Monday, June 28, 2010

FDA Report Reveals Airline Food Could Pose Health Threat

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

Many meals served to passengers on major airlines are prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness, government documents examined by USA TODAY show.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors have cited numerous catering facilities that prepare airline food for suspected health and sanitation violations following inspections of their kitchens this year and last, according to inspection reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The inspections were at U.S. facilities of two of the world's biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, and another large caterer, Flying Food Group.

The three caterers operate 91 kitchens that provide more than 100 million meals annually to U.S. and foreign airlines at U.S. airports. They provide meals for nearly all big airlines, including Delta, American, United, US Airways, and Continental.

The FDA reports say many facilities store food at improper temperatures, use unclean equipment and employ workers who practice poor hygiene. At some, there were cockroaches, flies, mice and other signs of inadequate pest control.

"In spite of best efforts by the FDA and industry, the situation with in-flight catered foods is disturbing, getting worse and now poses a real risk of illness and injury to tens of thousands of airline passengers on a daily basis," says Roy Costa, a consultant and public health sanitarian.

Conditions open the door to food-poisoning outbreaks, says Costa, a former Florida state food inspector who volunteered to review the FDA reports obtained by USA TODAY.

All three caterers say they work hard to ensure food is safe. And airlines say they monitor the food that goes onto their planes.  

Read the rest of the story here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table

The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate.

The developer of the salmon has been trying to get approval for a decade. But the company now seems to have submitted most or all of the data the F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.

Some consumer and environmental groups are likely to raise objections to approval. Even within the F.D.A., there has been a debate about whether the salmon should be labeled as genetically engineered ( genetically engineered crops are not labeled).

The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the “enviropig,” developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.

The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies and would be raised in fish farms. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon.

Normally, salmon do not make growth hormone in cold weather. But the pout’s on-switch keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years, though the company says the modified salmon will not end up any bigger than a conventional fish.

“You don’t get salmon the size of the Hindenburg,” said Ronald L. Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty. “You can get to those target weights in a shorter time.”

AquaBounty, which is based in Waltham, Mass., and publicly traded in London, said last week that the F.D.A. had signed off on five of the seven sets of data required to demonstrate that the fish was safe for consumption and for the environment. It said it demonstrated, for instance, that the inserted gene did not change through multiple generations and that the genetic engineering did not harm the animals.

“Perhaps in the next few months, we expect to see a final approval,” Mr. Stotish said.

But the company has been overly optimistic before.

He said it would take two or three years after approval for the salmon to reach supermarkets.

The F.D.A. confirmed it was reviewing the salmon but, because of confidentiality rules, would not comment further.

Read the rest of the story here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Cult of the Celebrity Chef Goes Global

By Lisa Abend

David Chang was asleep in his aisle seat on a recent flight to Melbourne when searing pain jolted him awake: a flight attendant had accidentally spilled boiling water on his arm. That the worst scalding of the Manhattan megachef's life occurred in business class rather than in a busy kitchen was perhaps surprising. But that was nothing compared with what awaited him on the ground. Soon after he landed, news of the accident made the Australian papers and then, thanks to the global hum of diligent foodies at their keyboards, quickly appeared on websites around the world. The shocking headline: "Chef Burned."

It's been a few decades since we started turning cooks into stars, and still the phenomenon continues to grow. These days, the Emerils, Marios and Gordons of the world scarcely need the qualifier chef — they are celebrities, plain and simple. But between the television shows, the food festivals, the Vegas outposts, the spaghetti-sauce labels bearing their names and the fans rabidly tracking everything from new dishes to failed love affairs and, yes, accidental airline injuries, it's easy to overlook the impact that fame has had on the once disparaged profession of cooking. In the Food Network era, the phenomenon of the celebrity chef has utterly transformed the restaurant industry and, in the process, changed the very nature of how we eat.

There's a reason restaurant food sales in the U.S. have jumped from $42.8 billion in 1970 to a projected $520 billion in 2010, and it's not just that more women have entered the workforce. As best-selling food author Michael Pollan recently noted, the age of the TV chef has coincided with a dramatic decline in home cooking. Pollan, who was named by TIME as one of this year's 100 most influential people in the world — as was Chang — argued that by making food a spectacle, shows like Iron Chef and The F Word have reinforced the message that cooking is best left to the professionals. By turning chefs into entertainers — whether performing onscreen or via the impeccable platings in their restaurants — we have widened the breach between ourselves and the once ordinary task of cooking.

And yet our alienation from food and its preparation is matched only by our obsession with it. Huge parts of the population now seek out artisanal cheeses at their local farmers' markets, and run-of-the-mill restaurants attempt to cater to their newly refined tastes, serving salads made of fancy lettuce. Lots of ordinary folk now aspire to have their own $1,100 Thermomix food processor and blog about every course of every restaurant meal they eat. (The camera-happy movement has gotten so bad that Grant Achatz, the famously avant-garde chef of Chicago's Alinea, recently chastised diners who take photos — and video — of the food he serves.)

These trends are fed by chefs' newfound prominence but also prod them to attain ever greater influence. In a world in which what and how we eat have become fetishized, celebrity chefs are finding new ways to harness their star power — and not just to make money.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In Medium Raw, Bourdain Is the Last Honest Man

By Josh Ozersky

The book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Anthony Bourdain's long-awaited sequel to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, went on sale on Tuesday; it should far outsell its predecessor, which came out a decade ago, before its author was a big star and before the country developed a hearty appetite for back-of-the-house tell-alls. While any number of copycat memoirs, blogs and reality shows have flourished since Bourdain's best seller detailed his cooking years, he has moved on to other things, traveling the world for his TV show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations; writing funny and thoughtful books based on his adventures with the show; hitting the lecture circuit hard; and generally having a good time. Like his hero Bob Dylan, as soon as he founds a movement, he leaves it behind. Now he's back, writing about chefs and restaurants again, with the same quality that made Kitchen Confidential so compelling. There is no more honest man in the media than Tony Bourdain. And that makes all the difference between him and the food-media complex that he helped create.

You can see some measure of how things have changed by looking at Bourdain's subject matter. He is no longer a working chef; the moral authority of being an anonymous, hardworking, weathered veteran cook is gone in Medium Raw. He's another outsider now, a morally suspect "sellout" with a cushy life and a different perspective. But of course, that's what you would expect a former chef to say. Bourdain loathes the Food Network (his show is on the Travel Channel) and distrusts the rah-rah spectacle and hype of celebrity chefdom, a world in which he is a major presence, to his considerable discomfiture. "What the f___ am I doing here?" he asks himself at an elite banquet. "I am the peer of no man nor woman at this table. None of them at any time in my career would have hired me, even the guy sitting next to me [Eric Ripert]. And he's my best friend in the world." (Ripert, the chef at the famous Le Bernardin in New York City, has become Bourdain's BFF over the past few years.)

A whole chapter follows parsing the advantages of selling out; it is as torturous in its self-examination as a seminarian's confession. Bourdain isn't famous because he knows so much about restaurant cooking (though he does) or because he's always cool (he isn't) or even because he hosts a popular show about liquor and piglets. Bourdain is famous because he is vivid and real and mercilessly honest at every second — in a sphere whose atmosphere consists of bombast, shilling, sanctimony and the unholy alliance between marketing communications and social networking.

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blindness Doesn't Keep This Chef Out of the Kitchen

By Dave Newhouse
Oakland Tribune columnist

A sense of taste, a passion for food, and an inherent capacity for creativity are starting points in the kitchen for any reputable chef.

So what does it matter if the chef can't see?

Laura Martinez, 25, has been totally blind since she was 1, the result of retina detachment glaucoma.

"It's like cancer of the eye," she said.

Blindness is no deterrent for Martinez. She has a natural inclination for cuisine that she hopes will vault her one day into the stratosphere of celebrated chefs.

"But in a different way," she said. "I don't want to copy any of their styles. I want to be different and unique."

Martinez, who lives in Chicago, is a graduate of that city's Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College. She's staying at the Oakland Marriott City Center this week, preparing for Saturday's benefit dinner at the California Culinary Academy, where she'll be cooking for the Oakland-based Blind Babies Foundation.

With Martinez is her mother, Josefina, and Laura's assistant, Rachel Colcyn, 25, who helped her through Le Cordon Bleu. Alicia Cavallo, director of sales and marketing at the Marriott City Center, set up this interview.

"I'm not a chef because I'm blind," Martinez said Wednesday. "I have the passion, patience, desire and energy to do it, and not because I can't see."

Born in Mexico, she moved with her family to Quad Cities, Ill., when she was 9. She first wanted to be a surgeon, then a butcher and a psychologist before embracing cooking, which encompasses her first three career paths.

"I started doing a lot of cooking because I moved out (of home) and I had to learn everything from scratch because my mom wasn't there," she said. "And I liked it. Friends tasted my food and said I should go for being a chef. It was a challenge for me, and I thought, 'Why not?' So I did it."

Though sightless, Martinez has never injured herself cooking. She hasn't cut a finger while slicing meat, fish or fruit. She hasn't burned her hand over a stove.

Still she was told a blind person can't be a chef.

"Finding trust, finding opportunity "... it wasn't easy," she said. "It was hard facing it, hard to get into it, convincing people to give me a chance."

She survived Le Cordon Bleu by "showing my confidence, and that I was serious. I wasn't just playing around like most of the students. They show up for a month or two and then they miss a lot."

For Laura, it was the sauce pan or nothing. Charlie Trotter was the first to believe in her. Trotter, a Chicago restaurateur, hired her four months ago.

"He tasted my food," she said, "and he told me, 'You're working for me. I didn't choose you because you were blind. I chose you because of your talent.' "

Now doing "stash" work, or prep cook, she's "impatient" to move ahead, to create new dishes, to own a restaurant in Miami.

How does she function in the kitchen? Her spices are labeled in Braille. She separates different meats or fish by feeling their texture or by using a keen sense of smell. She doesn't consider herself handicapped.

"If you have the desire and creativity, it doesn't matter," she said. "I know people who have everything, and they can't cook at all."

Read the rest of Chef Martinez' story here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Since '85, Kroger's Been There For School46

By Dana Hunsinger

Posted: June 2, 2010

In a run-down shack next door to School 46, seedy adults lurked about doing things no child should ever see.

But the shack also had become a magnet for students, who either didn't want to go home or didn't want to go to school. They would sneak inside and hang out.

The school knew it was a problem, but what could it do? How could it keep its children safe and make sure they never happened upon the drugs and crime?

In stepped a seemingly unlikely partner -- a supermarket.

The Kroger Co. bought the land, tore down the shack and built a new house on the property. It then sold the home and gave the profit to the school.

A noble gesture, and yet really nothing compared to everything else the grocer has done in what may be the best example in Indianapolis of a company digging in and truly making a difference in the lives of children.

Not just with money. Not just with time. Not just with gifts.

With all of the above -- for 25 years. And not for its bottom line.

"This is not going to get people to buy groceries. It's not about that at all,"
said Daniel McQuiston, chairman of the department of marketing and management at Butler University. "It's about doing good. It has been said that it is far more noble to invest greatly in the welfare of one than slightly in the welfare of many."

And invest greatly in one school -- School 46 -- is exactly what Kroger has done.

More than $1 million has been donated in 25 years to this Near-Westside school where 90 percent of the students are in the free- or reduced-price lunch program. Thousands of hours in employee time have been spent inside the school.

You can read the rest of this story here.

If you'd like to see even more examples of the great things Kroger and its employees do for our community, drop by Second Helpings and learn about the great partnership we have with Kroger.