Popeye: Super Strength and now with added glow-in-the dark

Beginning today, producers can begin dosing fresh greens: iceberg lettuce and spinach with a hint of radiation designed to reduce the amount of salmonella, E. Coli and listeria hiding amongst the leafy goodness.

AP Story: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iA5hZT7HxWkBxoW1U2IS-nAOoq-wD92MPDG81

Please note, that is reduce, not 100% eliminate.  Growers and packagers are still expected to follow the FDA’s other rules about handling salad mixes and fresh spinach. Consumers (i.e. you) are still encouraged to wash the greens before eating them.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been bugging the FDA to allow this treatment since 2000. Testing has shown that a small shot of radiation will reduce the number of bad bugs which may be present while not compromising taste, texture or nutritional value.  Because current regulations require that any irradiated food be labeled as such, consumers have generally shied away from purchasing eggs, beef, oysters and spices which have been dosed.  Not surprisingly, producers and manufactures aren’t real pleased about that so now the lobbyist groups can start pushing the FDA to relax that rule, something that is already being considered.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that irradiation has zero effect on viruses, a growing issue in food safety circles.  Thus far, there have been no conclusive studies which show irradiation creates toxic food or off flavors. The FDA would like you to know that it can actually increase shelf life.

The amount of radiation is quite small, just enough to kill off most of the salmonella and some of the other germs without wilting the spinach. For me, I will probably skip this stuff. I’m sure it will cost more (or maybe less, at first, to entice people in to buying it).  I’m not that scared of spinach and I don’t want to encourage these guys to start zapping all kind of fruits and vegetables (the original goal of the GMA was far more encompassing).

Just remember this: salmonella and E. Coli don’t originate in plants. These bugs have animal homes including humans, by nature.  If you really want to keep your produce clean of bacteria, you need to be aware of how the greens are fertilized and watered and what animals the fields are exposed to.  The E. Coli spinach outbreak was traced to wild hogs that wandered through the California farms growing all that organic spinach.  The recent salmonella outbreak while associated with peppers and tomatoes was likely spread to those plants by contaminated irrigation systems.

I buy mixed field greens and spinach in those plastic clamshells from Meijer or Kroger or Horrocks. Its usually Earthbound Farms but I’m not making a endorsement for any particular brand. The reality is, this stuff is often bagged or boxed in some far off place, shipped in a refrigerated unit to my local store and could be several days or even weeks old by the time it shows up on its shelf. I only buy organic and this radiation treatment is not allowed under the USDA’s Organic Guidelines.  If you find someplace selling mixed greens by the pound in open bins, its probably fresher and more likely locally sourced.

If you are really feeling ambitious, grow your own! Its actually quite easy with a long narrow planter and a nice windowsill that gets some sun.  Baby lettuces are a cold-weather crop that only require medium sun exposure so you can keep growing them well in to the fall outdoors or year round in a window.  They are also ideal for progressive planting.  Start a selection of seeds in 1/3 of your planter.  About 1-2 weeks later, start a second planting in the next 1/3 and finally, round 3 another 2 weeks later.  By then you will probbaly be harvesting your first round and the whole thing starts over.  You can buy individual seed packets to make your own custom mesclun mix or even a pre-mixed packet with popular varieties of lettuces and herbs.

I’m planning to do my own version of mesclun using my aerogrow after we get back from vacation.  I’d do the window planter thing but 2 cats+ a bucket of dirt equals a really big mess.  Speaking from experience on that one!



Chris and I are going on a vacation to the Georgian Bay area of Ontario.  I’m hoping to get some posts done and prepped to just publish while I’m gone but I’m not hopeful.  Tonight we are “roughing” it in a hotel but then we’ll be tent camping till Thursday.  Although I guess its possible that the park will have wi-fi.  Anyhow, I’ll have some good adventures to talk about when I get back.


Why is there no tomato on my sandwich? What do you mean I can’t buy tomatoes at the grocery store? It is summertime, tomatoes are required eating!

Seems a salmonella outbreak has sickened approximately 165 people. About 25 have required hospital treatment. According to the FDA’s statement, only Roma and round red tomatoes are suspected in the outbreak. Cherry, grape and tomatoes on the vine are still okay. The outbreak started in mid-April and six weeks later, they still don’t know the source of these tomatoes gone bad. But they do know that tomatoes from Arkansas, California, Canada, Texas, Belgium and Israel are safe to eat (for the full list, see the FDA list: Hot Topics: Tomatoes.

I find it interesting that tomatoes from Texas are considered safe, even though almost 60 people (of the 155) that fell ill were from Texas.  My deepest suspicion, however, lies south of the border.  The two likeliest sources, simply based on volume, are Florida and Mexico.  Many sections of Florida have been deemed safe but not all areas.  Much of the Florida tomato crop is sold to companies that process those tomatoes in to pasta sauce, jarred salsa, catsup and so on. Central Florida is still on the suspect list but Mexico looms much larger in my mind.  Reading below the line, I’m going to talk about FDA regulations. I don’t like ’em BUTwhen we are talking about importing food from another country, that is a different situation.  China’s poisoned pet food is a plenty large red flag that should lead you to think twice about the source of your food.  If you, foreign country, can’t provide us with safe, clean food, we don’t want it.  Korea doesn’t want our beef due to mad cow fears; Russia and Japan have declined our chicken recently due to the positive avian flu tests on Tyson chicken in Arkansas. That’s a two way street, right?

The good news is, home-grown tomatoes are safe. And I bet that tomatoes you get from the farmer’s market are safe too. Unfortunately, our tomatoes are several weeks from edibility but I’m sure there are some good options at the market.  Of course, shopping at the farmer’s market also means I can ask how the tomatoes were grown, when they were picked and if any pesticides were used.


There is a growing cry from certain media outlets that the government needs to fix our food supply.  I don’t want some guy in DC telling me what I can and can’t eat. I love sushi and I understand the risks that may be associated with eating raw fish. If I suspect the sushi bar isn’t clean or the fish not fresh, I don’t eat it.  I’m smart like that, as are most Americans. You smell the milk, its obviously bad, you throw it out.  You realize that raw chicken in the fridge starts to get a little shady looking after 4 or 5 days, better use it up quicker than that.  Humans have an innate “risk aversion” sense that tells them not to eat something because it might make them sick.  Its a lot easier for this sense to work if the food you are contemplating isn’t filled with chemicals to keep it fresh looking.  When did we decide to wash our hands of all responsibility for thinking for ourselves?  When did we decide that some random bureaucrat should make up the rules about what’s okay to eat?

I do not believe that the FDA should be standing over our shoulders inspecting every piece of produce that goes in to market. Nor do I believe that onerous regulations on tomato growers (or any other produce)  is the answer. A giant farm in Florida that sells 90% of its crop to Heinz can afford to meet these regulations. What about the little guy down the street that produces enough tomatoes to take to the local Farm Market on Saturday?  Our food production system in this country has only gotten bigger and bigger, more and more processed.  All this processing has led to the FDA and USDA to create rules, regulations and laws that govern the preparation of food.  This favors the big corporations and we lose sight of the route from garden to mouth.  It also creates a vicious cycle of ever bigger processing and production facilities to cover the growing cost of meeting those rules and regulations.  And I’m not saying those giant production facilities are actually adhering to the rules and meeting the standards. 

Go back to what I said about talking to the local farmer.  I talk to the guy at the Market and ask him about his methods.  If I have a bad feeling or don’t approve, I can walk away.  I bet if I wanted to, I could go to his farm and see the tomatoes in the ground.  Join a CSA and you probably will have to go to the farm to pick up your weekly share. Think of all the knowledge you can garner by developing a relationship with local growers. And not just tomatoes, besides all the other vegetables and fruits that could be available at the height of freshness, you will find good sources of chicken, beef and lamb, eggs and dairy products.  Think of meat raised without antibiotics, fed the right types of grain or grass for their natural diets, thus not requiring special supplements to counter the negative effects. Oh, the happy cows that produce yummy local cheese and milk.  The chickens that eat and live outdoors help to fertilize the land for the next crop, creating a very non-vicious cycle of sustainable farming.

 Last minute update: Michigan tomatoes are safe! So you locals, get out to the Farm Market and buy some tomatoes!  If you don’t have a convenient market or tomatoes are scarce, go to your local grocery store and ask them where the tomatoes are coming from.  Request they label them for source. Meijer is usually pretty good about posting the source of much of their produce.  If the manager doesn’t know where the veggies came from, ask why not!