August 2008

of The Morning Call ponders the federal government decision to allow irradiation of some fresh produce, but points out one problem with the policy.  Go here for the complete column.  Darragh writes:

Three years ago, the FDA sent a letter to lettuce growers, packers, processors and shippers noting its ”serious concern” about 19 E. coli outbreaks involving lettuce and spinach since 1995, resulting in 409 illnesses and two deaths.

Irradiating lettuce and spinach, the FDA said, is important because consumers almost always eat lettuce and often eat spinach uncooked.

But even the FDA acknowledges that irradiating spinach and lettuce will reduce their vitamin content somewhat, particularly Vitamin A. However, since spinach is not a major source of vitamins in Americans’ nutritional intake, FDA concluded that irradiation will not hurt their overall diet.

Irradiating food creates a ”disincentive” for farms to adopt cleaner farming methods, added Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C. ”The way to get safe food is to clean up the filthy conditions at our factory farms,” he said.

In addition, irradiation doesn’t eliminate all bugs, including the bacterium that causes botulism, he noted.



The Muskegon Chronicle today has a story about Michigan’s New Era Canning Company’s attempt to get back in business after botulism-related recalls forced its shut-down.

Family-owned since it began in 1910, New Era wants to resume production.  Rick Ray, New Era’s president and chief executive officer, told the Chronicle the outlook for the company can be described this way:

  • The positive: The FDA recently provided a permit to the company, with a couple requirements, that allows for certain cans of produce in the warehouses to be sold and the canning process to begin.
  • The frustration: Company officials contend that the FDA was slow to respond during the shutdown, causing operations to be ceased longer than New Era Canning management figured it should.
  • The hope: Interest seems to be high for potential investors in the cannery. "The process is going well," Rick Ray said. "There are a lot of people interested."

The family is even willing to give up control of New Era to new investors if it helps in getting the canning factory back in business.   Up to 260 seasonal and 50 full-time jobs would result.

In reading the story, found here, we find it interesting or perhaps telling that there is no mention of help for New Era from the State of Michigan.  The state is mess and maybe this is an example of why.   We wonder if Connors Brothers might look at New Era if they dump Castleberry’s.  That would be ironic.

The Connors Brothers Income Fund, based in Canada, was not ready to say last week if it would keep its Augusta, GA canning factory for Castleberry’s brands.

Botulism poisoning in its chili cause forced the plant to shut down a year ago. Since its been back up and running, Connors said its was "stable and performing to expectations"

The recall cost the income fund more than $35 million with litigation remaining on behalf of some of the victims.

Wal-Mart is still shying away from the Castleberry’s brand, which has prevented recovery of sales, according to chief executive Chris Lischewski.

“We still have not regained distribution at our largest customer, which is Wal-Mart,” Mr. Lischewski said.

More can be found here.

Rebekah Denn writes a blog called Devouring sEATtle as part of her duties as a food writer at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.   She is out today with Free canning class – no botulism allowed.

In addition to telling her readers about the canning class offered by the Washington State University Extension Service, Denn gives readers some advice about canning and avoiding botulism at the same time.   She credits WSU’s Jessica Dally for these words of wisdom:

1. Don’t assume a recipe or canning process is safe because it was handed down from your grandparents. "Your grandmother or grandfather or whoever was canning might have gotten away with a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to." (This makes me feel better about not having learned canning at my grandmother’s knee. At least I learned applesauce.)
2. Don’t use old recipe books or ancient canners; invest in newer ones. Canners have been redesigned, our understanding of food safety has improved; even the way we grow some produce has changed. Dally recommends
this book and this one.
3, If your pressure canner uses a dial gauge, it needs to be checked annually for accuracy. And there are very, very few places anymore that check gauges. Use a canner with a weighted gauge to make your life easier.
4. After your goods are canned, store them without the rings around the jar lids. If the seal should break, you want to know about it; you don’t want the ring holding the lid in place. Besides, that lets you re-use the rings instead of buying a new batch each time you can. For the same reasons, don’t stack your canned goods; store them in a single layer.
5. Do not alter recipes. Even a tweak like adding extra garlic can change the food’s acidity and the recommended processing time. "You are playing around with something you don’t want to play around with."
6. A
jar lifter can be your best friend in the canning kitchen.

Faulty home canning has long been a source of botulism.   Commercial canning had a long track record of going botulism-free, but sadly as Castleberry’s and New Era has shown, that is no longer the case.







Joan Rivers, age 75, says everybody should have Botox, the wrinkle-free injection for maintaining a youthful appearance.

"Age has freed me to say whatever I want.  Everyone should do Botox. Botulism is everywhere – in the air we breathe. I always say a little botulism never hurt anyone."

Ms. Rivers probably has not met the victims of Castleberry’s Chili, but she is funny.