January 2017

111003082458-raw-sprouts-large-169Sprouts present a human health risk because the conditions under which the sends are produced and where they are typically produced are also ideal for the growth of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.  The CDC and FDA reports that between 1996 and July 2016 there were 46 reported outbreaks associated with sprouts in the United States, accounting for 2474 illnesses, 187 hospitalizations, and three deaths.  My friends at Barfblog have an ever expanding list that covers a few more years and a great swath of the world.

This week the FDA released a draft guidance to help sprout operations meet the new standards set forth under the Produce Safety Rule designed to help keep sprouts freer of contamination and safer for consumers to eat.

In general, the Produce Safety Rule sets science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables on farms (for produce for human consumption).  The Produce Safety Rule requires, in relevant part, that covered sprout operations take measures to prevent the introduction of dangerous microbes into seeds or beans used for sprouting, test spent sprout irrigation water (or, in some cases, in-process sprouts) for the presence of certain pathogens, test the growing, harvesting, packing and holding environment for the presence of the Listeria species or Listeria monocytogenes, and take corrective actions when needed.

The largest covered sprout operations must come into compliance with all applicable provisions of the Produce Safety Rule by January 26, 2017. Covered sprout operations that are small and very small businesses have compliance dates of January 26, 2018 and January 28, 2019, respectively.

Me, I will just skip them.


Bill Marler is the most prominent food-safety lawyer in the US. He has represented victims in nearly every food-borne illness outbreak in the US in the last 20 years, including the recent ones at Costco and Chipotle. He knows just how scary these illnesses are. Shockingly, every year, foodborne bugs sicken 48 million Americans—sending 128,000 to the hospital and 3,000 to an early grave.

So we asked him if there are any foods that he never eats. He named six.

Then we asked him if there’s a food that people avoid that is safe to eat. He named one that really surprised us.

RawMilk1. Unpasteurized (“raw”) milk and packaged juices. Unpasteurized milk, sometimes called “raw” milk, can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites. Between 1998 and 2011, there were 148 food poisoning outbreaks linked to raw milk and raw milk products in the US—and keep in mind that comparatively few people in the country ever consume these products, so 148 outbreaks is nothing to ignore. As for unpasteurized packaged juices, one of Marler’s earliest cases was the 1996 E. coli outbreak from unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice. As a result, he won’t go near raw milk or juice. There’s no benefit big enough to take away the risk of drinking products that can be made safe by pasteurization,” he says.

RawSprouts2. Raw sprouts. Uncooked and lightly cooked sprouts have been linked to more than 30 bacterial outbreaks (mostly of salmonellaand E. coli) in the US since mid-1990s. As recently as 2014, salmonella from bean sprouts sent 19 people to the hospital. All types of sprouts—including alfalfa, mung bean, clover and radish sprouts—can spread infection, which is caused by bacterial contamination of their seeds. “There have been too many outbreaks to not pay attention to the risk of sprout contamination,” Marler says. “Those are products that I just don’t eat at all.” He did add that he does eat them if they’re cooked.

RareMeat3. Meat that isn’t well-done. Marler orders his burgers well-done. “The reason ground products are more problematic and need to be cooked more thoroughly is that any bacteria that’s on the surface of the meat can be ground inside of it,” Marler says. “If it’s not cooked thoroughly to 160°F throughout, it can cause poisoning by E. coli and salmonella and other bacterial illnesses.” As for steaks, needle tenderizing—a common restaurant practice in which the steak is pierced with needles or sliced with knives to break down the muscle fibers and make it more tender—can also transfer bugs from the surface to the interior of the meat. If a restaurant does this (Marler asks), he orders his steak well-done. If the restaurant doesn’t, he’ll opt for medium-well.

BaggedLettuce_34. Prewashed or precut fruits and vegetables. “I avoid these like the plague,” Marler says. Why? The more a food is handled and processed, the more likely it is to become tainted. “We’ve gotten so used to the convenience of mass-produced food—bagged salad and boxed salads and precut this and precut that,” Marler says. “Convenience is great but sometimes I think it isn’t worth the risk.” He buys unwashed, uncut produce in small amounts and eats it within three to four days to reduce the risk for listeria, a deadly bug that grows at refrigerator temps.

UndercookedEgg5. Raw or undercooked eggs. You may remember the salmonella epidemic of the 1980s and early ’90s that was linked mainly to eggs. If you swore off raw eggs back then, you might as well stick with it. The most recent salmonella outbreak from eggs, in 2010, caused roughly 2,000 reported cases of illness. “I think the risk of egg contamination is much lower today than it was 20 years ago for salmonella, but I still eat my eggs well-cooked,” Marler says.

RawOysters6. Raw oysters and other raw shellfish. Marler says that raw shellfish—especially oysters—have been causing more foodborne illness lately. He links this to warming waters, which produce more microbial growth. “Oysters are filter feeders, so they pick up everything that’s in the water,” he explains. “If there’s bacteria in the water it’ll get
into their system, and if you eat it you could have trouble. I’ve seen a lot more of that over the last five years than I saw in the last 20 years. It’s simply not worth the risk.”

KIRO News reports:

Starting Tuesday, King County diners will know much more about the safety of restaurant food.

Public Health Seattle and King County is rolling out the first phase of the food safety ratings program in North Seattle, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park.

Restaurants there will have signs in their windows that clearly indicate how that restaurant has scored in food safety inspections.

A restaurant’s rating is based on three main components: trend of food safety practices over time, scale of performance and rating on a curve, according to the health department.

The signs must be displayed near the front entry and will feature emoji facial expressions.

Happy face indicates excellent inspection results. A sad face means the restaurant needs improvement.

A Seattle lawyer who has represented hundreds of food borne illness victims believes the signs are good for consumers.

“The more information the public has, the better. I think it’s a good thing and I’m glad Seattle, King County did it,” said attorney Bill Marler.

Later Tuesday, Public Health of Seattle and King County will unveil the winning sign of six that consumers have been voting on for months.

King County is the first urban county in the US to base its food safety ratings on four inspections instead of just one.

The four food safety ratings are:

  • Needs to Improve: The restaurant was either closed by Public Health – Seattle & King County within the last year or the restaurant needed multiple return inspections to fix food safety practices.
  • Okay: The restaurant has had MANY red critical violations over the last four inspections.
  • Good: The restaurant has had SOME red critical violations over the last four inspections.
  • Excellent: The restaurant has had No or Few red critical violations over the last four inspections.


Yet another risk of eating sashimi and sushi.

A tapeworm once thought to infect only fish in Asia has been found in salmon in Alaska.  A study was recently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.  In 2013 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game examined 64 wild Alaskan salmon.  The researchers discovered the Japanese broad tapeworm larvae measuring up to 15 millimeters long. Based on the findings, four species of Pacific salmon are now known to be carriers of the Japanese tapeworm infection – chum salmon, pink salmon, masu salmon, and sockeye salmon.


The Japanese broad tapeworm, Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, was first recognized as a human parasite in 1986. It has been reported in 2,000 illnesses in Japan and other parts of Asia and is known to affect humans who eat infected fish in eastern Russia and Japan.

TwinkieRecall_EmbeddedHostess Brands, L.L.C. on Jan. 9 issued a voluntary recall for its Holiday White Peppermint Hostess Twinkies, which are sold in multipack boxes. The action was taken “out of an abundance of caution” following a recall by Blommer Chocolate Co. of the confectionery coating used on the Twinkies product.

According to Hostess, the confectionery coating on the Holiday White Peppermint Hostess Twinkies contains milk powder ingredients recalled by Valley Milk Products, L.L.C. due to a concern of Salmonella contamination. No illnesses have been reported to date, and none of the confectionery coating sampled has tested positive for Salmonella, Hostess said.

In December, Valley Milk Products initiated a recall of 50-lb bags of nonfat milk powder and sweet cream buttermilk powder produced from Dec. 10, 2015, to July 5, 2016.