FOOD WISE: Monitor warnings for safe food products



Pistachio Crusted Chicken served with broccoli. (Courtesy Photo)

Pistachio Crusted Chicken served with broccoli. (Courtesy Photo)


There was a full moon this week. You know what that means. A lot of hinky stuff is going on in the world and it’s no different in the food world. Here are a few of the most interesting studies and recalls on a national level.

First up, tree nuts. It seems the Food and Drug Administration is concerned about the risk of human salmonellosis associated with the consumption of tree nuts. In other words, salmonella.

Wait a minute! Isn’t that just a risk with raw and under-cooked chicken? Well, yes, chicken has traditionally been the main culprit, but you will probably remember in past years, recalls of lettuce, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other foods due to outbreaks of salmonella.

It’s important to understand, the FDA is NOT issuing any kind of recall or public statements yet. They are currently undertaking a risk assessment to quantify the public health risk associated with the consumption of potentially Salmonella-contaminated tree nuts. The agency said almonds, coconut and pine nuts all have been associated with outbreaks of salmonellosis. In addition, Salmonella contamination has been found in almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamia, walnuts and pistachios. Oh no! Not pistachios! My favorite.

Specifically, they are hoping to find out where and how the contamination most likely occurs, as well as treatments that may be needed when tree nuts enter the U.S. market to reduce bacterial contamination. We’ll have to keep a close eye on that one.

Next up, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company has voluntarily recalled three varieties of specialty cheese due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The three recalled cheese varieties were distributed to retailers and food service operators, and include: Les Freres, Petit Frere and Petit Frere with truffles. All three specialty cheese varieties have manufacturing dates of July 1, 2013, or earlier, and the company has halted production of the cheeses in the wake of the recall.

Five people from four states have been infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. All five were hospitalized and one death has been reported.

Listeriosis in humans is caused by the ingestion of foods contaminated with the Listeria bacteria. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, weakness and diarrhea. All five of the infected consumers reported eating soft cheese during the month before becoming ill. The Food and Drug Administration is conducting an inspection at the Crave Brothers processing plant.

And the recalls continue. Rich Products Corporation is recalling more than 10.5 million pounds of products produced at its Waycross, Ga., facility due to possible contamination with E Coli. The products being recalled have “Best Buy” dates ranging from Jan. 1, 2013, to Sept. 29, 2014, including Farm Rich Mini Quesadillas, Farm Rich Mini Pizza Slices, Farm Rich Philly Cheese Steaks, Farm Rich Mozzarella Bites and Market Day Mozzarella Bites. The Center for Disease Control has reported 24 cases of E Coli in 15 states as a result of consumption of one of those contaminated products.

The recall was first issued after a sample Farm Rich frozen chicken mini quesadilla from New York tested positive for the contaminate. A Farm Rich mini pepperoni pizza slice from Texas also tested positive for the same strain. Other cases in multiple states reported eating Farm Rich products. The recall was subsequently expanded to all the products listed above.

Symptoms of E Coli generally include mild to severe gastrointestinal distress. Most adults completely recover in five to 10 days, but some, especially children and the elderly, can develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, which may cause kidney failure.

You may remember several months ago, Dr. Mehmet Oz came under fire for talking about the levels of arsenic contained in apple juice on his show. This issue continues to rear its ugly head. The FDA has proposed an action level of 10 parts per billion (p.p.b.) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, a level testing has shown apple juice products are already meeting. This standard is the same level the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set for drinking water.

Now, I’m not taking one side or the other on this issue. If you regularly read my column, you know that I preach keeping our food supply in its most natural, organic state. The less chemicals and other stuff in our food, the safer we’ll be. However, The FDA has been tracking arsenic levels in apple juice for two decades and has found very low levels with few exceptions. New technology has helped the agency better understand the breakdown between organic and inorganic levels. Last year, the FDA released findings from its latest studies that found 95 percent of apple juice samples were below 10 p.p.b. total arsenic, and all samples were below 10 p.p.b. for inorganic arsenic. As a side note, inorganic arsenic may be found in some foods simply because it is present in the environment, and is a known carcinogen. It is also used in some pesticides.

There is new legislation being introduced that would require the Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for arsenic and lead levels in fruit juices within two years time. FDA regulations currently limit the levels of arsenic and lead allowable in bottled water, but they do not extend to fruit juices. An investigation by an independent investigative agency found 10 percent of the sample juices from five brands had arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards, and 25 percent had lead levels that were higher than the federal standards for bottled water.

With regard to setting a standard for the level of arsenic in juices, the FDA’s stand is scientific evidence and indicates that when arsenic occurs, it almost always does so at very low levels. But they are collecting all relevant information to evaluate and determine if setting guidance or other levels for inorganic arsenic in apple juice is appropriate.

All of this talk about arsenic has caused many consumer advocate groups to call attention to arsenic in other food products, including rice and infant formulas and cereal bars. Higher levels of arsenic were found in infant formulas and cereal bars that contain organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient, according to a new study from Dartmouth College. Researchers and the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, found that among 29 cereal bars tested, those containing syrup or other forms of rice had arsenic levels 2 to 12 times higher than the allowable limit. Despite concerns about arsenic levels in rice and rice products, so far the Food and Drug Administration has not found enough scientific data to recommend changes to consumers in regard to consumption of such products. Currently, the FDA’s findings show average levels of inorganic arsenic for rice and rice products to be 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms per serving.

For now, the agency advises consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains — not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.

As you can see, many of these tests were administered by agencies outside of the FDA, so no formal alerts would be issued without official government say-so. There currently are no U.S. regulations for arsenic in food, but researchers say there is an urgent need for regulatory limits. Legislation was introduced in Congress earlier this month to establish limits for arsenic and lead in fruit juice. Hopefully, other foods will follow. In the meantime, the common sense of moderation seems to be the order of the day.


Pistachio Crusted Chicken


1 cup chopped pistachios

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

salt and pepper to taste

2 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch strips


1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Mix together pistachios and bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper until smooth. Brush chicken with Dijon mixture to coat, then coat with bread crumbs. Place onto prepared baking sheet.

3. Place into preheated oven and turn the oven down to 375 degrees F. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink and the pistachio coating is golden brown, about 20 minutes.