased in 2017, along with reductions of these isolations from beef when the numbers are compared to 2006-2008.

FoodNet – The Driving Force

FoodNet is a collaboration between CDC, USDA-FSIS, 10 state health departments, and the FDA. They conduct population-based surveillance for infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Vibrio, Shigella, STEC, Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, and Yersinia in 10 sites that have 15% of the US population (around 46 million people). Laboratory diagnosed bacterial infections is basically defined as isolation of the bacteria from a specimen with the help of culture or identifying using CIDT. CIDTs help in detecting nucleic acid sequences and bacterial antigens.

Incidence per 100,000 population is estimated by dividing the number of infections in 2017 by the surveillance area population in 2016. Since there have been so many changes in testing practices since 2006, incidence comparisons to 2006-2008 uses only culture confirmed bacterial infection but the incidence comparisons with 2014-2016 uses both culture confirmed and CIDT positive cases.

Infections Cases, Incidence and Trends

In 2017, incidence of infections per 100,000 population were as follows

  • Campylobacter – 19.2
  • Salmonella – 16.0
  • Shigella – 4.3
  • STEC – 4.2
  • Cryptosporidium – 3.7
  • Yersinia- 1
  • Vibrio – 0.7
  • Listeria – 0.3
  • Cyclospora – 0.3

Percentages of all those infections that were CIDT positive-only included those that had culture negative and were not tested for the culture includes Yersinia (51%), Campylobacter (36%), Shigella (31%), Vibrio (29%), Salmonella (9%) and Listeria (1%). The incidence of 2017 was significantly higher as compared to 2014-2016 with a 489% increase for Cyclospora, 166% increase in Yersinia, 54% increase in Vibrio, 28% increase in STEC, 26% increase in Listeria and a 10% increase in Campylobacter. There was an overall 96% increase in the bacterial infections diagnosed by CIDT in 2017 as compared to the numbers during 2014-2016. The percentage of positive cultures among the specimens on which reflex culture was done, the numbers were around 38% for Vibrio to 90% for Salmonella.

Incidence of Salmonella and its serotypes:

The 5 most common serotypes of Salmonella among the 6373 (89%) of the fully serotypes isolates were

  • Enteritidis – incidence of 2.6 per 100,000
  • Typhimurium – incidence of 1.4 per 100,000
  • Newport – incidence of 1.3 per 100,000
  • Javiana – incidence of 1.2 per 100,000
  • Monophasic variant of Typhimurium

Among the 13 of the most common serotypes, the incidence for Heidelberg in 2017 was 65% lower when compared to 2006-2008 and 38% lower when compared to 2014-2016. For Typhimurium, the numbers were notably lower with 42% and 14% respectively.

STEC E. coli Trends:

A total of 1473 STEC isolates were tested for the O157 antigen and out of them, a total of 413 (28%) cases were determined to be O157. Among the 766 non-O157 STEC isolates whose serogroup were determined, the most common were O26 with 29% cases, O103 with 26% of cases and O111 with 18% of cases. The incidence of the non-O157 STEC notably increased by 25% during 2017 as compared to that of 2014-2016 and the incidence of STEC O157 remains unchanged. However, when you compare the numbers for STEC O157 with 2006-2008, the numbers were significantly lower and there was a 35% decrease in the incidences.

HUS Trends:

FoodNet determined a total of 57 cases of HUS among children with an incidence rate of 0.51 per 100,000 during 2016 and 35 (61%) occurred among the children aged less than 5 years, so the incidence is 1.18 per 100,000. When you compare the incidence of 2016 with that during 2013-2015, then the numbers are not significantly different among all the children or those that are aged less than 5 years. The incidence, however, notably decreased by 36% in children aged less than 5 years during 2016 as compared to the time period 2006-2008.

Discussion:

There has been a rapid increase in the culture independent diagnostic testing. In the previous years, stool test only consisted of the methods that included finding Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter and STEC O157. These panel tests more than often included Yersinia, Vibrio, Cyclospora and non O157 STEC, which most likely were the reason for their increase in 2017.

CIDTs are not able to subtype the pathogens, detect outbreaks when the reflex culture is performed or find antimicrobial susceptibility. Because of these reasons, the Association of Public Health Laboratories has recommended that the clinical labs do culture CIDT positive specimens. CIDTs are able to come up with the results more quickly which has increased incidence of the infection. Infection that remain undetected with the culture methods might be found with better sensitivity and specificity of the DNA based CIDTs.

The report concludes by stating that most of the outbreaks and illnesses can be prevented. It states:

“Most foodborne illnesses can be prevented. New regulatory requirements aimed at reducing contamination of poultry meat might have contributed to decreases in incidence of infections caused by Salmonella serotypes Typhimurium and Heidelberg. Vaccination might also have contributed, but the extent of vaccination in poultry broiler flocks has not been reported. The declines in these and in STEC O157 infections provide supportive evidence that targeted control measures are effective. More control measures are needed and might be achieved with continued implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act,§§ new or revised meat and poultry performance standards, and enhanced training and guidance for industry and inspection personnel. In particular, measures targeting specific Salmonella serotypes, including vaccination of broiler poultry flocks, might result in a marked decrease in human illness, as has been seen in the United Kingdom.”

We can surely see a difference with continued implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, more control measures, revised poultry, seafood and meat performance standards etc.

By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 18, 2018
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The Risks of Honey

People like to eat sweet things. There’s no shame in that. We sweeten our tea, we sweeten our cakes, we sweeten our cereals and peanut butter sandwiches. With scary information constantly streaming out about the dangers that sugar presents to your waistline and the threat chemically-made sweeteners have on your body, honey has taken its appropriate place in the arena of sweetness. Honey is generally considered one of the healthier options, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely void of risk as a food item. See the following list of risks of honey before you commit yourself completely to this delicate sweetener.

What is Honey?

While practically everyone has tasted honey, or at least seen it on a shelf available for purchase, few actually understand what honey is made up of. While we correlate it with bees and flowers, many don’t actually understand that it’s a sweet fluid that honeybees create using the nectar from flowering plants. There are approximately 320 different variations of honey, off of which differ slightly in color, odor, and flavor.

Honey is made mostly of sugar, though it also contains a healthy mixture of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc, and antioxidants, making it beneficial for many different ailments and nutritional needs. Honey can and is often used as a natural sweetener, as well as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial agent. It is extremely useful when ingested orally to treat coughs and applied topically to treat burns and promote the healing of wounds. Honey can be used to reduce the risk of heart disease, relieve gastrointestinal tract infections, prevent memory disorders, and more.

What Harm can Honey Do?

First off, if you’re allergic to honey, then you’re fully aware of the dangers it could present to you specifically and (hopefully) know to avoid it. Generally, however, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1. However, honey can actually present it’s own forms of dangers, especially when consumed raw.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), for instance, reported that a number of people from varying regions in their Mainland died after consuming unprocessed, raw honey back in January. Honey and honey products, including raw honey, comb honey, wild honey, and more, are gaining a lot of popularity, especially in recent years. However, it’s important to note that even though these products carry their fair share of specific health benefits, they also come with some intense risks aside from high allergen risk.

As foragers, honeybees can cover several kilometers in their journey to bring nectar from wide variants of plants to their hives. The kinds of plants honeybees can forage from have the potential to be poisonous. If the density of flowering poisonous plants is high, or if the number of insects that feed on these poisonous plants is high, all during a certain period, then the honey the bees develop has a high chance of containing many natural toxins. Grayanotoxin that causes “mad honey poisoning” is one of the most common results of eating toxin-filled, unprocessed honey.

Depending on the type and level of toxin contained in the honey, the symptoms of honey poisoning vary. Nausea and vomiting, however, are common symptoms and tend to occur at different levels of severity. If the toxin level is high and the resulting poisoning severe, then low blood pressure, shock, and even death are all within the realm of possibility.

Infants Under 1 Should Never Be Fed Honey

Due to honey’s unpredictability in the form of allergens, toxins, and more, babies under the age of one should never be allowed to ingest honey of any kind. This includes straight honey, honey products, and things sweetened with honey. Infants’ immune systems are not strong enough to handle the results should they have an allergy to honey or should the honey contain any kind of toxin. Why? Because of botulism.

Botulism and honey is no joke. According to our friends at Poison.org,

“Botulism spores can be found in honey; when swallowed, the spores release a toxin. Infants’ systems are too immature to prevent this toxin from developing. In fact, most cases of botulism in the U.S. are in infants.

When botulism toxin is absorbed from the intestines, it affects the nervous system. The most common symptoms in infants are muscle weakness – the infant feels “floppy” and the eyelids can droop; constipation, sometimes for several days; poor sucking and feeding; and an unusual cry. Poor feeding can quickly lead to dehydration. Muscle weakness can lead to breathing difficulties.

No one knows exactly how long it takes for symptoms to develop, but it’s thought to be about 3 to about 30 days. Over a period of a few days, a child can become acutely ill. Treatment in an ICU, including a respirator and feeding through an IV or a tube may be needed. If botulism is thought to be the cause of the child’s illness, there is a treatment available, but it takes a day or so for this unusual drug to be delivered to hospitals. Children usually recover, even without this drug, but receiving it can shorten the length of time that a child spends in the hospital.

There are other sources of botulism spores, especially soil, so that honey is not the only way that infants can be exposed. However, NOT giving honey in any form to infants is an easy, safe way for parents to limit the risk.”

Conclusion

Honey is delicious and understandably growing in popularity. It has a lot of health and medical benefits and should certainly never be removed from consumers. However, it also presents its fair share of risks! Therefore, when purchasing honey, one must always be sure to do so from reliable sources or apiaries. Be aware that grayanotoxin-containing honey often causes a burning sensation in the throat and any and all honey that has a bitter or astringent taste should be immediately discarded. People traveling overseas should pay careful attention to their consumption of honey, as grayanotoxin poisoning is far more common outside America.

And parents should never feed honey to infants less than a year old.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 17, 2018
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It’s National Pasta Day!

Pasta holds a special place in the hearts and minds of diners around the world. The versatility, tastiness and ease of cooking makes pasta a firm family favorite. This healthy and nutritious dish can be brought to life with succulent flavors, allowing chefs to work their magic and show off their skills. Pasta has been recognized as a pillar of the Mediterranean Diet and won the prestigious award of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. This incredible recognition by the leading global cultural body truly highlights the importance of this beloved dish to food lovers around the world. Given this phenomenal love for pasta, it is only natural that we devote one day to truly basking in this glorious taste. The United States celebrates Pasta Day on October 17. This global recognition and establishment of world pasta day gives friends and families the opportunity to unite and show their love for the most delicious food known to mankind! All hail food holidays!

Pasta History

The history of pasta is long and undoubtedly illustrious. People have been eating pasta for 5000 years. The current epicenter for pasta consumption is Italy. A country famous for world class cuisine has adopted pasta and made it their own, for pasta and Italy are synonymous with each other. A land which has given the world so much in terms of delicious food can crown pasta as its greatest export. Italy has the undisputed honor of producing 25 percent of all the pasta that is eaten worldwide. However, it must be noted that the production of pasta is a global phenomenon. 48 countries produce over 1,000 tonnes of pasta with pasta production increasing by a staggering 57 percent from 1997 to 2016. 14.3 million tonnes of pasta are created to perfection each year and given to chefs to create masterpieces. Global pasta sales are up 2.3 percent each year and the statistics show us that the only way is up! Pasta offers consumers the luxury of being affordable, tasty and healthy all at the same time.

As statistics show, the allure of pasta is sweeping the globe. International Pasta Organization (IPO) President Paolo Barilla explains that; “World pasta day offers us the opportunity to share how pasta of Italian tradition is increasingly appreciated and valued in many countries around the world that have developed excellent local recipes. From the pleasure of a tasty meal and good nutrition, to the awareness that it is accessible and respectful of the planet, these are all features that make it a modern product.” The IPO has been promoting pasta since the first annual celebration in 1998. For 20 years, the IPO has been meeting yearly to promote the countless wonders of pasta to the world. In a fast paced world, pasta is a quick and healthy option to diners that are hard pressed for time and can help people achieve weight loss and weight management goals. The reasons to celebrate pasta are plentiful. Most importantly, pasta has been linked to lowering incidences of chronic diseases, heart disease and cancer.

Pasta! Pasta! Pasta!

The wonders of pasta knows no boundaries. As is to be expected for a world pasta day article, we are proud in our passion for pasta and want to offer readers nothing but a shameless plug. There are a truly mind boggling 600 shapes of pasta in the world. The creative ones amongst us are in a minefield of potential intuitive designs. Further, pasta is revered by experts as a ‘total’ food given that it is consumed in every continent and satisfies the human diet’s primary requirements. Pasta is typically made from durum wheat semolina or from the flour of other grains mixed with water and/or eggs. Pasta making is an artisanal art with restaurants carefully mastering their recipe to offer diners the best tastes possible. Diners are no doubt more familiar with the most famous types of pasta. These include fusilli, spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, penne, cannelloni, tagliatelle and farfalle. In the words of the late, great Anthony Bourdain; “those places I don’t understand, just doing bad food, it takes some doing. Making good pasta is so much easier than making bad stuff. It actually takes quite an effort to make poor linguine pomodoro”.

World pasta day activities must begin with making a tasty pasta dish. Given that there are a plethora of options available, aspiring chefs amongst us must be tactful in preparation. Popular sauces to compliment the type of pasta include marinara, brown butter, Ragu, vodka sauce, and Alfredo. Catering to a large group can be an arduous task given the amount of options available as everyone could have a different preference. The American classic macaroni and cheese is always an option for those devoid of imagination. Mastering the plenty of variables in play are crucial and require meticulous planning. Given that this a challenge, it is only right that the finished article is shared with esteemed friends, followers and colleagues on social media. The savvy ones can utilize flattering filters to show off their pasta, creating envy for those not lucky enough to come together for a pasta party. Key to any social media hit is a witty #hashtag. Hopefully, the lure of the picture will set off a chain reaction and those who are envious will visit their favorite restaurant. Leaving pasta preparation to the experts is a guaranteed winner!

Italians Don’t Die… They Pasta Way

For those that have made it this far and are still sceptical of pasta, we have one final paragraph to convert you. As a carbohydrate (thus prone to criticism), health warriors must be taught facts about the benefits of pasta. The glycemic index of pasta is lower than less complex carbohydrate foods and pasta is digested slowly to allow the sensation of being full for longer. Whole grain pasta is incredibly healthy and a study, published in Nutrition & Diabetes, links pasta intake with significantly lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and central obesity. Ultimately, pasta is cheap, affordable and healthy. Its health benefits, coupled with its ease of preparation, make pasta high in nutritional quality. These benefits have led pasta to become the 2016 Google Trend, and a healthy meal choice for top athletes.

By: Billy Rayfield, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 17, 2018
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What’s in Your Kitchen?  A Week in Recalls: Ham Products and Breaded Chicken Tenders

MakeFoodSafe.com would like to help you keep your family safe from unsafe foods.  Each week we bring together a list of the current recalls.  Some recalls are issued due to undeclared allergens, which could cause serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if someone sensitive to the product consumes it.  Other recalls are issued due to contamination with harmful material or other health risk.  Check back often and evaluate your fridge, pantry, and shopping list to make sure you can identify which foods to avoid, like this week’s ham recalls.

This week’s recalls include:

Sprout Creek Farm Recalls Margie Cheese Due to Deviation from Temperature

Sprout Creek Farm of Poughkeepsie, New York issued a recall for their Margie Cheese on September 28, 2018 due to deviation from temperature during pasteurization.  Insufficient pasteurization may lead to potential contamination of bacteria not properly killed.

The recall was initiated after it was discovered that the pasteurization process required for the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance at Grade A (above 150 ⁰F) was not met.  Affected product was made on August 28, 2018 and has a best by date of November 12, 2018 and was distributed to the following firms for distribution: Baldor Foods, Simons Catering, Walbridge Farm Market, Cold Spring Cheese Shop, Turning Stone Resort, Mohonk Mountain House, Hudson Valley Harvest, Nic L Inn.

No illness has been reported in connection with this recall.

Johnston County Hams Recalls Ham Due to Health Risk

Johnston County Hams of Smithfield, North Carolina issued a recall on October 3, 2018 for approximately 89,096 pounds of ready-to-eat ham products due to potential contamination with the health risk, Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.  Pregnant women are at risk for miscarriages and still birth.  Normally healthy individuals often experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

This recall was initiated after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) was notified of a patient ill with listeriosis that reported consuming a ham product from Johnston County Hams.  Epidemiological Investigation linked four confirmed illnesses, including one death to ham products produced at Johnston County Hams.  Samples from the facility indicated Listeria monocytogenes that is genetically closely related to patient samples.

The product can be identified as bearing the establishment number EST. M2646.  Affected product was produced from April 3, 2017 to October 2, 2018 and shipped to distributors in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia.  See table below for specific product information.

JBS Tolleson, Inc Recalls Non-Intact Beef Products Due to Health Risk

JBS Tolleson, Inc. of Tolleson, Arizona issued a recall on October 4, 2018 for approximately 6,937,195 pounds of various raw, non-intact beef products due to potential contamination with SalmonellaSalmonella is a serious illness that can range to mild flu and gastrointestinal symptoms to severe complication.  The very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system are more susceptible to complications.

The recall was initiated after USDA’s FSIS was notified of an investigation of Salmonella Newport illnesses where several patients indicated consuming several different beef products linked back to the JBS Tolleson, Inc production facility.

The product can be identified as bearing the establishment number EST. 267 and were shipped to retail locations and institutions nationwide.  See affected product list at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/6ae70f90-0f59-4006-a665-4d10d05156a0/RC-085-2018-Products-List.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

Working Cow Homemade Ice Cream, Inc Recalls Ice Cream Due to Health Risk

Working Cow Homemade Ice Cream, Inc of St. Petersburg, Florida on October 4, 2018 of their No Sugar Added Vanilla and No Sugar Added Chocolate ice cream manufactured in the three-gallon tubs during the month of May 2018 due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.  Pregnant women are at risk for miscarriages and still birth.  Normally healthy individuals often experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

This recall was initiated after a case of listeriosis was linked to an older sample obtained from environmental sampling in 2017.  No other illnesses have been reported and no additional positive results have been detected.  The investigation is ongoing.

Affected product was distributed to ice cream parlors, independent living facilities, and restaurants in Florida.

Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, LLC Recalls Ham Biscuits Due to Health Risk

Callie’s Charleston Biscuits issued a recall on October 4, 2018 for Ham Biscuits due to the potential health risk, Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.  Pregnant women are at risk for miscarriages and still birth.  Normally healthy individuals often experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The recall was initiated after being notified of a recall from their supplier, Johnston County Hams, Inc.  Recalled product was produced and shipped between April 3, 2017 and October 3, 2018 and distributed nationwide.  See table below for specific product information.

Callie’s Charleston Biscuits urges consumers to not consume the product and to throw it away or return to the place of purchase.

Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, LLC Recalls Ham Due to Health Risk

Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC of Richmond, Virginia issued a recall for 89,000 pounds of ham on October 4, 2018 due to potential contamination of the health risk, Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.  Pregnant women are at risk for miscarriages and still birth.  Normally healthy individuals often experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The recall was initiated in response to a recall from their supplier, Johnston County Hams.  Affected product includes only those with sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018.  No other sell-by dates or net weights are affected by the recall.  Additional products that came in contact with equipment used to process the Johnston County Hams recalled product are included in this recall out of abundance of caution.  See table below for specific product information.  Affected product were sold through the following retailers: Kroger in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky; Publix, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Catering by Ukrop’s, and Hudson News at RIC in Virginia only.

Ladyfingers Caterers Recalls Ham Rolls Due to Health Risk

Ladyfingers Caterers issued a voluntary recall on October 5, 2018 for their Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls due to potential contamination with the health risk, Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system.  Pregnant women are at risk for miscarriages and still birth.  Normally healthy individuals often experience short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The recall was initiated in response to a recall from their supplier, Johnston County Hams.  This recall affects products distributed between April 3, 2017 and October 3, 2018 and was distributed to retail stores in California, District of Columbia, Delaware, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia.  See table below for specific product information.

One illness has been reported in connection with this recall.

Canteen/Convenco Recalls Chicken Tender Products Due to Undeclared Allergen

Canteen/Convenco of Middletown, Pennsylvania issued a recall on October 5, 2018 for approximately 1,778 pounds of ready-to-eat breaded chicken tender products due to the undeclared allergen, milk.  Those with an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk risk serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume the product.

There have been no reports of illness in connection with this recall.  Consumers are urged to no consume the product.

This Week’s Affected Products

Manufacturer Label Size Date UPC/Lot
Johnston County Hams Johnston County Hams, Inc. Country Style Fully Cooked Boneless Deli Ham 7 to 8 lbs    
Johnston County Hams Ole Fashioned Sugar Cured The Old Dominion Brand Hams Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham 7 to 8 lbs Best By from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019  
Johnston County Hams Padow’s Hams & Deli, Inc. Fully Cooked Country Ham Boneless Glazed with Brown Sugar 7 to 8 lbs    
Johnston County Hams Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham Less Salt Distributed By: Valley County Hams LLC 7 to 8 lbs Sell By Dates from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019  
Johnston County Hams Goodnight Brothers Country Ham Boneless Fully Cooked 7 to 8 lbs    
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits Country Ham Biscuits     UPC 89786002001
Callie’s Charleston Biscuits Cocktail Ham Biscuits     UPC 897856002049
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Country Ham on Petite Biscuits 8CT 14 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Country Ham on Petite Party Rolls 20 CT 17.7 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Country Ham on White House Rolls 12 CT 23.3 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Country Ham on White House Rolls 2 CT 3.9 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Country Ham on White House Rolls 6 CT 11.6 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Angus Roast Beef & Cheddar Pinwheels 12.6 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Black Forest Ham & Provolone Sub 9.25 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Black Forest Ham & Provolone Pinwheels 7.8 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Combo Wrap Turkey & Bacon, Chicken Caesar, Buffalo Style Chicken, & Veg 4.8 LBS sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Cuban Style Sub 8.3 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Ham on Petite Party Rolls 20 CT 21.8 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Ham on White House Rolls 12 CT 26.9 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Honey Ham & Swiss on White House Rolls 2 CT 5.5 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Honey Ham & Turkey on White House Rolls 4 CT 11 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Honey Turkey & Cheddar on White House Rolls 2 CT 5.5 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Honey Turkey & Ham Pinwheel Tray 43 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Italian Style Sub 8.2 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Italian Style Pinwheels 8.1 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Meat & Cheese Tray 42.5 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Roasted Turkey & Colby Jack Sub 8.3 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Roasted Turkey & Colby Jack Pinwheels 9.75 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Roasted Turkey and Bacon Wrap 9.95 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Roasted Turkey and Bacon Wrap 4 CT Tray 5.03 LB sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Spicy Buffalo Style Chicken Wrap 9.6 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Turkey & Bacon Cobb Wrap 13.5 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Turkey and Swiss on Croissant 3 CT Tray 19.2 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Turkey Breast on White House Rolls 2 CT 4.5 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods LLC Turkey Breast on White House Rolls 12 CT 28 oz sell-by dates from 9/7/2018 through 10/7/2018  
Ladyfingers Catering Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls     UPC 8 56149 00509 9
Canteen/Convenco Fresh to You Breaded Chicken Tenders w/ BBQ Sauce 6 oz Fresh Thru dates 9-14-18 to 10-5-18 Case code 1077
Canteen/Convenco Fresh to You Breaded Chicken Tenders w/ Hot Sauce 6 oz Fresh Thru dates 9-6-18 to 10-7-18 Case code 6141

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 16, 2018
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Teal Pumpkins for Halloween, Kids Love Them

Witches, cats, and Halloween bats; all staples to this Fall Holiday. But, there’s a new breakout tradition. It’s the color Teal. I know what you’re thinking, “No, Orange and Black or nothing at all.” I get it, but hear me out. The color teal is meant to catch the eye of some very important people on All Hallows Eve. Visualize this: Teal Pumpkins. This Halloween trend is not meant to blend into the background of your trick or treat décor. It’s a beacon of fun for trick or treaters that have been neglected in the past.

A Teal painted pumpkin is meant to signal kids with food allergies. It hollers, “I’ve got options, so you can take part in the festivities too.” For that kid, it’s a chance to turn an issue into an opportunity. Let’s try to walk a mile in a trick-or-treaters shoes and see what Halloween might feel like to have food allergies.

So, you are approximately six-years-old. You’ve spent all September sifting through your Halloween costume options. There’s a lot of choices out there, and you only get one chance to be whoever we want. If you don’t get this right, you’ll have to wait another whole year! Do you want to have a cape and save the day? What about a crown? Maybe, you want to be our favorite animal? Or, it might just be fun to play the bad guy and chase your friends down the street. This time, you’re going to have the best costume, fill up that treat bag, and remember this night forever.

You’ve made your choice. Your family helped put each piece together and now you’re standing in the mirror, staring at the legend you’ve become, even if it’s just for tonight. It’s just the start of this party, because you still get to present yourself to your friends. You get to run amuck, ring doorbells, and earn treats from all your neighbors. All for saying one magical line, “Trick or Treat.”

 There’s nothing like Halloween. You’re invincible. You don’t just get to wear your costume, you get to be your costume, and you’ll be celebrated for it. Well, if you put in the leg work. You’ve got your pillowcase ready to be filled, and a heart singing with happiness.

Sounds great, right?

Now, let’s talk about the wrench in the gears. Let’s say you suffer from food allergies. Now what? Well, you do what everyone else does. You trick-or-treat, but for you there’s something else going on inside that working mind. For a child with food allergies, a treat dropped into your bag, is also something your parents will probably have to toss into the garbage. With each door opening, you’re hoping to see something that you can keep. I’m willing to bet, you most likely won’t.

The other kids are filling up their bags, but for you its not about quantity. It’s about hopes.

And, that’s why the Teal pumpkin project exists.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was created so children can celebrate Halloween just like everyone else, with excitement and unfiltered fun. So, if you want your door to be an option for all those thrilled munchkins, here’s what to do:

Display a teal pumpkin on your front stoop and provide non-food items for trick or treaters.

If you really want to delve in further, you can also participate in the Teal Pumpkin project adding your home to the online map. Here you can feature your pumpkin, regale your support stories, and enhance the spooky spirit of Halloween.

The Teal Pumpkins map helps those adventurous tykes create a route and follow it like a treasure map. I’m thinking of a few kids who’d love to play pirate and scour for prizes.

But, wait, there’s more pros to this whole extravaganza. A well-planned route increases a child’s safety. As a parent, you’ll be able to manage their fun, and guide them where you think is appropriate. There’s some food, err, toy, for thought.

It works too. The Teal Pumpkin project is growing. If you haven’t checked out the map, here’s a number for you: 18,000, and that was just in 2017. So, why are so many houses participating? It’s because one in 13 children have food allergies. Imagine all those allergy-ridden kids’ smiling faces when you drop a treat that they can keep.

The Teal pumpkin project doesn’t just stop at alternative treat options though. This campaign boasts various events, making more than one way to brighten a kid’s day. Host a fundraiser, donate, and spread the word to make each neighborhood safe for kids.

Now, back to the color Teal. Teal is the color of food allergy awareness, and it stands out against all the oranges and blacks of Halloween. That Jack-oh-Lantern with a Teal suit won’t easily be missed. In fact, the style is a new way to boast your artistry. Whether you keep your Teal pumpkin a classic all-over color or dazzle steady-hand skills, the kids know what it means, and they’re looking forward to it.

If you need a few ideas for your allergy-free treats, your imagination is the limit. Pinterest-artisans make handcrafted keepsakes, others look more towards quantity and low price. Here’s a few ideas to get you going that you can find for cheap:

  • Glow-sticks
  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Spider rings
  • Vampire Fangs
  • Stickers
  • Mini-action sets (remember those beloved Army men? I sure do).
  • Decorative hair clips
  • Be a kid… What would you want?

Generally, non-food items are a safer bet for allergy-sufferers; but, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) also suggests avoiding latex items, as well as crafts that contain wheat, such as some moldable clay.

By the way, this doesn’t mean you can’t pass out candy. Keep special non-food surprises in a separate bowl AND have a bevy of candies ready to go. FARE provides signs on their website that you can print to let kids know you provide options, or you can make your own to coincide with your carefully plotted haunted house aesthetics.

There’s a lot of kids out there who want to celebrate with the rest of us. A Teal Pumpkin on your lawn might just makes someone’s holiday better. While you’re thinking about it, Fare has a lot of goodies for adults too. Check out the Teal Pumpkin Project Home Essentials Kit, or the activities list to get your kid excited for the Teal Pumpkin onslaught.

Don’t get spooky with allergies, make foods safe.

Happy Haunting!

By: Heaven Bassett, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 15, 2018
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Listeria Caramel Apples: What We Have Learned

Halloween is getting closer, which means that it’s time for unfounded rumors on Facebook. That’s right: fall is barely here, it’s still basically summer, and yet someone on your newsfeed is already gearing up to share a story about Halloween candy that’s been poisoned. It’s a very old tradition to get worked up about a random poisoner harming your children through malfeasance, even though multiple examinations of police records and newspaper stories from the past 50+ years have found scant evidence that anyone has ever done this.

That doesn’t mean that Halloween treats are all safe, of course. Fans of caramel apples got an unexpected surprise in the fall of 2014: 35 people across 12 states fell ill with listeriosis that originated in the sweet seasonal treat. All but one were so sick that they had to be hospitalized. Eleven of the cases were pregnancy related (listeria can wreak havoc on a pregnant woman or a newborn), and the Centers for Disease Control recorded one fetal loss. Seven deaths were reported in all, of which at the time of this writing listeriosis was definite cause for at least three.

We know that caramel apples were behind the outbreak because of the due diligence of government investigators, who set to investigating victims in hopes of determining the source of the listeria bacteria. 90% of the victims they interviewed reported eating caramel apples before falling ill. And not just any kind of caramel apples: theirs were pre-packaged and commercially sold, albeit under the banner of several different caramel apple brands, indicating that they may have shared a point of origin at an apple supplier.

A break in the case came shortly after. Bidart Bros, an apple supplier in Bakersfield, California, submitted to a regular FDA inspection in December of 2014. Investigators took more than a hundred swabs of different surfaces and machinery while there. They took the swabs back to the lab to culture any microbes that had been picked up, and there made an unfortunate discovery: seven of the swabs that they’d taken had grown little petri-dish populations of listeria monocytogenes. Additionally, the investigators found relevant maintenance problems with the equipment used to package the apples; in various places, it was chipped, frayed, or otherwise weathered so that disinfection and cleaning of pathogens like listeria would prove difficult.

In light of this finding, Bidart Bros voluntarily recalled several lots of their Granny Smith and Gala apples. Subsequent genetic analysis of the listeria from Bidart Bros found that it was genetically indistinguishable from the outbreak strain that had laid more than thirty people low earlier in 2014. After Bidart Bros had put out their voluntary recall notice, three caramel apple producing operations that sourced from Bidart issued recalls of their product. Those recalls were followed by more findings from the FDA, who had supplemented their initial genetic analysis of the listeria with a more in-depth look through whole genome sequencing. That process confirmed their earlier findings; the listeria at the Bidart Bros facility was closely genetically related to the listeria taken from patients who had fallen ill during the outbreak.

In some ways, tracing the outbreak back to Bidart Bros raised as many questions as had been answered. Caramel apples aren’t normally thought of as likely carriers for listeria. Apples in general aren’t; they’re highly acidic, which isn’t the sort of environment that listeria usually thrives in. The bacteria is usually confined to the surface of the apple – without bruising or laceration to exploit, it can’t usually get past the skin of the apple to spread inside, and the skins are generally cleaned during the manufacturing process. The application of caramel poses another hurdle to listeria bacteria: before it’s applied to the apple, the caramel is heated to between 170 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures should be above the range at which listeria can survive.

A follow up study in the Journal of Food Protection puzzled through how apples can be contaminated with listeria despite these significant hurdles. They found that the trick is in the application of the stick with which caramel apples are held while being eaten. The stick usually goes in at the stem end, one of the places on the outside of the apple where pathogens have a natural hollow in which to breed or survive disinfection. When it goes in, the pressure applied to the stick shoves it against the flesh of the apple, expressing a bit of sugary apple juice from the fruit. That juice makes for a nutrient-rich environment in which pathogens like listeria can thrive. The sort of stick matters too: listeria did significantly better on sticks made of paper or wood than they did on plastic.

What about the caramel, though? That all depends. Although the caramel is hot enough at the point of contact to eliminate any bacteria that it comes into contact with, there are other variables in the equation: how the apple is shaped, how the caramel is applied, and where the bacteria are located on the apple all need to be considered. Survival of the bacteria hinges on the these factors and the micro-environment that it finds itself in while the caramel is being applied. In many cases, pockets of listeria were able to survive the application of caramel by virtue of where they were and the relatively quick cooling of caramel on their part of the apple. To quote the authors of the paper, “the data indicate that manufacturers should not consider hot caramel dip a lethality step sufficient to reduce or eliminate the risk of L. monocytogenes contamination on caramel apples.”

Hopefully, this incident inspires caramel apple manufacturers to be more careful about listeria. You can be careful, too: wash your apples thoroughly before eating them or coating them in caramel, and opt for plastic sticks if you’re more worried about food safety than the environment. Don’t trust the application of the caramel will be hot enough to cleanse the apple or stick.

Also remember that you’re more likely to get listeria from your more mundane interactions with fruit. Exercise particular caution with surfaces, utensils, and fruit that’s been cut into slices: listeria bacteria can travel from the rind, the counter, cutting board, or knife to the flesh of the fruit after it’s been cut. Finally, don’t forget that it’s more likely you find pathogens than razor blades or pins and needles in your holiday treats. Whatever you’ve heard on the local news or from your gossipy neighbor about tainted candy is more likely a prank, rumor, or hoax than a real threat.

By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)

October 12, 2018
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