Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Food Safety

Food Events: Homebrewing demo; sweets from the Regency era; 'Fast Food Nation' lecture

Eagle rock 600

Homebrew demo: This Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., learn how to make your own beer at Eagle Rock Brewery. Spruce up your brewing skills and acquire new techniques and recipes as co-owner and brewer Steve Raub demonstrates homebrewing with his very own Full Moon Bock. The cost is $10 per person and includes lunch and a pint of one of Eagle Rock Brewery's house beers. 3056 Roswell St., L.A., (323) 257-7866, eaglerockbrewery.com.

Bride-cake and apple tarts: On Nov. 12, author and Jane Austen expert Kirstin Olsen will lead a discussion on cakes and pies in the Regency era at the Los Angeles Public Library. Presented by the Culinary Historians of Southern California, Olsen will address sweet and savory pies, in addition to the "bride-cake" mentioned in "Emma," with recipes for dishes from the 1800s provided. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. and admission is free. 630 W. 5th St., L.A., (213) 228-7000, lapl.org

Fast foodFast food, revisited: "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser visits L.A. on Nov. 17 to lecture on "Fast Food Nation Revisited: The Link Between Food Justice, Worker Justice, and Immigrant Justice" at Occidental College. The event is free and open to the public but an advance registration is requested. The lecture starts at 6 p.m. 1600 Campus Rd., L.A., (323) 259-2500, oxy.edu.

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Gearing up for "The Next Iron Chef"

--Caitlin Keller

Photo, top: Craft beer at Eagle Rock Brewery. Credit: Krista Simmons / Los Angeles Times

Photo, lower: Props for restaurant chain Mickey's Burgers in "Fast Food Nation." Credit: Matt Lankes / Recorded Picture Company

Times Food editor Russ Parsons asks: Are the new meat temperature recommendations really on target?

Pork

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has finally recognized what a lot of cooks and food scientists have been arguing for some time –- that previously recommended doneness temperatures for meat were wrong. But before you leap to your feet to applaud let's think for a minute about those revised recommendations.

Essentially, the USDA is now calling for three doneness temperatures. The old recommendations of 160 degrees for ground meat and 165 for poultry remain (the poultry was revised down from 180 several years ago), while calling for 145 degrees for "whole cuts of meat," including roasts, chops and steaks, whether they are from pork, beef or lamb. Previously, they recommended 145 for beef and lamb and 160 for pork.

The department is also recognizing the benefit of a "rest" period, though their recommended three minutes is not enough to make much of a difference culinarily (admittedly, their purview is guaranteeing food safety, not deliciousness).

But here's the rub, albeit from the standpoint of flavor: Though some really good cooks do recommend cooking pork to less than 160 degrees, I think there is a good reason not to, and it has nothing to do with food safety — it just doesn't taste as good. Granted, the meat will be moister (particularly if you're talking about lean cuts from the loin and tenderloin). But as repeated taste tests have shown, pork cooked to lower temperatures has what is generally called a "serumy" or "metallic" flavor. Probably better to brine the meat for moisture, then cook it to at least 155 for flavor.

The recommendations err in the other direction when it comes to cooking other whole cuts to 145 degrees. That's not a bad recommendation for something like a leg of lamb, which has a lot of sinew and connective tissue that needs to be softened. But cooking lamb chops, racks or an expensive cut of beef to 145 degrees puts it squarely in the "medium" doneness range -- a culinary crime against good meat.

Of course, the sheer willingness to reconsider previous positions is something to be praised. I remember years ago trying to track down the source of the recommendation of 180 degrees for poultry (which has probably resulted in more bad Thanksgiving turkeys than any other single factor). I worked my way up the phone chain at the USDA until finally somebody admitted that they had, essentially, plucked the number from thin air, but that they were going to stick with it because, essentially, most home cooks didn't know how to use a meat thermometer correctly anyway.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Despite a new, lower USDA standard, boneless pork chops may taste better when cooked to 155 degrees. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

Canning It: Working under pressure

Pressure Canner by Rachael Narins
When most people think of canning, they think of boiling water canning; taking food that has been placed in jars and boiling it for a recommended amount of time to make it last.

When you make fruit jam or pickles that way, you have something to eat and perhaps some handsome gifts to give away. But there are limitations to what can be boiling water processed and you can’t really feed your family on jelly and pickles. This is where pressure canning comes in.

Pressure canners (which are different than pressure cookers) are huge industrial-looking pots that have clamps and gauges, weights and valves and 12-page instruction manuals that are downright intimidating.  But don’t let that stop you. It’s simpler thank you think. All you have to do is follow the directions.

Continue reading »

'Is sushi safe?' In wake of Japan crisis, L.A. area restaurants field diners' questions

Fish2

L.A. restaurateurs say diners have been asking about the safety of fish from Japan -- especially since officials this week detected increased levels of radioactive iodine in fish caught 50 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced plans to dump low-level radioactive water into the ocean. (And now that chefs such as Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin in New York are wielding radiation detectors.)

But local restaurateurs are reassuring customers that the fish they're serving is safe and a majority of it is coming from other parts of the world. Fishing has been banned near the nuclear plant, and, anyway, much of the fishing industry in the region has been decimated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Meanwhile, the Japanese government on Tuesday imposed a standard health limit of 2,000 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram of fish.) Since late March, food imported from four prefectures in Japan -- Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma -- has had to be tested and cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Seafood from other areas of Japan also is being screened. 

"About 90% of the fish we're serving is from Europe or the East Coast," says Michael Cimarusti, chef-owner of seafood-focused Providence restaurant in Hollywood. Cimarusti, who serves Japanese kanpachi and scallops, says he isn't worried about radioactive iodine in Japanese fish because his seafood purveyor has conducted independent radiation tests.  

Los Angeles-based International Marine Products has been testing fish at Radiation Safety Engineering in Arizona. IMP says tests have not shown any iodine-131 (or radioiodine) in fish. 

Lee Maen, a partner in Innovative Dining Group (which operates five Sushi Roku restaurants and is one of Southern California's largest buyers of sashimi-grade fish), also says more than 90% of their seafood comes from outside Japan: tuna from Spain, Croatia, India and the North Atlantic; halibut from Korea; king crab from Alaska; and sea urchin and sweet shrimp from Santa Barbara. Most of what does come from Japan comes from the southern island of Kyushu, he says. "We were just surprised that so many customers were asking about it," Maen says, "people who would know better that a restaurant isn't going to serve fish with radiation."  

Some seafood purveyors say demand has slowed in the past few weeks. "It's important for consumers to understand that a sense of panic is unwarranted," says a representative of New Jersey-based True World Foods. "There’s nothing coming from that area, boats have been destroyed, fishermen are missing, the infrastructure of docks and waterfronts is gone, processing plants have been ruined. It's all gone. Nothing is coming from that area. And the FDA is testing every shipment we get from Japan. It has gone over and above what science would seem to indicate is warranted."

What about you? Do you have any concerns about eating fish?  

-- Betty Hallock

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Photo: Fish at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Credit: EPA/Stephen Morrison.

Canning it: Here's how to get started

JarsAfter a 10-year hiatus, and with lots of excitement, the Master Food Preserver program has officially re-launched in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County.

This spring, 18 trainees began a 12-week program that will cover everything from canning, fermenting and curing to brewing and pickling. As one of the trainees, I’ll be sharing some tips and highlights from the program and hopefully answer your questions on preserving food at home.

Continue reading »

Dennis Kucinich sues over a sandwich

Kucinich When I first saw this story about U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) suing over a sandwich, I thought what you probably thought: "This country is lawsuit happy." But I stopped snickering when I read some of the details:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is suing the operators of a House cafeteria for alleged negligence stemming from a 3-year-old incident involving a sandwich he says left him with significant dental injuries.

Kucinich is seeking $150,000 in damages... A copy of the suit obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer documents the April 2008 incident, in which Kucinich purchased a sandwich wrap he says was "represented to contain pitted olives." After consuming it, Kucinich found the olives were not pitted, causing "serious and permanent dental and oral injuries" that required "multiple surgical and dental procedures."

Now, my first question is this: Don't those fat cat politicians have Cadillac dental care? So is Kucinich actually out any dough? If so, how much? $150,000 is a lot of money. (But have you had any extensive dental work done lately, especially those involving "surgical...procedures"?)

I have no idea whether this suit is meritorious, as they say. But if you bought a sandwich that contained olives, would you expect them to be pitted? And if you crunched down on an olive with pits, and cracked a tooth or teeth or a bridge...would you just chalk it up to buyers' remorse? Or would you be a little more peeved than that?

What do you think? Does Kucinich have a point? Or is he taking advantage of the system?

--Rene Lynch
twitter.com/renelynch

Photo: Associated Press

The FDA poised to get a bigger stick

Gavel

In a world where we get garlic from China, shellfish from Thailand and sugar cane from Mexico, Congress is poised to approve an ambitious food safety bill that would strengthen the nation's top regulator and impose new rules on domestic production and trading partners. 

The legislation is aimed at preventing tainted food from entering the supply chain, sickening Americans and forcing massive recalls. It would give the Food and Drug Administration sweeping new powers to demand recalls and require importers to certify the safety of what they're bringing into this country.

The House is expected to pass the measure Tuesday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime update. A lot has changed since 1938," when the current food regulatory regime was established, said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "This will put FDA in a posture to prevent food-borne illness before it happens."

Read more in Tuesday's front-page analysis:

Photo credit: Associated Press

Vote coming Tuesday on new grading system for food trucks

Green_truck 
Los Angeles County supervisors are scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on a plan to expand the county's popular letter-grading system for restaurants to mobile food eateries. Read more here on L.A. Now:

Photo: Serving up organic fare at the Green Truck. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

Egg farms are found to be filthy

Farms
Maybe this egg recall isn't so surprising after all. Maybe the real surprise is why it took so long. Check out the latest developments, reported in today's Business section by P.J. Huffstetter and Andrew Zajac:

Federal officials investigating conditions at the two Iowa mega-farms whose products have been at the center of the biggest egg recall in U.S. history found filthy conditions, including chickens and rodents crawling up massive manure piles and flies and maggots "too numerous to count."

Water used to wash eggs at one of the producers tested positive for a strain of salmonella that appears to match the variety identified in eggs that have sickened at least 1,500 people, according to preliminary Food and Drug Administration reports of inspections at facilities operated by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa Inc. Read more here:


--Rene Lynch
Twitter/renelynch

Food safety experts said conditions found by federal investigators at two Iowa egg producers -- Wright County Egg, above, and Hillandale Farms -- are some of the worst they’ve seen in decades. (Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press / August 24, 2010)

 

House committee passes 'Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act'

KIDDOS Everyone from Top Cheffers to Jamie Oliver to Michelle Obama agrees that our nation's school lunch program is hungry for change. And it's no wonder such prominent figures are ready for the next course of action, given that 1 in 5 children are obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thursday the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act"  was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee, bringing the nation's kids one bite closer to the possibility of more nutritious meals.

The act aims to improve access to school lunch programs, help schools improve the quality of meals by adding a 6-cent-per-child increase in budget, encourage partnerships with local farms, allow unused food to be donated to food banks, increase access to healthful food outside school hours and improve food safety and integrity. (For a full rundown of the stipulations, click here.) It allots $8 billion over 10 years to achieve those goals, quite a bit more than the $4.5 billion proposed by the Senate Agriculture Committee's Child Nutrition Bill passed in March.

"From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we've ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs," says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. "The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won't be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it's important enough."

Both bills have now reached the floor and need to be passed by their respective chambers and reconciled before they can become law. 

Jenkins says it's important that the debate be scheduled soon, though. School lunches will be on the back burner during the month of August since Congress is on recess, and the current bill expires in September. "Last year, they had to pass a temporary one-year extension, putting the schools' programs in status quo. The schools will be encouraged but will not have funding. What it really means is that the bill will have to be rewritten and reintroduced again."

Michelle Obama issued a statement urging the House and Senate to take their child nutrition bills to the floor and pass them without delay. "The President looks forward to signing a final bill this year, so that we can make significant progress in improving the nutrition and health of children across our nation.”

-- Krista Simmons

Photo: Kids at Larchmont Charter showing off their school garden-grown tomatoes. Credit: Krista Simmons


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.