I am happy to announce the book launch and publication of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET, now available at Kindle, Smashwords, and wherever ebooks are sold. The price is a mere $2.99, a pretty good price to discovery just how the sick and sometimes sordid underbelly of the local chain supermarket has the ability to make you really sick . . . or even dead. Good information, especially in light of the upcoming Holiday Season. Enjoy. And please leave a review if you enjoy the book. Reviews are the lifeblood of a writer, and you can give no greater gift!
Staying Safe . . . A Virtual Trip to the Supermarket
Well, here we are at last in the parking lot of Giant Stuff Mart. It’s a big place, with three entrances in all. One is in the back of the store, and two more up front. That’s where we are. The entrance on the left is to the non-food side. That’s where clothing, hardware, garden supplies, and so-forth are sold. I’m staying away from there, if for no other reason than the huge mark-ups, especially on clothing.
Yes, more money is made on the grocery side, but only because of large sales volume. Margins are pretty slim on food. Often times, food items are sold very near, at, or even below cost—just to get people to come into the store, perhaps for the very first time. GSM knows that customers will often come into the store to purchase a few cans of tuna, for instance, at fifty-cents a can on sale (which is probably around cost) and leave with a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of non-food items as well—marked up by hundreds of percentage points.
I buy over there myself sometimes. It is after all, very convenient—shopping under one roof. But for the most part, I stay away. Other stores, generally smaller specialized shops, will have better prices—and sometimes much higher quality as well.
We’re going in on the right side—the food side. First we’ll grab a shopping cart, and as mentioned in an earlier chapter, we’re going to be sure to stop by the sanitizing wipes station to give the handles a good going over. I’m also going to wipe off my hands with another wipe at the same time. Can’t do any harm, even if it isn’t cold and flu season. Not much more depressing than catching a cold in the summer—and for some strange reason, out-of-season colds seem to be a lot more long-lasting and harder to get rid of.
Just inside the door to our right is the deli, and just beyond that is the bakery. It’s a good location strategy, with the sweet smells of both departments more or less guaranteed to reel-in the customers. They’re put right by the door for a good reason—called profits.
The deli is a real mixed bag. Some of the stuff there is simply amazing, and totally safe. Some of the other things? Well, possibly amazingly risky. Here’s what we are going to buy today. Most anything that arrived at the store pre-packaged by the food-processing facility where it was made, sealed there, and dated there. Watch those dates. Sometimes they are pretty hard to see—but always worth searching for. Some good examples of these items; potato and macaroni salads, along with Cole-slaw, three-bean salads, dips, and so forth.
Another good bet in the deli are items that arrived raw and then were cooked on-site, such as the rotisserie Chickens. These critters are cooked right there behind the counter, and right in front of you. Most of them are labeled with the time that they were cooked, and then they were placed on a hot-table for sale. Best thing too, is the fact that because they taste so incredibly good, the turn-over tends to be very fast—no small consideration with in-store cooked products.
I’m staying away from the items that came into the store in bulk containers, and then were handled by deli employees, sometimes repeatedly, as they were put out and kept on display. Sometimes the same items stay in the case for days on end—really no way to tell by looking.
These are not recommended in my book—just too much potential for disaster and heartbreak here. I remember a nearly tragic “corn-dog” incident from a few years back at GSM. The deli department manager decided to try to unload some of the corn-dogs that were way long past their prime. Remember, to keep her job, she needs to reduce and eliminate “shrink,” that bane of company profits. So, her first step was to reduce the price of the dogs down to the lowest level. Unfortunately, reducing the price didn’t make the product any fresher, newer, or in any way safer.
Well, she actually did finally unload the dogs, but lost her management job anyway—due to the fact that the spoiled corn-dogs sickened several customers along with not a few employees. So where did GSM send the manager? If you’re guessing to the non-food side of the store, you would be wrong. She was shuffled off to another one of GSM’s locations, this time as a simple deli counter person. She eventually got a management job back, this time as a department manager of meat and seafood, right back in the very same store she had been banished from in the first place.
And—she continued on in her new job, with her same old “worst” practices from before—a disaster just looking for another place to happen. She was lucky no one had died in the corn-dog incident—it could have been a whole lot worse.
Stay away from these kinds of deli products—please.
On to the bakery.
Not much to be wary of here. Most everything sold in the bakery is going to be safe and healthy—being baked, the potential pathogens are dead. Biggest danger here is stale—and who wants that? Watch those dates, again, more out of a concern for product quality, rather than safety.
Produce department. It has the potential to make some people really sick—or worse. Some of the danger you can control, and some you simply can’t. Here’s my best advice on buying fresh fruits and vegetables.
The look and feel of the produce on the shelves is just about the only way you have to gauge the freshness, and quality of the product. Everybody does it—picking up produce items and giving them a good going over; poking, prodding, squeezing, tapping, and even smelling—just to try to get a clue as to whether what they want to buy is a good deal—or a possibly disastrously bad one.
All kinds of hands have been on the produce.
So whatever you buy—wash it thoroughly when you get it home. At the very least a cold water rinse, and sometimes soap and water as well. Buy a colander, and use it. Those “pre-washed” salad mixes in the bags? Don’t believe it for a second. Rinse them thoroughly in that colander under cold running water at home.
You’re not going to eat the rind or skin of that melon or cucumber you say? True, but I’m willing to bet that you are going to cut into that rind with a knife to clean them. And when you do, you will possibly be carrying E. coli or other harmful bacteria from the outside of the product, right directly into the inside of the product—and henceforth, right into your own intestinal tract.
I don’t recommend cut fruit. You know the ones. Usually in fruit trays. And more times than not, I’m afraid—not first quality. As stated earlier, often times these are simply strawberries, pineapple, melon, and other fruit that has had mold cut off them. I suggest you buy top quality fruit and cut it up yourself.
Cheaper—and a whole lot safer.
Watch the countries of origin in produce, same as you do in meat and seafood. Sad to say, but still and always, your best bet seems to be the United States and Canada wherever possible. That means buying a lot of items in season in the northern hemisphere, and forgoing them when it isn’t. Regulations, and enforcement of those regulations are simply better in the northern countries, and that is just a plain and simple fact of life—with emphasis on the word life.
Right across from Produce is meat and seafood. Generally speaking, the meat self-service case is larger by far than that of seafood, and for good reason. Next to produce, the meat department is the biggest money-maker over on the food side of the store. And, if you remember from the introduction—red meat is the number one carrier of food poisoning. The reasons are many, and Richard, the meat-cutter with a major sinus problem, is only one of them.
The beef, poultry, pork, lamb and other animal products all come from large commercial farms, and frankly speaking, hygienic conditions there aren’t all that great. Each and every one is unfortunately a mishmash of potentially harmful pathogens, each more or less unique to whatever species of critter is being raised there. E. coli is one of the very worst, and the fact of the matter is—it’s everywhere these days. It’s on those farms, just as it also is in the very fields where that nice and harmless looking produce is grown.
When the flesh from these difference animals gets to the grocery store and are processed by sometimes very uncaring individuals, the danger from cross-contamination can be very deadly indeed. Chicken should be kept completely separate from beef, and pork, and so forth, due to the difference is safe cooking methods, temperatures and times
Sadly, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
I remember the time I took a whole chicken back to the meat-cutter on duty. He was also the meat department manager, and he knew better than to do what he did. But he was also overworked, and over-rushed by management, and chronically short-handed as well. The customer wanted the chicken chopped up into small pieces. Not an unusual request. It should have been done on a separate cutting board to avoid cross-contamination.
Taking the chicken from me with a pained expression on his face, the meat-cutter simply pushed the red meat he was cutting aside, placed the chicken on the board exactly where the red meat had been, and chopped it into pieces. Then he pushed the remaining chicken scrapes off the table and into a waste basket and returned to cutting beef again, in exactly the very same place.
If that chicken had E. coli anywhere on it, it was going home with the same customer that would later buy the beef. And in most cases, beef isn’t cooked to a high enough temperature, or for long enough to kill that particular pathogen. Someone was going to be for a long evening in the bathroom—or perhaps something much, much worse.
Buy from one of the many stores where you can actually see the meat-cutter at work—not hidden away in a back room.
Buy red-meat and pork that is still red, not brown—no matter what the discount might be. Trust me—it’s not worth it. Buy chicken that is flesh colored, not yellow—for the same reason. Please, don’t buy discounted products at all. You simply can’t know how old they really are, or what they may have been exposed to.
It’s the same over at seafood. Buy fresh fish at your own risk, but at least make sure it looks fresh, not brown or darkening, drying out, or curling up at the edges. Those previously frozen whole Sockeye Salmon? Extreme caution here folks. I have seen some thawed, and placed on an ice-table and left there to rot, for days on end. In many cases, these were Salmon that had been dead and frozen for as much as fifteen or sixteen months. Once it’s removed from the package, there is really no way to tell just how old, or what condition it might be in.
I’d stay away from the un-refrigerated ice-table just on general principals if I were you. It’s a potential disaster in the making, just looking for a day and time to happen. If you feel you must buy one of these fish, at least look for shiny scales and skin, bright eyes, if the head is still on the fish. And please make sure there is no darkening around the gills or collar of the fish.
Hint: If you see small flecks of blood on the inside of whole fresh fish, that’s a good sign.
If you don’t—it isn’t.
Again, please do not buy packaged seafood of any kind that is made in the store. Or worse yet, packaged seafood that has been discounted. It might be good—but there is just no way to tell—and it’s a belly-ache in the making . . . or worse.
The best and safest deals in seafood? Probably pre-packaged and frozen, right in the original package that it came in from the processing facility. Take that home, thaw it yourself, and be safe.
The rest of the store is pretty good to go, and pretty safe as well. Bread, canned goods, bagged goods, bottled goods and so forth are the safest items in the store. In nutrition, buy pre-packaged (by the manufacturer) and avoid like the plague, those bulk items that a customer can in any way get their hands, or other objects into.
If they can, trust me—they will.
We’re got a lot of good stuff in our cart now. Let’s check out, stop at the exit to sanitize our hands again (remembering all those items we picked up to look over) and take it all to our car.
Off to home now. Time to make dinner. A safe, nutritious, and delicious one that both you and your family can enjoy.
There—we’ve survived out trip to the supermarket.
Conclusion . . .
It is my most sincere hope that this little book has been of some use to you. That in my own small way, I have done something to make you and your family just a little bit smarter and a little bit safer in regard to the potential dangers we all face in a place as innocent, innocuous, and friendly looking as the local supermarket.
For just a little while, I wanted you to see the sometimes gross and ugly under-belly of the grocery store the way a typical low-level employee of such an establishment sees it, and not as an outsider does.
I wanted to momentarily remove the “happy-face”.
Happy faces are nice sometimes—and sometimes they can cost you your life.
Stay safe out there, my friends—and live long and prosper.
* * *
If you have enjoyed this book, I would invite you to return to the web-site of the on-line retailer where you purchased it, and leave an honest review, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Even just rating it with a one to five star ranking would be greatly and most appreciated.
Reviews are the lifeblood of a writer, and trust me when I tell you—you can give a writer no greater gift.
The Unhealthy Health Department: or, half past two . . . all afternoon
I could smell it long before I could see it, and it wasn’t the first time it had happened either.
The aging sewer system at Giant Stuff Mart had backed up—again. And it had blown-out—again. The epicenter was the meat and seafood department, but it hadn’t started there. It began in the grocery stockroom, specifically the produce storage area—and it was a real mess.
There was a restroom back there, mostly used by employees. And it was an oldie, being around since the late 1960’s. We’re talking nearly half a century here, and the plumbing of the aging building just wasn’t quite to the latest standards.
Every once in a while it would get backed up and the pressure would build. When the pressure got high enough, the access cover in the middle of the floor in the stockroom would blow. And it would blow high, sending a cascading stream of black water and you know what about three feet into the air and out onto the sales floor. The main grocery aisle to be exact, right between the self-service sections of meat and seafood, and the produce department. For a short time, this man-made torrent would flow like a small stream—all over the grocery section of Giant Stuff Mart.
The river ran under pallet after pallet of raw produce in the stockroom, under the stockroom entrance door, and onto the sales floor, under and in front of the self-serve meat and seafood cases, self-serve produce cases, and the full-service meat and seafood counter. And yes, this small dark river carried human feces and urine with it—in surprising large and odorous quantity.
By the time I got to work that day, the professional plumber had been called and was on his way, and there was a medium sized crew of employees at work trying to get the situation under control. They were literally up “you know what” creek—and, with very few paddles. Employees had cordoned off the area with shopping baskets and were busy with hand-held squeegees and a very large power liquid vacuum machine generally used for night-time floor washing.
It was never designed for the use it was being put to—choking up on the larger chunks. I remember one of the customers asking an employee of the store (one with a good sense of humor) just what was going on. The employee answered, tongue firmly in cheek, “Well, ma’am, it’s just a little problem with time.” As in—“It’s too turdy—all afternoon.”
It was a good laugh line—but for some reason, she wasn’t amused—and turning, quickly exited the store.
Other customers, apparently oblivious to both the sight and smell of what was right before them, continued on with their shopping as though nothing in the world was wrong. In point of fact, they shouldn’t have been there at all—because according to both state law, and county health-department regulations, the entire store (or restaurant, or whatever) should have been closed and locked until such an occurrence was completely and correctly abated. As in, cleaned completely up, and the entire area where the spill occurred, both scrubbed and sanitized. Along with that, all of the product that came either in contact with, or even near contact with biological contaminants should have been discarded.
None of that was about to happen. There was not a single solitary member of middle or upper management that would have been willing to have closed that store, even for an hour or two. Super Giant Stuff Mart (the parent corporation) would have had their heads, and their jobs as well, in a city second, if they had tried. So the employees toiled mightily to get it all cleaned up as quickly as possible before a customer or store employee could call it in to the Health Department on the hotline number.
They needn’t have worried.
You see, the Health Department . . .
Didn’t even have a hotline number.
Please—just take a second and let that sink in—and what that means to your health and safety.
The Health Department, generally of the individual counties of a State, are charged with ensuring public safety—particularly in the area of food safety. They inspect and oversee operations of food retailers in a variety of different venues and settings. Mostly this means retail prepared food outlets of all sizes, and restaurants. They also license food handlers, after a short training program and quiz.
It isn’t very vigorous to say the very least. An individual can pretty much walk into a food handler safety course and get a permit within an hour of two of his time, even if he or she haven’t ever held such a job in their life, and in a lot of cases, even if the applicant can barely speak the language. In an effort to be fair, most food handling safety manuals are written in several different languages, as well as the final quiz.
At least the quiz is closed-book—right?
Well—not always. To save the expense of hiring food safety training experts, facilities, and so forth, many Health Departments have gone to on-line training. Pretty easy to pass. All one has to do is make careful notes during the at home training, and the quiz at the end become very much open-book. In the old-fashioned pre-online classes, at least the applicant’s fifteen minute memory capability was challenged.
The Health Department also inspects businesses that sell food., such as supermarkets. Unless there has been a specific complaint, it is on a random, and supposedly surprise, basis. Maybe—but each and every time we were inspected at Giant Stuff Mart, we were informed by management that they were coming—at least an hour or so in advance.
Perhaps GSM management was psychic. And perhaps it was something else. It happened so often though, I had to wonder. When they did show up for inspections, generally speaking, they were pretty light inspections indeed. They did do a reasonably good job of checking hand-washing stations for soap and paper towels for instance, but absolutely nothing about the serious, institutionalized, and systemic worst food safety practices of both the corporation and the individual store.
Inspections went something like this. As I said, the employees got at least an hour or two warning that they were on the way. By the time the inspector reached the store, the most glaring deficits had been rectified. Three compartment sinks were filled, sanitizing solution was refreshed. Temperature logs were quickly updated, and stem type thermometers, long un-used, were fished out of equipment drawers and laid out where they belonged and could be easily observed by the inspector.
At the meat and seafood counter, old Kenny (not a real name) the Health Department inspector, would enter and carefully don his hairnet, a Department regulation. Then he would place his lap-top computer on the nearest counter-top and begin his “inspection.”
It didn’t last long, and it didn’t cover much, as I indicated. Finding two or three real, and/or potential deficits and problems in the department and carefully logging them into his computer, he would finish up and head off to another department. Kenny was fast—he didn’t like to hang around for too long, usually finishing up with meat and seafood, the deli, the bakery, produce, and the nutrition departments in well under an hour.
Then he would disappear into the Store Director’s office—for probably two more hours. What did they discuss? I don’t have an idea in the world, never having been privy to one of those extended meetings.
But I’m sure it was all about food safety and protecting the public—right?
What else could it have been.
Generally speaking, very low-level food department employees were cited for exceedingly minor infractions, while simply astounding shortcomings in the cold-chain management system for fresh and perishable foods were simply overlooked and/or ignored.
It was a joke in the store that the newness and high price-tag of the Health Department inspector’s automobile was kind of in direct proportion to the number and amount of serious infractions he or she were somehow unable to see.
Again—one had to wonder.
By the time I worked a short while at GSM, I had observed so many food safety issues that I decided to put the Health Department’s hot-line number on my cell-phone speed dial. That’s when I found out that there wasn’t any such thing. I can’t say with certainty that all Health Departments are this way, but in this one large and very wealthy County in the State of Washington, the only way to reach them with an urgent food safety issue was by sending an email. Which I tried—repeatedly, over the years. My response?
If this was a State, and a County that demonstrated much caring about the health and safety of the general public in this manner, I would sure have hated to see one that was un-caring.
Guess what I’m trying to tell you is that you are on your own here. There really isn’t anyone besides yourself to protect you. Certainly not the corporate owners of these large chain-store supermarkets. Certainly not the individual managers of the stores either. And most certainly, not the County Health Departments. At least the one that I had the displeasure of observing for over eight years. Some may be better, and some may be worse—but at best, it is a crapshoot.
It’s my most sincere hope that some of the things I have talked about in this little book have been of benefit to you in doing just that—protecting yourself at the supermarket. Trust me when I tell you, that you are, at the same time—both the first and last line of defense in keeping yourself and your family, well, healthy, and alive.
The follow-up to the sewer blow-out? Well, GSM did finally get all of the water and other stuff up off the floor. What they didn’t do though, was to remove the stagnate and filthy water from under the display cases and produce pallets. There, it was simply left to dry on its own, bacteria ever growing and expanding in the warm and wet environment. And they didn’t ever either wash or sanitize the floor. The very same evening of the day this occurred, I watched as a customer in the produce department accidentally dropped a fresh cabbage. It hit the floor and rolled along for several feet—and directly into and over the un-sanitized spill area. The customer, wanted to do the right thing, simply picked it up and placed it back on the pile it had rolled off of.
Care to take a guess just how many pathogens that cabbage might have picked-up on its roll down the aisle?
Me either—I walked over from the seafood counter, and retrieving the thing—threw it away. A result I’m pretty sure rarely, if ever, happened.
Remember these two things, if nothing else.
Profits over people.
Every. Single. Time.
And you really are on your own.
It’s just about time to go do some grocery shopping, wouldn’t you say? That’s what I’d like you and me to do in the next, final and concluding chapter of this book.
Let’s grab a cart, and take it for a virtual spin around the old grocery store. We’ll pick up a lot of good nutritious, and safe offerings.
And we’ll avoid the bad.
And I’m going to show you just exactly how to do both.
Thanks for reading. Be back in a day or two with the conclusion of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET.
Shellfish, Red Tides, and Farming versus Wild Caught
Let’s talk a little about shellfish. The good, the bad, and the really, really butt-ugly.
Shellfish is absolutely and amazingly delicious—no doubt about that. There is nothing quite like the taste, texture, and visual appeal of the soft white meats that are found in shrimp, crabs, lobsters and various other varieties of shellfish.
But the truth is: it’s hardly a health food.
And I’m going to tell you why.
There are two areas of danger to look at here. One area is simply inherent with the product. The other area occurs in the grocery store.
Probably the biggest reason to avoid shellfish in general is the fact that it is one of the most common allergen-causing foods, and such allergies are surprising common across racial, cultural, and national lines and divides. No one seems to be immune. Granted, most people that have shellfish allergies know it and avoid eating it. But, and this is a big butt—you just never know when an allergy is going to raise its ugly head—for the very first time.
Certain shellfish allergies are surprising lethal, and also amazingly fast. If you or a loved one have ever experienced even the slightest reaction to eating shellfish, it is going to be a really good idea for you to forgo it completely. Such reactions might be as mild as a minor rash, a bit of trouble swallowing, or tingling in the lips or face. A little dose of caution here can go a long way toward keeping you being seen—rather than viewed.
Shellfish are bottom feeders, and as such eat a lot of parasites and dead skin of other sea creatures. Along with sewage and waste commonly discharged into the waters of the world. Shellfish do not have an advanced digestive system to filter out the toxins and parasites they ingest. What this means is, that what goes into shellfish, stays in shellfish—and goes into you when you eat it.
More bad news. An incredible amount of shellfish come from places in the world that are the most polluted, and from the waters of countries that do almost nothing to control such pollution. Again, it all ends up inside you when you ingest it.
While it is possible to almost completely remove the vein from shrimp, it is very difficult to remove the entire digestive tract as you do in fish. In other words, the shrimp poo that is inside the shrimp, stays inside the shrimp—and you eat it. In some of the smaller varieties of shrimp, such as salad shrimp, even the vein is not removed.
Shellfish of nearly every variety are well known to contain mercury. Perhaps no other seafood except Tuna has as much, again, probably due to the very primitive digestive system of the little critters.
Mercury—you don’t want that in you.
Seafood is often touted as a healthy alternative to red meat. In most cases this is true. Shellfish?—well, not so much. Shrimp, by and large has just as much cholesterol as a New York steak. You can actually eat over half the recommended amount of cholesterol for a day in just four or five large shrimp.
Delicious, yes. Healthy? Maybe not so much.
The risk of eating shellfish increases among those with existing health problems, and especially compromised immune systems (back to those again). People with altered iron metabolism, liver disease, and diabetes often have much more sensitive digestive systems, and therefore can be exposed to additional risk, simply because they cannot filter out the toxins, just as the shellfish themselves can’t.
Undercooked shellfish can be especially deadly; much more so than other seafood, again, because of its bottom feeder status. The human and fish waste that shellfish routine consume may contain E.coli, Salmonella, Norwalk virus, and Hepatitis A. All these extra and very unhealthy ingredients are probably not mentioned in your favorite cookbook.
Red tide is also potentially harmful to human health. We can become seriously ill from eating oysters and other shellfish contaminated with red tide toxin. What is red tide? Essentially, it’s a common name for algal bloom, which is a large concentration of generally harmful aquatic microorganisms—not one of which is any good for you. These concentrations can become so incredibly high that it actually colors the ocean—most usually red.
Yes, there are non-harmful algal blooms.
Don’t count on those.
Shellfish just love eating this stuff, and again—they are unable to filter it out. Long story short? It all goes right into you, and it can lay you flat—forever.
Now let’s get into the potentially harmful and even deadly problems with shellfish at the grocery store level.
Shellfish is highly perishable. Much more so than nearly any other type of seafood. Do you think that that high-priced and slow selling species of shellfish in the full-service seafood case is rotated as often as it should be?
Do you really believe that overworked and over-rushed seafood department employees always cook the shellfish thoroughly? If you do, you have a much more highly developed sense of faith in human nature than is warranted. I have personally seen wild-caught (and very pricey) shrimp that was so old it was beginning to turn black, removed from the full-service seafood case and undercooked up into samples. Samples that were then placed on top of the counter to sit, and for the public to eat. Sometimes for hours on end.
On many more than rare occasions, I have pointed out the dangers of this practice to the upper management of Giant Stuff Mart. Aside from blank stares, every once in a great while I could get one of them to actually walk down to the counter to take a look. The result? Generally, a shrug and a long walk back to wherever it was they had come from.
Still think that’s a health food? Good luck on that one. Please, please, please—do not eat in-store prepared shellfish samples.
That kind of risk is something you just don’t need in your life.
What’s the difference between wild-caught and farm-raised? And between fresh and frozen?
So glad you asked.
Wild-caught is just exactly as the name implies. It is caught out there in the ocean, and it is—or more precisely was, a wild critter. Farm-raised is, again, just as the name implies—seafood raised on a farm. And no, there are no green pastures, rolling hills, and white split-rail fences on this farm. This is a seafood farm, and they basically come in two flavors. One is a farm that is actually part of a body of water that is generally fenced off with underwater sea-fences. The other type is large inland pools where the conditions of the sea are roughly replicated.
Which is better?
Hard to say. Most people tend to believe that wild-caught is the way to go because wild-caught sea-critters eat natural (and therefore basically organic) food. Farm-raised sea-critters eat processed fish foods provided to them by man. And there’s the rub. Often times this artificial fish feed contains things you don’t want in your daily diet.
Things like artificial coloring, hormones, and antibiotics.
Wild-caught, sadly also contains some of those things too. Things like spilled oil, mercury contamination, and general waste and sewage routinely dumped into the waters of the world. I have cracked open many, many cooked Dungeness Crabs that were black and slick on the inside from having ingested spilled oil from the ocean. Most definitely not a real good thing.
So which is better?
I would say wild-caught—with some important caveats, which we will get into in greater detail in chapter twelve. Farm-raised can be okay, but you do need to be careful. Probably the most important consideration is the country of origin. Choose carefully. By law, the country of origin is clearly stated (albeit in some awfully small print sometimes) on every package of seafood sold, and everything in the full-service case as well. Does the country of origin have a good reputation with its seafood exports, or do you constantly hear and read about seafood recalls from these places? China would be a prime example of a country of origin that should probably be avoided at all cost. Simply little to no regulation there. The United States, Canada, and the British Isles would be good examples of much safer countries—mostly because of much better seafood regulations.
I have unfortunately seen videos of some of the worst farm-raised practices from around the world (mostly Asia and South America) including the rather horrible and despicable practice of feeding fish poo back to the very same fish that expelled it. Yum-yum. Nothing wasted, I guess.
In one particular farm that raise the ever popular fish Tilapia, a fair number of dead fish would rise to the top of the large pools every morning. No idea in the world of what might have killed them, or when. They might have spent a fair amount of time at the bottom of the pool before rising. Yup, you guessed it. The dead fish were netted out of the pond right along with the healthy living fish—to be filleted, packed, and sent to distributors—and shipped all over the world to supermarkets of all kinds, both large and small, and to unsuspecting consumers. Do you want to eat this fish?
Maybe—but personally, I’m just saying no.
Fresh or frozen? Fresh tastes better—no doubt in the world about that. Trouble is; you don’t really have a clue as to just how fresh it is—or isn’t. Not quite as good tasting, but a whole lot safer, would be to buy wild-caught, pre-packaged (by the processor) frozen shellfish. Shellfish that has been very little, if at all, handled by grocery store employees. Generally, these are sold in one pound packages. Take these home, thaw them yourself where you can control both the method of thawing, and the time of the thawing—and you have seafood in general, and shellfish in particular, that is just about as safe as you can get it.
If you must buy “fresh” shellfish from the full-service case, please look for shells and meat that has not started to darken. On previously frozen cooked shellfish, look for shrimp tails and shellfish shells that are not darkened or spotted. Trust me—you don’t want those. And they are sold to the public—all the time.
There really ought to be a law—but there isn’t.
Next up, we’re going to take a look at what I like to call, “the very un-healthy Health Department,” and why this little agency has the potential to really ruin your week. It’s not the most appetizing of subjects, and I do not recommend reading on your lunch hour—especially if you are having seafood or deli items.
Just sayin’ . . .
Thanks for reading. Be back tomorrow with Chapter Eleven: The most UN-healthy Health Department.
Ready to Eat, Ready to Cook, Product Samples . . . and, just ain’t no cure for stupid
There’s nothing quite like the retail life (and just before the holidays at that) to really bring out the stupid in a person.
I moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Washington State in January of 2007. With that move went pretty much any hope of retirement and an easy life. Western Washington is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire country. Social Insecurity and a tiny pension from a former private-sector employer didn’t even begin to cover the budget. My late-life writing career was just getting off the ground and wasn’t even beginning to pay for itself yet.
But, what the hey—we were near the grandchildren, so it was well worth it—right?
Anyway, grampy dumb-dumb Larry went back to work, a full-load forty hours in what I liked to refer to as “The Temple of Doom” (of food retailing at any rate) a mega death-star sized food and stuff store that I came to call Giant Stuff Mart. It’s heck to work there on a good day, the managerial philosophy apparently being; “Any staff at all, is way too much staff.” Come the holidays, it’s not heck anymore—it’s hell on steroids.
I worked in the meat and seafood department. Behind a counter. During the rush periods, it became sort of like the ramparts of the Alamo on the thirteenth and final day—as in, overrun with humanity. I would have had about the same chance of coming out on top in my own little fort as the original defenders did—absolutely zero.
As I said, a lot of my customers I came to love. Some were as pleasant to see as long lost dear friends. Smiling faces that never failed to cheer me up a bit. Sometimes even inspiring.
Ninety-seven year old John was one of those. Now a widower, he used to come in with his darling wife. They were the cutest couple on earth, and I loved to see them. Often times John would stop by for a short visit while she had her hair done at the beauty salon next door—her always wanting to look her best for him. They were like a couple of teenagers—only a lot older.
One morning she simply didn’t wake up anymore, and after that he continued to come into the store—alone. I have shed a tear or two with customers. John was one of those. John was still alive and well, and still shopping at GSM on the day I retired. At nearly a hundred years old, he wasn’t getting around nearly as well as he used to. He still drove his car, but had made one small concession to time and was finally using a motorized shopping cart.
John was one of those inspiring people—and I was glad to have been his friend.
There were hundreds more that made their way to the counter that I had little feeling for, either one way or the other. They were simply faces in the crowd. I would say good morning, or afternoon, or whatever—hand them their packages, thank them, and off they would go—forgotten until the next time.
Those were just basically good, decent and nice folks.
Some were unintentionally funny . . .
It was my third day on the job.
Lady Customer: (as flat chested as a fourteen year old underweight boy. She’s looking into the full-service meat case. At the chicken. I walk over to help her. The meat manager is by my side.)
“May I help you?” I remember saying—as pleasant as I could be.
“Yes,” she responded. “What I need is a couple of really nice breasts.” The meat manager turns away, gagging slightly as he holds in his laughter—leaving me to try to keep a straight face as I fill the order.
Which somehow I did—and remained employed.
Then there is another type. The type that appears on any given day, but just love the holidays. When the poor clerks are really rushed, and really frazzled. It’s like blood in the water to a school of hungry Great White Sharks.
Customer: “Do you have Tuna steaks?”
Me: “Yes—I have those in the freezer.”
Customer: “Are those frozen?”
Me: “Yes, last time I looked. I’ll have to check again to confirm.”
Customer: “How many of the 26 to 30 count shrimp do I get in a pound?
Me: “I Could be wrong, but I’m thinking—26 to 30. Just sayin’ . . . “
Customer: “Do you have any fish without bones?”
Me: “The only fish I know of completely without bones is a Jellyfish.”
Customer: “Do you have any Jellyfish right now?”
Me: “No, sorry—we’re completely out of Jellyfish at the moment.”
Customer: “How do you cook your Jellyfish anyhow?”
Me: “Well, sometimes if I’m in a hurry, I don’t cook it at all. I’ll just have apeanut butter and Jellyfish sandwich.”
Customer: “Now you’re joking me—right?”
(Not much gets by this old gal)
Customer: (At the head of a line of five people) “Do you have King Crab legs?”
Customer: “Do you have them by the case?”
Customer: “How much does a case weigh?”
Me: “Forty pounds.”
Customer: “Could I see one?”
Me: “Sure—just give me a couple of minutes.” So I go to the freezer, uncover a forty pound case (always at the bottom of the pile) and return to the counter, half frozen myself, carrying the thing on my shoulder.
Customer: “Looks good.”
Me: “Okay—I’ll ring those up for you.”
Customer: “No—not today. I was just wondering how big the box was.”
Me: (Trying to control the urge to kill) “No problem.” And then returning it to the freezer. It absolutely thrilled those waiting in line—as you might imagine.
And then there were the rocket-scientists.
Customer: “What’s the difference between the pepper-bacon and the plain bacon?”
Me: “Well, the way I understand it is this: the pepper-bacon has pepper on it,and the plain bacon doesn’t have any pepper on it.”
Customer: “Oh.” (As though that explained anything)
You get the idea. Then there are the surly ones. Giant Stuff Mart has about a quarter of a millions items in the store at any given time. The prices change on average probably once, or maybe even twice a week.
Customer: (I’m standing behind the seafood counter at the time) “Do you have any of the advertised Mayonnaise on aisle twelve?” (Which is halfway across the store)
Me: “I’m not sure on that one. I’ll have to call a grocery clerk to find out.”
Customer: “Do you know the price?”
Me: “No—I’m sorry, I don’t. I’ll check on that for you too.”
Customer: (Sticking her nose in the air and walking away) “Oh pardon me—I thought I was talking to an employee of the store.”
I stayed in this business for well over eight years.
Like I said . . . sometimes there just ain’t no cure for stupid.
* * *
They are a couple of products sold in the grocery store that I would like you to give serious consideration to not buying. And one that is given away. Let’s take the last first—samples.
They basically some in two different flavors—those cooked, and/or prepared in the store, and those that aren’t. Pretty much, as discussed in a previous chapter, the ones that come in from outside sampling companies are going to be alright. The in-store samples that are not cooked are going to pretty much be safe as well. Those would include (just as an example) cookie and cracker samples. In this example we see something that was processed at a different location, taken out of a box or bag and put out as samples. This is pretty safe.
There was a time that I thought fresh fruit and vegetables were probably safe samples as well. That ended the day I observed an employee of the produce department of GSM slicing “fresh” strawberries for samples and placing them into the little cups. Before he did though, he was carefully cutting away mold from each and every berry. Yup—they were too old to be sold, but not too old for samples. Wasn’t just one time either. I witnessed this behavior over and over through the years, and not just on fruit either.
Profits over people.
Every. Single. Time.
Please stay away from “fresh” samples. There is just no way to tell how healthy, or how deadly they might be. And the risk of making a mistake is just too high. In so many cases of serious food poisoning, the very first symptom to appear—is death. That’s a rotten first symptom.
Don’t risk it—it’s not worth it.
Do me a favor, and yourself as well—please don’t eat samples that are cooked in the individual store departments and put out on countertops. Generally speaking, and sad to say, these are most often expired, and/or product that is long past it’s prime. Where does the marked-down product go? You remember, don’t you? The prepackaged items that were old to begin with, and then put out for sale in those little cling-wrap covered trays. Then they were marked down. Only three days to sell it. Maybe it didn’t sell. What happens to it then?
Well, it is supposed to be scanned out of the computerized inventory control system and thrown away. Does it happen? Yeah—sometimes. And lots and lots of other times, this highly dangerous product simply gets cooked into samples. Samples that are then placed on the countertop and left to rot. By law, they are supposed to be removed and replaced every fifteen minutes.
Sometimes I have seen them remain there for over four or five hours.
Do us both a favor—please don’t eat those.
Ready to eat product. We’ve talked a little about these already. It bears repeating. Whenever possible, buy these items (like potato salad, etc.) in safe, sealed and dated packages that came directly from the food processor. If it’s been handled at the store, the potential for tragedy seriously increases. This lets out most of the stuff at the deli.
I can’t pretend that very many people are going to take my advice and stop buying deli items. They are just way too convenient and they simply look too good on display. Can they be safe? You bet. Can they kill you or make you wish you were dead? Oh yeah. Can you tell the difference by looking? Nope.
So, just a word to the wise—be forewarned. And be careful. Be very careful indeed. If it looks the least bit funky—it probably is.
Another thing I’d like to see banned by law. And that is “Ready to cook” products. You know the ones. They split a chicken breast in half and put swiss-cheese and ham into it, tie it up with butcher’s twine, call it Cordon Bleu, and place it in the case for sale. The chicken breast? Probably okay. The cheese and ham? Maybe. But on the other hand, I’ve seen some of these “add-in” products that were spoiled, and/or expired for quite some time before they were used. Some examples of “iffy” add-ins would be: kale and spinach, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, and the like. I have actually seen pre-cut red and green peppers that were slimy with spoilage, used to make beef and chicken ka-bobs.
The beef and chicken are probably okay. Those “iffy” vegetables have the ability to send you post-haste to a large brick building with a big “ER” painted on the side.
A lot safer alternative are “ready to cook” foods made and processed at a plant somewhere else, and then frozen. When they are available, buy them still frozen, and do your own thawing.
Most of these in-store prepared fresh “ready to cook” items are marked up in price three and maybe even four times, and for that reason tend not to sell very well. Are the un-purchased ones thrown away at the end of the day? Not by a long shot. They are time-consuming and tedious for time strapped meat and seafood employees to make, so basically they are returned to the case for sale day after day after day. I have seen beef ka-bobs for sale for over a week—looking a lot more like beef “jerky” kabobs than anything else. And unwitting customers still buying them.
A food-poisoning picnic disaster just waiting to happen.
Please—do not buy this stuff. Make your own. I’ll promise you, if you do, a whole lot better tasting, and a wholelot safer meal.
And maybe a sunrise the next day.
Thanks for reading tonight. Next up–Chapter Ten: Shellfish. Until then . . . Goodnight.
Dumb Joke of the Day:
The Rants, Views, Books and Classic Entertainment of Lee Capp