Health Buzz: Wegmans Recalls Pine Nuts Over Salmonella Concerns

Would you kitchen pass a restaurant inspection? Plus: food-borne illnesses still a threat.

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Upscale Grocery Store Recalls Pine Nuts

Wegmans Food Markets is recalling 5,000 pounds of pine nuts thought to be contaminated with salmonella, the company announced last week. The recall applies to Turkish pine nuts that were sold in bulk between July 1 and October 18 in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland. Health officials have linked the nuts to a salmonella outbreak that has sent two people to the hospital and sickened at least 40 others. So far, Wegmans has notified more than 13,000 customers who bought the nuts using its Shoppers Club discount card. "Not everybody who bought the nuts used a Shoppers Club card, but the vast majority are represented by those 13,000-plus people we called," Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale told the Associated Press. Salmonella symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Although most people recover without treatment, the bacterial infection can be deadly, especially to older adults, infants, and those with weakened immune systems. Pine nuts are the latest in a string of foods implicated in salmonella outbreaks; in August, for example, tainted ground turkey sickened more than 100 people.

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  • Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?

    If a restaurant inspector barged into your kitchen tomorrow, would it pass the test—or would he threaten to shut you down? Clipboard in hand, he'd check the temperature inside the refrigerator. Warmer than 40 degrees? Violation. Raw meat stored above ready-to-eat food? More points off. Same goes for dirty, cracked eggs, and swollen, leaking, or rusted cans of food. And don't even think about smoking while you're cooking.

    At least one in seven home kitchens would flunk a restaurant-type health inspection, according to a study published last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and only three out of five would earn an A or B. Since food consumed at home is the source of roughly half of the nation's annual 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses, that's worrisome, U.S. News reported in 2010. "Sometimes we get a little sloppy in our own kitchens," says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and nutrition professor at Boston University. "Whether you're bringing raw food into your home to prepare or leftovers from a restaurant, you have to do your part to help reduce the risk of coming down with a food-borne illness."

    To protect those who dine out, restaurant inspectors scrutinize every square inch of a commercial kitchen—from floor to ceiling and all surfaces in between. Among other things, they look for workers who are sick or don't wash their hands, perishables that sit out, dirty equipment, and not cooking, storing, or reheating food at the proper temperature. [Read more: Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?]

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    • Food-Borne Illnesses Still a Threat, Despite New Food-Safety Law

      Ten years ago, while training to be a family doctor, U.S. News blogger Kenny Lin spent several months admitting sick children to a hospital's pediatric ward. He almost always treated toddlers for severe dehydration—the result of vomiting and diarrhea. Most of them had picked up a highly contagious bug called rotavirus from contaminated food, feces, or other children. It was easy to spot them, with their sunken eyes and parched skin, Lin wrote in February. They looked desperately thirsty, but were too ill to drink. Unfortunately, the only treatment for most food-borne illnesses was—and still is—fluid replacement and time.

      Today, the infant rotavirus vaccine has made this type of food poisoning much less common. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still estimates that food-borne illnesses affect 48 million American children and adults each year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. In recent years, infectious bacteria such as salmonella have been implicated in outbreaks of food poisoning from contaminated eggs, peanut butter, and raw vegetables. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine revisits the large salmonella outbreak in 2008 that sickened at least 1,500 people in 43 states and Canada. More than 300 people were hospitalized, and two died. Months of meticulous detective work by public health officials from the CDC and state health departments eventually traced the source to tainted jalapeño and serrano peppers grown on a single farm in Mexico. [Read more: Food-Borne Illnesses Still a Threat, Despite New Food-Safety Law.]