Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday's Food For Thought

The buffet is all yours. Where would you like to go?

"In food poisoning probes, officials call for Yelp" by Mike Stobbe | Associated Press   May 23, 2014

NEW YORK — New York City is using a novel way to uncover cases of food poisoning — reading Yelp restaurant reviews.


One expert called it an innovative way to catch clusters of food poisoning.

‘‘Great idea!’’ said Mike Doyle, head of the University of Georgia’s food safety center. ‘‘Many people don’t know how to contact the health department, but they’re so familiar with social media.’’

It’s the latest example of using the Internet to track illnesses. Others have trolled Twitter, Facebook postings, and Google searches in an effort to monitor and predict ailments like the flu.

In New York, outbreaks were traced to three restaurants and inspectors found food handling problems at all three. Officials were also able to figure out the tainted food involved.

Traditionally, health officials hear about potential food poisonings from doctor reports and phone calls from people who say they got sick.


The health department got the idea for using Yelp after seeing chatter that helped with a monthlong restaurant investigation in 2011.

Officials reached out to Yelp, and the website agreed to help with a pilot project, said the health department’s Dr. Sharon Balter.

Crucial to their investigations is finding the people who get sick, and Yelp members have e-mail accounts that can make that easier, she said....

Inspections at the restaurants found a variety of food safety violations in food storage and sanitation. Signs of mice and roaches were found at one.

The pilot project was described in an online report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York is continuing to monitor Yelp reviews, now with a daily report, and is exploring expanding to social media sites like Twitter, Balter said.

Other places have been trying new ways to find cases. Utah launched an ‘‘I Got Sick’’ website to make reporting suspected food poisoning easier. The Chicago Department of Public Health helped develop a system that contacts people who post complaints on Twitter.


I would not eat in New York:

"Wrong meal led to slaying, court is told" Associated Press   May 23, 2014

NEW YORK — A 75-year-old man beat his wife to death because she served him lentils for dinner instead of the goat he was craving, prosecutors told a judge Wednesday.

Noor Hussein is on trial in Brooklyn in the death of his 66-year-old wife, Nazar, in 2011. Prosecutors said in opening statements that Hussein was so outraged over the prospect of eating lentils that he pummeled his wife until she was a ‘‘bloody mess.’’

Defense attorney Julie Clark admitted that Hussein beat his wife but said he is only guilty of manslaughter because he did not intend to kill her.

According to the New York Post, Clark said wife-beating is customary in Hussein’s native Pakistan.


Start you with a salad

"Unilever to sell Ragu and Bertolli" by Chad Bray | New York Times   May 23, 2014

LONDON — Unilever said Thursday that it had agreed to sell its North American pasta sauce business under the Ragu and Bertolli brands to the Mizkan Group of Japan for $2.15 billion.

The deal represents the latest step in efforts by Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch company, to focus on higher-margin personal care products, particularly in emerging markets.

In April, Unilever, whose brands include Vaseline skin care products, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lipton tea, announced it was conducting a strategic review of its North American pasta sauce business and of its Slim-Fast weight-loss brand.

“This sale represents one of the final steps in reshaping our portfolio in North America to deliver sustainable growth for Unilever, and enables us to sharpen our focus within our foods business,” Kees Kruythoff, the president of Unilever North America, said in a statement.

The sale includes a sauce processing and packaging facility in Owensboro, Ky., and a tomato processing facility in Stockton, Calif. Unilever retained the right to sell Ragu and Bertolli in Europe.


Unilever has been reshaping its portfolio of brands, selling its Wish-Bone salad dressing and Skippy peanut butter brands last year.

The deal is the latest acquisition for Mizkan, the 210-year-old privately held maker of vinegar, seasonings, cooking wine, dressings, and other condiments....


Food fight!

"Sodexo drops health care benefits for some, blaming Obamacare" by Shirley Leung | Globe Columnist   May 22, 2014

Something stinks in college cafeterias managed by French catering company Sodexo, and it has nothing to do with the food.

Campus by campus, many workers are losing their healthcare benefits, as Sodexo recalculates how it classifies full-time employees. The company blames Obamacare, explaining in a slick three-page fact sheet that it needed to re-do its definition of a full-time worker to comply with the new health care law.

Really? I don’t think so. But don’t just take my word for it.

“There’s nothing in the law that requires Sodexo do this,” said John McDonough, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health and former executive director of Health Care for All, the group that pushed for universal health care in Massachusetts. “They are choosing to do this.”

The French giant runs cafeterias for big companies and government agencies, but this new formula largely affects their college employees who work full time during the school year and have summers off.

Sodexo faces steep penalties if it doesn’t offer health insurance to full-time workers. To keep the accounting simple, the company decided to determine who is full time based on hours worked annually, instead of quarterly.

Doing so meant a bunch of workers suddenly became part time and their benefits were cut off in January. Others -- including those at University of Massachusetts-Boston and Suffolk University -- are set to lose health coverage as union contracts are renegotiated. Sodexo has about 4,800 workers on 30 campuses in Massachusetts.

Sodexo will tell you the change doesn’t affect that many people -- just under 4,000 of its 125,000 employees in the US have or will lose health care coverage.

The company’s right on that point, but here’s where it’s wrong. These workers -- the cafeteria ladies, cashiers, and cooks – barely make a living as is. They are the very people who can least afford to fend for themselves.

Among them is Chuck Long, a 62-year-old baker at Curry College in Milton, whose family relied on his Sodexo health insurance.

He worked 1,450 hours last year – about 100 hours shy of the minimum to qualify for full-time status. From his $32,000 annual salary, he was paying $420 a month for health care coverage through Sodexo. Not cheap, but out on his own his premium rocketed to more than $1,400 a month.

Even in the great state of Massachusetts, where we bleed health care for everyone, he could no longer afford coverage. His wife works part-time, and together they make too much to qualify for subsidized insurance. So he, his wife, and 17-year-old son with diabetes go without.

“It is a blatant money grab,” Long said of Sodexo’s decision.

Of course it is. How else could the company keep generating about $25 billion in revenue and $725 million in annual profit?

About 20 workers, or nearly a third of the food-service staff at Curry College, have lost their benefits. To ease the pain, Sodexo is giving them small raises, but workers say it doesn’t make them whole. Meanwhile, employees, with the help of the Unite Here union, are trying to organize.

If Sodexo doesn’t care, does Curry College?

Sort of.

A spokeswoman says it farms out food services to Sodexo so it can focus on academics, but the school does support the rights of employees to improve their working conditions, such as deciding whether to unionize.

If Curry is passing the buck, what about UMass Boston, where the majority of its 50 unionized food-service workers could see their healthcare insurance disappear?

UMass Boston, in a statement, said the administration has let the French contractor know its workers deserve better. “We are proud of our long record of supporting fair labor practices and championing the rights of workers, and we have conveyed this commitment to Sodexo,” it said.

What unions like Unite Here fear is that Sodexo, with extra money banked, can now underbid competitors Aramark and Compass Group. That, in turn, will force them to start reclassifying their workers to keep their costs down.

Roxana Rivera, district leader of 32BJ SEIU, which represents about 60 unionized workers at Suffolk, said college administrators aren’t innocent bystanders. “These contracts exist because clients hire them,” Rivera said. “They have to have better contracts.”

So what say you, Suffolk? A university spokesman isn’t saying anything.

If colleges aren’t happy with the way workers are being treated, they can launch a food fight, or take Sodexo off the menu.


I've got to cut down on what I'm reading. I'm no longer hot for certain stories, sorry. 

After dinner mint: 

"A House committee has endorsed a Republican plan to allow some schools to opt out of more healthful meal standards. The vote comes as Michelle Obama campaigns in support of the standards."

Leave a good tip now! 

I just thought of something. Time for me to get some lunch -- my one meal of the day. I find that a midday to mid afternoon meal is best. It helps me weather the hunger in the morning and the hunger at night.