Friday, September 23, 2011


Several months ago I blogged about my pharmacist filling a prescription using product from a company I had not heard of before – and when I googled that company to see where they were located (they were in India) I found that the FDA had been after them to get their act together for several years. It seems many of the issues involved unsanitary conditions in the plant and wrong ingredients in the formulas. At that time I decided to put myself on an FDA list to receive e-mail notification of products being recalled.

Since then, I am surprised to learn that we earthlings are mostly still alive. I cannot in my wildest dreams believe what all is recalled. In one case there were thousands and thousands of lots of plasma recalled because the donor was later learned to have Hepatitis B. It is good, of course, that we have the FDA watching out for our safety, but sometimes I wonder if it is better to NOT know what is being recalled.

Today I got an FDA recall notice for a company in the Bronx: September 21, 2011 - XXXXXXXXXX Fish Products, Inc. located in Bronx, NY is recalling Smoked Split Herring because the product was found to be uneviscerated. (In case you don’t understand big words, this means the fish guts were not removed!) Oops! This one made me laugh, because I’m not likely ever to eat Split Herring.

I recall many years ago I read in Consumer Reports that there was a certain volume of maggots allowed in canned mushrooms – and I said to myself then that I would never, ever again eat canned mushrooms. I’d guess that was at least 45 years ago I read that, and I’ve been a consumer of fresh mushrooms ever since – and you can believe me when I say I inspect those fresh ones probably better than the FDA would. I’m definitely not that into maggots.

I also check labels to make sure the dye that colors food in cans and containers does not come from a cochineal which, when mashed, turns into carmine red. The labels will say cochineal if this bug is in it, but it will not add “insect.” Sometimes I find the word “carrageenan” there, but that is not a bug but a product from red seaweed.

I am not sure I’m doing myself a favor by reading all these recall notices. My original intent was just to not shorten my life by inadvertently taking adulterated medicine in the cause of furthering the global economy. But heck, you can find stuff that you really didn’t want to know elsewhere, too. The New York Times in its February 9, 2009 issue helpfully wrote the following:
In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.

Can I ever look a glass of tomato juice in the face again? Probably not.

And as my mother always said, “Don’t let flies walk on your food. Think of where their feet have walked previously!” And as my sister and I understood, she was always alluding to dog poop, maybe our own Pal’s dog poop in the back yard. I sometimes wonder if her admonition was the genesis of my concern about foreign and gross things in food.

But as Jerry always says, “Just close your eyes and eat. Most of it is just protein anyway.” Small consolation, I say, small consolation.

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