Wash Your Hands!

This topic remains high on the food safety radar and won’t ever go away…hand washing and cross-contamination are paramount.  It’s a simple task that supports the preventative approach and it’s still the main reason we get sick, and make others sick to this day.

The founder of hand cleaning was committed to a mental institution…it’s such a sad end to the story of such a revolutionary visionary.  I shared a previous post about the essential role of hand washing, entitled Invisible Cadaver Parts and NPR just shared some more details about the discovery of hand washing and sanitizing.  It’s worth a few minutes of your time…please listen and wash your hands often.

Brand Agnostic Labeling Similarities

One thing I’ve noticed, with “healthy” snack or energy bars, is that even they tend to hide the ingredients.

Here’s an example of a newcomer to this shelf space who “presumably” has nothing to hide, prominently displaying 99% Organic status and Kosher monikers on the front of the package — yet they do hide some very important information…

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It’s true, you should never trust the front labels, because the important information is buried in the ingredients.  Unfortunately even among the “healthy” brands, it’s intentionally hidden by the flaps {you cant’t see the nutrition information when you flip the bars over}, and in this particular example you’ll have to semi-crack a sealed area just to learn what’s in the bar.

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In the last picture, you’ll notice the silver sections on the end where the label is peeling apart — it was crimped and sealed on each end, making it hard to access the required labeling panel.  The precedent that’s set with this design, is that the Rainforest logo, the Organic Certification, and the pride statements about the corporation’s philosophy are more important that the facts.  If you were allergic to dairy or soy, then not reading this could have led to a serious health event — so why would they make it so difficult for you?

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Is Raw Food Inherently Safe?

Here’s a “name-calling,” “evidence-posting” attempt to inform you that raw foods aren’t always safe, and minimally processed foods aren’t either.

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To the best of my knowledge, these bars are being co-manufactured – meaning the brand owner, is hiring a third-party to make them, which in this case is because of the size and scale of the customer base.

I’m not 100% certain who is manufacturing them, but sometime ago, it was a really reputable firm. That said, anyone can have a bad production day, but lately I’m seeing too many examples like these and I’ve been tempted to document this previously and talked myself out of it…

The bars were originally labeled as “raw,” and I loved them back in the early days.  Unfortunately, they were very well received and lots of people loved them and they found their way into national chain stores.  With the trappings of success, either the production demands or the requirements of the corporate customers brought an end to that “raw” labeling.  (That’s my theory, not a description of known facts.)  Since we know there’s something involved in processing that means they’re no longer “raw,” I’m really frustrated to see the packages inflated like this.  In case you wondered, they’re not pressurized by nitrogen…this is naturally occurring CO2, which is coming from dying microorganisms.  Prior to mass-production, I never saw this.  Now that they sell them everywhere, it’s all too common.

Raw foods aren’t a guaranteed safe-food.  Minimal processing doesn’t guarantee an improvement over good manufacturing practices (the raw ones were never inflated).  Ultra-processed foods can still make you sick.  The conclusions and take-aways are this: don’t buy bulging cans, inflated packages, etc. because those microorganisms might be pathogens that can make you sick, and there’s no substitute for hygienic practices including hand-washing, manufacturing sanitation, and attention to detail.

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Cooking — The Catalyst for Health

Michael Pollan has taken the self-educated approach to everything he’s ever written about the food chain and his latest book, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” is filled with wisdom. 


The facts he describes about the health of poor people being better than rich people, based solely on whether they cook their own food is a fantastic insight into how to improve your health.  Cook your own food and the reigns of your health will return to your own hands!  Home cooking will eliminate many of the chemicals in your diet; stabilizers, preservatives, excess salts, dyes, and compounds that you never consider when you eat in a restaurant.  Cooking your own food will also improve the nutrient content.  The more you buy the ingredients as whole foods, the more the quality improves.  It’s not that hard to make soup, yet the soup industry is huge — buy some vegetables and boil them together.  It’s better for you than a salt bathed corporate blend in a can.  From a conversation in the video, Pollan suggests the perfect diet for everyone is simply, “Eat anything you want, but cook it yourself.

Let’s Use All Allergens

If you make food products for a limited target market, your audience becomes dramatically more limited based on the number of allergens in the product.

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If an ingredients list contained these items only, you could always make a case for the natural healthy products section: milk, almonds, peanuts, wheat and soy.

In the instance of this store-brand, the product’s ingredient list is full of additional materials and yet it contains enough allergens to make a product solely from those five items.  I don’t really understand why this is necessary or why it happens in an industry where having these particular ingredients in a factory will in-turn require labeling for everything produced there.  Do you really need to have all these inputs for this item?  Do you really need to use this line for pecans and walnuts?  Maybe.  Maybe not…

In this instance it seems that this manufacturing site is handling every possible allergen except shellfish and eggs, and must have wanted as many allergens as possible in the recipe, so they only have to mention the two that are also shared equipment indicated by the phrase, “May contain traces of pecans and walnuts.”  Genius.  Cost-cutting, penny-pinching, every-shred-of-value-captured; brilliance.  And risk accelerated beyond belief.  But that’s just my opinion.  Your choice is entirely up to you…unless you happen to have any food allergies…and you’d never touch this one.

PS:

What about the factories that make the toasted oats, crisp rice, and wheat flakes used in this recipe?  They are all blending multiple raw materials together too.  Do they share equipment with ingredients of concern?  If so, it’s not mentioned on any labels anywhere I’ve seen…it might be a risk, and might not.  When food gets this complicated, it’s hard to choose safely when you or someone you love might be in jeopardy.

It’s An Investment NOT A Cost

Eating healthier foods will require a financial commitment, that exceeds the levels required for not starving.

Beautiful Young Woman choosing between Fruits and Sweets

There’s plenty of evidence that supports the fact that you CAN in fact, afford to eat healthy foods: however they will be more expensive.

If that sounds like double talk, allow your mind to chew on a few points.  Smoking might actually help you make the dietary transformation – if you funnel that cash from cigarettes to real nutrition you’ve found an extra ten dollars everyday to get healthy.  The pure economics of the dietary changes will make sense after you find a way to make it happen but you will have to find money somewhere.

“In 1971, Americans spent 13.4 percent of their disposable income on food; that number now stands at about 6.5 percent. Not all prices have fallen. Some fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance, cost substantially more today.  But other foods — especially the most delicious, fattening, and low-nutrition foods like cookies, potato chips, and soda — have gotten much cheaper.  By one measure, a pure high-nutrition diet can cost as much as ten times more than a pure junk-food diet.”  ~Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain

Junk foods are cheaper because of subsidies, so you’re not paying the true cost like you do for blueberries or kale.  What if you need to eat better and there’s no extra money in your food budget?  One place food finances are often wasted is in restaurants – it costs much less to eat at home than in the dining rooms where you pay more for everything and then tip the server.  No one tips the grocery store, so that’s fifteen (or more) percent right off the top.  Real food vs. restaurant food is fresher, less expensive, and less likely to make you sick.  To qualify the food safety point, consider the cross-contamination threats within every restaurant where a cutting board could be shared between raw chicken and salad bar items.  This won’t happen in a vegan home, but those vegans are at risk in every salad bar setting, unless there are trained and conscientious employees taking care of these critical control points.

The overarching goal is for that extra money you spend to pay off in the long run, so you won’t be spending money on things like frequent trips to the doctor.  There are no guarantees, because making them here would be illegal, but most of us recognize the power of nutrition and the equally powerful lack thereof.  Eat better and make your body stronger.

The Devil and The Details

Gloves are important PPE for the food industry and for every aspect of health – hospital, restaurant, or factory.

Gloves are essential to food safety, yet California just reversed a decision mandating the use of gloves.  The reversal is very important because it protects the food chain – people (unfortunately) don’t wash their gloves or sanitize them as well as they do their hands.  When you work with your hands, you instinctively want to wash them when they become soiled…gloves “keep your hands clean.”  That can be fatal to your customers, and the subliminal cleanliness can contaminate everything you touch with your gloved hands.

While bare skin contact with food is less attractive to me than properly sanitized gloved hand contact – I prefer the sanitized skin to the unsanitary glove.  Notice whether or not your sub shop re-uses their gloves.  How can you  re-use disposable gloves for assembling a sandwich, without touching the food-contact surface?  You can’t.  Skin is better – go wash your hands.