Costco recalls, tainted baby formula and other food recalls

Toronto was recently shaken by a the rapturous news of a Kirkland Signature recall. For countless consumers, the KS brand had come to symbolize high quality and most of the time low prices.

kirkland signature labelYet even the Sun has spots. When it comes to KS cookies, they may have metal pieces:

Costco Wholesale Canada has issued a voluntary recall of all Kirkland Signature cookies purchase between July 26 and August 7, inclusively. Costco says the recalled products should not be consumed because they may contain pieces of metal. So far there have been no reported injuries. Customers are being asked to return the product to Costco Warehouse for a full refund.

The following products have been recalled:

  • Kirkland Signature Cookies
  • Chocolate Lovers Cookie Pack, item #169327
  • Chocolate Chunk Cookies, item #237361

For more information contact Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. at 1-800-463-3783, or visit their website at costco.ca.

Kirkland Signature is Costco’s brand and many Costco members, such as myself, have learned to consider whatever’s stamped with it as high quality and well-worth the price. As it turns out, this is not the only “sinful recall: on the costco-recall notices website. Among other products, we find

  • G. Brandt Meats #39141, #206013, #39818 (PDF)
  • 10-7-21 Dats Déli Européen All Beef Salami # 240924 (PDF)
  • Les Chocolats Lulu Inc. #136321, 180420, 217355, 180436, 180442 (PDF)
  • Pirate Bed #213792 (PDF)

Other than deli meats and sweets and a number of consumer products we do not find many recalls. Apparently, the Pirate Bed is not at the first problem, which begs the question - “is that unforeseen or an intentional introduction of danger?”

Chinese babies grow breasts

Chinese products are not big on safety, as everybody should know by now. We know that the massive environmental pollution in that country is sometimes exported (as it happened with lead tainted products). During one other scandal a few years ago, it was discovered, after several babies died, that melamine contaminated not only baby formula, but also numerous other food products:

Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua said at a news conference that authorities are investigating and testing milk powder made by China-based baby formula maker Synutra International Inc. after parents of at least three female infants in the central province of Hubei made the allegations.

"We have also arranged for medical experts to discuss the conditions of the affected female babies and open an investigation to analyze the connection between the illness of the babies and the milk powder," he said. A food safety expert for the World Health Organization said test results are expected within days and that the agency will then take a look.

A statement issued by Synutra on Monday quoted chairman and chief executive Liang Zhang as saying the company is completely confident its products are safe. Shares of Synutra, which also has an office in Rockville, Md., dropped more than 25 per cent Monday on the Nasdaq in New York City. Milk powder became a sensitive topic in China two years ago when more than 300,000 children became ill and six died from infant formula tainted by the industrial chemical melamine. At the time, a Chinese agency found melamine in formula made by 22 Chinese producers, including Synutra, and Synutra announced it would recall products that may have been contaminated. That scandal led China to overhaul its food safety measures, but authorities in several cases this year have found the tainted milk again being used in products instead of having been destroyed as ordered.

This time, parents in the Hubei province claim that abnormal levels of estradiol and prolactin were found in their babies, aged 4-15 months, causing them to develop breasts.

Advice recall

Most older cookbooks suggested that people wash raw chicken. Well, that advice has been recalled, courtesy of the British Food Standards Agency, which contends that 65% of all raw chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter jenuni, which causes food poisoning. Washing raw chicken would then spread the harmful bacteria all over your kitchen. This bacteria causes stomach cramps, diarrhea (14% of all cases), nausea and vomiting, is found in the intestines of poultry, cattle and pigs.

The British agency is, however, recommending antibacterial wash of the chicken before it goes on sale.

“We are aware there may be resistance from the public to antimicrobial washes,” an FSA spokesman tells the Daily Telegraph. “That is why we are starting this consultation.” New Zealand uses the wash, which is diluted lactic acid, on chicken carcasses, but it is not yet approved by the European Union.

Hijiki seaweed and arsenic

In a recent bulletin, FSA is advising consumers to avoid Hijiki seaweed because of its high inorganic arsenic content.

The Agency also carried out a survey in 2004, which found that hijiki contains inorganic arsenic – a form that occurs naturally in some foods. The survey also tested arame, kombu, nori and wakame but no inorganic arsenic was found in these types of seaweed.

Hijiki is a distinctive, almost black, shredded seaweed, that is used mainly as an appetiser or starter in some Japanese restaurants. It is not used in sushi or in Chinese restaurants.

Hijiki is also sold for use in soups and salads and some vegetarian and vegan dishes where seaweed is an ingredient. It is sometimes found in the specialist food sections of some supermarkets and department stores and in health food shops and specialist shops selling Asian and Far Eastern food.

As it turns out, not all arsenic is equal in its adverse effects on human health:

Arsenic is widely distributed in the environment. It occurs in soil, water – both sea and fresh – and in almost all plants and animal tissues. As a result, arsenic occurs naturally at very low levels in many foods and it is not possible to avoid it completely.

How harmful the arsenic is depends on the chemical form in which it is present. The inorganic form can cause cancer by harming our genetic material (DNA). Rice and rice products together with hijiki seaweed have higher levels of the inorganic form of arsenic compared with other food. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) (an independent scientific committee that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency) has concluded that people should consume as little of this form of arsenic as reasonably practicable. The organic form is less harmful.

Current regulations
There are no EU-wide regulations for arsenic levels in food. In the UK, there is a general limit of 1 mg/kg (milligram per kilogram) for arsenic in food, though seaweed is not included. Separate limits apply to certain food categories. For instance, ready-to-drink non-alcoholic beverages have a limit of 0.1 mg/kg. The UK regulations were set in 1959 before it was known that inorganic arsenic can cause cancer.

In September 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its opinion on the risk to human health associated with arsenic in food. EFSA concluded that it was not appropriate to identify a tolerable daily or weekly intake for arsenic and recommended that dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic should be reduced. Following this, it is possible that EU-wide regulations will be set for arsenic levels in food.

Arsenic has been used as a “poisoning agent” for centuries. It’s nice to see consumer watchdogs waking up to this reality.

Sources / More info: wiki-arsenic, costco-recall, 680news, cbc-chicken, cbc-breasts, camplylobacter, fsa-hijiki, yt-arsenic

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