The Latest Food & Product Recalls (Fool you twice, shame on you)
The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.
No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:
- 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
- 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
- 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”
We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?
A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.
Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.
My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?
UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number. Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?
With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:
Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
- If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
- By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.
Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:
- Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself, you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
- Bouillon Products
- Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
- Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
- Frozen Food Products
- Gravy Mix Products
- Prepared Salad Products
- Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
- Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
- Snack and Snack Mix Products
- Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
- Spread Products
- Stuffing Products
If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them. That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:
- Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.
But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.
Fool you once….
Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.
Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.
And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.
Fool you twice, shame on you
On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:
Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.