The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Arsenic in Apple Juice?

It started innocently enough. Dr. Oz presented a show that promised to shock the nation. And it did. He reported that apple juice may not be safe for our children's consumption.

Consumer Reports jumped on the juice bandwagon with its own reporting:

Of course, my question is, what exactly is arsenic? Of course I've heard about it, you know, Arsenic and Old Lace. But I didn't know much more about it than that. So I went to and to find out. Apparently it's a natural substance that you can find in the earth's crust, in the air, water, and in animals and plants. Sounds pretty tame, right? But exposure to high amounts of this natural substance can cause a myriad of health problems, or even death.

Thus the newest scare that has pervaded the country.

Now, if you'd like a second opinion (after all, Dr. Oz is a doctor), here it is:

The FDA is in disagreement with how the testing has been handled. They feel Dr. Oz is comparing apples to oranges, so to speak. They feel that "testing for overall arsenic is a poor testing method because it cannot distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic." (

My son drinks Wegman's apple juice nearly every day. Wegman's brand was not one of the juices tested by Consumer Reports. Still, I will admit to wondering if I should cut back on the juice. At least until further inquiries are made. But let's say that all Americans feel this way. There will be a huge drop-off in apple and grape juice production. It will harm the farming industry, which has already suffered incredibly with a bad growing season and the cantaloupe recall. And what if it turns out we have nothing to worry about? That the levels of arsenic are low enough as to not be harmful? It will hurt the apple farming industry.

But what if drinking this juice...even eating applesauce...does prove to be harmful? What if we are serving our children something that is a potential killer?

More tests need to be run. And soon. The quicker this can be resolved, the better for everyone. Meantime, read these articles. And check out Dr. Oz's article, too:

Be informed and make your own decision. In the meantime, view this clip sent to me by Alexandra Pfenninger from Newsy Community. (Twitter: @Newsyvideos)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Recalls-cantaloupe

Earlier this week I was grocery shopping at Wegman's and I realized the cantaloupe section had an overabundance of produce. I'd heard about the Listeria outbreak online, and wondered if the scare had kept potential buyers to steer clear of the fruit. A few days later I went back to Wegman's (because I always forget something the first time I go) and Wegman's had put up a sign letting consumers know that their cantaloupes did not come from the farm (or even the state) that caused the Listeria outbreak.

Everytime there is a a food recall, and it seems there are dozens every year, people panic and won't purchase the food from anywhere. For example, if there is a spinach recall in Quebec, no one will touch it for months in the U.S. We become frightened.

Here are the facts on this last episode according to the FDA about the recent cantaloupe recall from Jensen Farms in the southwest region of Colorado:

"Updated October 21, 2011

On September 10, 2011, FDA, along with Colorado state officials, conducted an inspection at Jensen Farms and collected multiple samples, including whole cantaloupes and environmental (non-product) samples from within the facility, for laboratory analysis to identify the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 39 environmental swabs collected from within the facility, 13 were confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from three of the four outbreak strains collected from affected patients. Of the 13 positive environmental swabs, 12 were collected at the processing line and 1 was collected from the packing area. Cantaloupe collected from the firm’s cold storage during the inspection was also confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with PFGE pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from two of the four outbreak strains.

As a result of the isolation of outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes in the environment of the packing facility and whole cantaloupes collected from cold storage, and the fact that this is the first documented listeriosis outbreak associated with fresh, whole cantaloupe in the United States, FDA initiated an environmental assessment in conjunction with Colorado state and local officials. FDA, state, and local officials conducted the environmental assessment at Jensen Farms on September 22-23, 2011. The environmental assessment was conducted to gather more information to assist FDA in identifying the factors that potentially contributed to the introduction, growth, or spread of the Listeria monocytogenes strains that contaminated the cantaloupe.

FDA identified the following factors as those that most likely contributed to the introduction, spread, and growth of Listeria monocytogenes in the cantaloupes:


There could have been low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the field where the cantaloupe were grown, which could have been introduced into the packing facility

A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility


The packing facility’s design allowed water to pool on the floor near equipment and employee walkways

The packing facility floor was constructed in a manner that made it difficult to clean

The packing equipment was not easily cleaned and sanitized; washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing was previously used for postharvest handling of another raw agricultural commodity


There was no pre-cooling step to remove field heat from the cantaloupes before cold storage. As the cantaloupes cooled there may have been condensation that promoted the growth of Listeria monocytogenes

FDA’s findings regarding this particular outbreak highlight the importance for firms to employ good agricultural and management practices in their packing facilities as well as in growing fields. FDA recommends that firms employ good agricultural and management practices recommended for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, storage and transporting of fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed or minimally processed raw form."

I'm sure the cantaloupe at Wegman's is fine to eat at this time. But no matter what, clean it well before slicing a knife through the rind. Although this wouldn't have saved the lives of the people who consumed the cantaloupe laden with Listeria, it is a safety precaution we should all be aware of.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What is cellulose?

Lately in the news we've been hearing that wood pulp is added to prepackaged shredded cheese to prevent the cheese from sticking together in one disgusting massive lump. Of course, you won't find "trees" on the ingredient list. Instead, you'll find it listed under the name "cellulose."

If you're like me, you're probably wondering exactly what this means for your health and body. I'm here to give you the facts, you decide how you feel about them.

First off, let me give you the definition of cellulose as written in a file from

Cellulose is the main component of higher plant cell walls and one of the most abundant organic compounds on earth. It can be derived from a number of sources using a number of techniques that are considered synthetic, and some that might be considered nonsynthetic (natural).

There are three forms of cellulose that have been petitioned for use: powdered cellulose, regenerated cellulose casing, and microcrystalline cellulose. I'm going to concentrate on the powdered form, which is used in prepackaged shredded cheese.

Powdered cellulose is considered synthetic, which seems odd, given that it's derived from a natural source, therefore it would leave one to believe it's a natural product. The reason it is considered synthetic, however, is because of the way the product is derived. Okay, here's the breakdown on wood. It's composed of approximately 50% cellulose, 30% hemicellulose, and 20% lignin. When processed, the cellulose is separated from its counterparts, then purified and dried. This is done using either caustic soda or sodium sulfate (alkali processes). Then after that there is the matter of extracting the alkali and then bleaching and purifying the pulp.

caustic soda-highly corrosive and reactive. Used as a raw material in the pulping and bleaching process. (
sodium sulfate-used as a low-cost, inert,
white filler in home laundry detergents. ( Also used in pulping.
Alkali-a soluble salt

Consider this: we can not digest cellulose. Our bodies don't have the enzymes required to break it down into a digestible form. So cellulose is basically a fiber. Makes sense. Eating tree bark would be considered eating fiber, I suppose.

Cellulose is regarded safe by the FDA as long as its used in accordance with the Good Manufacturing Practices (More on GMP in a separate post) and as long as it contains no metals or contaminants. (Whew. Happy to hear that.)

And, by the way, shredded cheese is not the only food that has cellulose added. It's also used as a stabilizer in some breads, reduced-calorie baked goods, and ice pops. You can even find it in sauces to give them a creamy texture. Or as a filtering aid for juice. Even used as a peelable sausage casing. Cellulose can be found in many products.

Let it be known, insofar as shredded cheese goes, there are alternatives to using wood pulp. Potato starch, for one. Also, rice and corn flours may be substituted. Though cellulose seems to be the most effective in keeping food moist, and as for cheese, separated.

So despite the chemical procedures to make it edible, cellulose is considered safe for consumption. Nothing to be afraid of, really. But I'll let you be the judge of that.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Site for People Interested in Exercise.

I will be posting more about your food soon, but meantime, if you have a moment, check out my sister site:

I will be outlining my personal rules for staying fit as well as sharing articles on health and well-being and blogging about my personal progress.

Looking forward to seeing you there! And meantime, I will be posting some information about food here.