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February 22, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: Episode 4 — Further explorations of the [gassed] meat space

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Sorry I'm running a little behind here: a day late and many more than one dollar short is how I'd characterize things.

But you're not here to listen to me whine and all: I mean, you can get that anywhere.

And probably do.

But I digress.

I just read in yesterday's New York Times, buried on page 12 of the main news section, a story by Marion Burros about the carbon monoxide meat treatment controversy.

Huh.

The Washington Post featured it on the front page in its story on Monday.

Perhaps they don't run as much advertising from the beef industry as the Times.

Nah, that couldn't be the reason... could it?

Anyway, the reason I'm beating this dead cow yet again is simply to find an excuse to put up the photo (above) that accompanied the Times article.

The caption for the photo reads, "Both of these steaks were red when bought on February 3. Kept refrigerated, they were then photographed on February 16. Why the difference? The [top] one was treated with a process that has some consumer groups angered."

But wait — there's more.

The Times story went on to state, referring to the steaks shown above, "And as of yesterday [Monday, February 20], other treated meat bought at the same time was still red despite having been left unrefrigerated on a kitchen counter since February 14."

Man, I don't want to inhale in that kitchen: can you imagine what meat purchased on February 3, refrigerated until February 14 and then left out at room temperature for six days must smell like?

Grody to the max.

And we're not talking about headroom.

Here's yesterday's Times story.

    Which Cut Is Older? (It's a Trick Question)

    If some of the meat in supermarkets is looking rosier than it used to, the reason is that a growing number of markets are selling it in airtight packages treated with a touch of carbon monoxide to help the product stay red for weeks.

    This form of "modified atmosphere packaging," a technique in which other gases replace oxygen, has become more widely used as supermarkets eliminate their butchers and buy precut, "case-ready" meat from processing plants.

    The reason for its popularity in the industry is clear.

    One study, conducted at Oklahoma State University for the Cattlemen's Beef Board in 2003, said retailers lost at least $1 billion a year as meat turned brown from exposure to oxygen, because, though it might still be fairly fresh and perfectly safe, consumers simply judged meat's freshness by its color.

    The carbon monoxide is itself harmless at the levels being used in the treated packaging.

    But opponents say that the process, which is also used to keep tuna rosy, allows stores to sell meat that is no longer fresh, and that consumers would not know until they opened the package at home and smelled it.

    Labels do not note whether meat has been laced with carbon monoxide.

    The Food and Drug Administration approved use of the process in 2004.

    The Washington Post reported in its Monday editions that Kalsec, a Michigan producer of a natural food extract that helps slow the discoloring of the meat but does not "fix" it in the same way as carbon monoxide, had petitioned the agency to reverse that decision.

    The Consumer Federation of America and the advocacy group Safe Tables Our Priority have written a letter to the agency in support of the petition because, they say, the bright red color could mask spoilage and dangerous bacteria in older meat or meat that has not been kept at the proper temperature.

    Supermarket chains including A.&P. and Pathmark do not carry the treated meat, but it is showing up with increasing frequency elsewhere.

    In New York City, it is sold at 30 Gristede's stores, at D'Agostino markets under the labels Laura's Lean Beef and Creekstone's, and at the Morton Williams stores in the Associated chain.

    A spokeswoman for Safeway did not respond to phone calls and e-mail messages about sale of the treated meat there, but it was available at a Safeway market in Bethesda, Md., earlier this month.

    SuperTarget stores are also selling it, and Wal-Mart reports carrying it in 150 stores.

    "This is what is going to happen in the meat business," said John A. Catsimatidis, chairman and chief executive of Gristede's.

    "The meat looks great. It looks as red as the day it was cut."

    Processors say treated ground meat can be sold for 28 days after leaving the plant, and solid cuts for 35 days.

    The agribusiness company Cargill says it has sold 100 million packages in the last year.

    Randy Huffman of the American Meat Institute Foundation, an industry group, said, "The primary benefit in providing this product to consumers is the red color they have grown to expect."

    In a firsthand look at the treated meat, a package of a conventionally wrapped rib steak and one with the carbon monoxide were both red when bought on Feb. 3 near Washington.

    They were then kept refrigerated.

    By Feb. 16, when they were photographed for the pictures that appear with this article, the conventional meat was brown, but the treated meat was still rosy.

    And as of yesterday, other treated meat bought at the same time was still red despite having been left unrefrigerated on a kitchen counter since Feb. 14.

    Some food scientists who approve of other forms of modified atmosphere packaging as a way of extending a product's life say this form of it can be unsafe.

    Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, says one study found that when meat in modified packages that included carbon monoxide was stored at 10 degrees above the proper temperature, salmonella grew more easily.

    Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the F.D.A. to explain its approval of the process.

    "It's just common sense that when consumers buy meat, they use color as an important indicator of its freshness," Mr. Dingell said in an e-mail message to a reporter.

    "For F.D.A. to rely on a promise of some stamp on the package that says 'use or freeze by' is just naïve."

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This just in at 4:14 p.m. today: This morning's Washington Post featured another story on the growing controversy about gassing beef.

Rick Weiss, who wrote Monday's Post story, also authored this one, which you can read here or, if you're too lazy too click, below.

    Studies Attest to Buyers' Focus on Color of Meat

    A Food and Drug Administration official indicated yesterday that she was unaware of any scientific studies showing that the color of a piece of meat is central to a shopper's decision to buy it or not -- even though a petition recently filed with the agency describes several such studies.

    In a telephone news conference yesterday, Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, sought to allay consumer concerns about the safety and freshness of the nation's meat supply after revelations in The Washington Post that a growing proportion of prepackaged meats in the United States are spiked with carbon monoxide -- a gas that keeps even rotten meat looking red and fresh.

    The agency has been asked to ban the practice, but Tarantino defended the FDA's decision to classify it as "generally recognized as safe," which allowed the meatpacking industry to use the gas without seeking formal FDA approval.

    Carbon monoxide "does not reduce the safety of meat," Tarantino said, referring to meat-company-sponsored studies indicating that treated meat is not more likely to harbor harmful bacteria than conventionally packaged meat.

    That aspect of safety is essentially undisputed.

    But Tarantino appeared unacquainted with a significant body of data -- some of it generated by the meat industry -- indicating that red color is a central cue used by shoppers to determine the freshness of meats, which are increasingly sold in sealed, "modified atmosphere" packages.

    The issue of how consumers make their choices is central to the argument made by Kalsec Inc. of Kalamazoo, Mich., that the use of carbon monoxide to keep meat red is a "deceptive practice."

    Kalsec sells natural extracts that slow the browning of packaged meats -- a business threatened by the growing use of carbon monoxide.

    "If we had evidence that consumers would be misled into buying meat that was spoiled because of the use of this technology, that is something we'd be concerned about," Tarantino said.

    Asked if any scientific studies had quantified the importance of color for consumers making judgments about freshness, Tarantino had none to offer.

    But Kalsec's petition, filed with the agency in November, cites:

    • A 2001 Colorado State University study that concluded, "Consumers view color as one of the most important attributes of fresh beef when making a decision to purchase retail product."

    • A 1972 study published in the Journal of Food Science that concluded, "Consumer studies have shown that physical appearance of a retail cut in the display case is the most important factor determining retail selection of meat products."

    • A 1996 study in the Journal of Animal Science that stated, "Meat color is the main factor affecting beef product acceptability at retail points of purchase."

    • A National Pork Board/American Meat Science Association fact sheet, which states that "meat color is the single greatest appearance factor that determines whether or not a meat cut will be purchased."

    Tarantino said the agency was considering Kalsec's petition, along with documents filed by meat interests opposed to Kalsec's claim that carbon monoxide should be considered a "color additive."

    That classification would require a public review of safety data.

    She would not predict when the agency's review would be complete.

    Tarantino also said she did not know if the agency would respond on time to a letter sent Feb. 9 to acting FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach from Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) , which requested answers by tomorrow to numerous questions about the handling of the carbon monoxide issue.

    On Monday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he would introduce legislation to ban carbon monoxide use in packaged meats if the FDA does not immediately revoke its earlier decision.

    FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro encouraged shoppers to "use the skills you have as a consumer to be aware of what is a safe and fresh meat product."

********************

I wonder if carbon monoxide kills prions?

Just an idle thought.

Might be a good thing for the beef industry to look into to keep its carbon monoxide meat treatment from being banned.

February 22, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joe–eeze: Wood floors

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Cindy McNatt recently wrote an excellent story for the Orange County Register about wood floors, focusing on how to choose the right wood.

It follows.

    Floored by all the choices in shopping for hardwood? Here's help

    One day, granite countertops will be out.

    Salad-bowl sinks will seem so yesterday.

    Faux-painted walls will look like flocking from the '50s.

    Choosing decor that won't read like a fad in five years is a challenge.

    Yet there is one choice that you may never regret: installing a classic wood floor, an option that has been popular since, oh let's see, the 15th century.

    "It used to be that people had stone floors because they shared living space with animals," said Ellen Paris of Richard-Marshall Fine Flooring in Hawthorne, Calif.

    Richard-Marshall crafts wide hardwood planks by hand and installs solid wood floors in an old-world style.

    "But once we banned chickens from the house, we chose wood," Paris said.

    Centuries later, wood still works with any decor.

    It also provides a warm and forgiving bounce that makes standing on it tolerable for long periods.

    And with the latest impenetrable finishes, and rich and fashionable stains, wood adds classic beauty even in a house full of family, pets and parties.

    "You will never have buyer's remorse with wood," said Paris.

    "You can change your furniture, window covering, or color scheme, but the wood will always be there and most important, be appropriate. Look at Monticello - the original wood floors there are still magnificent."

    Unlike Thomas Jefferson's estate, your castle may not stand for centuries.

    There is no denying that wood is more durable than it looks.

    Many hardwoods come from broadleaf trees that bear fruit or nuts and go dormant in the winter.

    It is seasonal cycles that make these woods so sturdy.

    Industry experts such as the American Hardwood Information Center say, "Go ahead and use wood in the kitchen."

    It is not only easy on the feet because it "gives," but it can also handle the spills.

    How to choose the right wood for you and your family?

    Since many of them look similar, at least on the surface, it helps to see past color and style and find out how to decipher the product profiles.

    ---

    FINISH

    Above the many styles, an array of wood species, plus a decision on choosing solid or veneer, most of the industry agree on this: Pre-finished beats unfinished by far.

    "Factory finishes can furnish up to 10 UV- and scratch-resistant layers, and offer a 20-year guarantee that on-site finishers can't get close to," said Gary Mills of Fullerton Wholesale Flooring.

    Some of the latest and most durable finishes include aluminum oxide, a translucent yet highly durable layer that is tough to penetrate with normal household activity.

    ---

    SOLID OR ENGINEERED

    One argument for choosing more expensive solid hardwood over engineered planks is that solid floors can be refinished several times, depending on the style.

    By comparison, engineered floors have a thin top surface, which could only be resurfaced a couple of times.

    While solid wood will last hundreds of years, it has drawbacks.

    Solid wood expands and contracts and is considered less stable than veneer.

    It cannot be installed below grade and often requires a plywood sub-floor.

    Engineered floors, also known as veneers, are made of three to five layers of wood laminated together.

    Because of cross lamination, veneer floors are more stable and do not expand and contract as much as solid wood.

    They also can be installed at any grade level and two times is usually tops for future refinishing.

    ---

    STYLE

    The latest styles are not so late at all - they're timeless.

    Wormholes, beveled edges, hand-scraped and factory-scratched surfaces offer an aged appeal.

    But the classics are also still in.

    "We've seen designers slightly circling back to classic square-edged floors and smooth surfaces," said Mills, "especially for contemporary interiors."

    ---

    COST

    Hardwoods can run from $5 a square foot for veneers to $30 a foot for hand-planked solid woods, depending on the species, finish and installation techniques.

    Know what you are getting with some sale, or "liquidated," flooring.

    Some of these had dated finishes, such as whitewashed oak, that have been recently resurfaced in newer colors.

    While there is nothing technically wrong with refinished wood, when it comes to veneers, consider that you might have lost at least one refinishing layer up front.

    ---

    WOOD SPECIES

    While the word hardwood applies to broadleaf trees in North America, there are also hardwoods that come from the tropics, such as mahogany, merbau, teak, rosewood and wenge.

    Keep your eyes out for "pseudo hardwoods."

    For example, Tasmanian oak and Patagonia maple make us think of hardwoods, but may actually be softer eucalyptus and rubber tree-type woods.

    Read the fine print on the product profile.

    Ask questions.

    ********************

    Sources:

    American Hardwood Information Center (www.hardwood.org)

    World Floor Covering Association (www.wfca.org)

    ********************

    How hard is hardwood?

    When considering wear and tear, the hardness of the wood becomes important. The Janka Hardwood Test measures the pounds of force needed to embed a steel ball halfway into various woods. Here are the results, from the hardest to the softest woods:

    Brazilian cherry - 2,350

    Mahogany - 2,200

    Merbau - 1,920

    Hickory, pecan - 1,820

    Wenge - 1,620

    Maple - 1,450

    White oak - 1,360

    Beech - 1,300

    Red oak - 1,290 (Red oak is the industry benchmark, durable enough for most uses and by which other woods are measured.)

    Birch - 1,260

    Walnut - 1,010

    Teak - 1,000

    Cherry - 950

    Alder - 590

    Aspen - 350

February 22, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

What's the best airline to fly during a snow storm?

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Scott McCartney explored this question in an interesting article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

It turns out that the various airlines have markedly different approaches to bad weather dictated by any number of factors but in the end it's all about the money.

You fly, the money keeps coming; planes sitting on the ground earn zero.

And that's not even considering the money you're paying to all your employees standing by.

If you're the type who wants to get where they're going as soon as possible no matter what, you're better off flying JetBlue which, as you can see from the graphic below

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(which accompanied the Journal article) is much more aggressive than United or American when it comes to flying in bad weather.

Me, I'm the United type: one snowflake and I'm quite content to be heading back home to wait it out.

It's a bit like anesthesiologists who are really good in emergencies: the thing that first occurs to me is, "Why?"

I mean, how did they get so good?

Is it because they get into trouble more often and therefore have more experience in such crises?

I'm reminded of a resident I worked with at the University of Virginia: even in his third (final) year of anesthesiology residency, every day he'd come back into the ready room saying stuff like, "I had something really amazing happen in my room today."

Hey — when you're in your first year that's a reasonable comment more often than not.

But by the time you're a senior resident, preparing to go out into private practice, you'd better have your routine down such that "amazing" things rarely happen.

Otherwise, life in the real world will not be pretty.

February 22, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion Cutter

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One great thing about being small is that you don't have to call it the "Steak House Onion Cutter," as does Williams–Sonoma in its description so as not to tread on sacrosanct trademarks and copyrights.

From the website:

    Onions sliced into floral shapes and then roasted to a mellow sweetness or deep-fried until crispy and golden brown are a delicious accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.

    Now popular on menus at fine steak houses, this classic side dish is simple to prepare at home using our onion cutter.

    With one swift motion, its 18/8 stainless–steel blades produce a perfect "bloomed" onion.

    Multiple prongs secure the onion in place while steel handles provide excellent leverage so minimal effort is required.

    A stopper halts cutting to ensure "petals" remain intact during cooking.

    8.5"" x 5" x 2" high.

    Dishwasher–safe.

$12.99.

February 22, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Running on the Sun

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Once upon a time, some years ago, when I was spending the majority of my waking hours running or inline skating or resting as a result, I had a fantasy about taking up ultramarathon running.

Back in the day I ran a total of four marathons — the old–fashioned 26.2–miles–long variety, with a best time of 3:16 for Culver City (part of greater Los Angeles) — before I tired of the endless training.

Then, when I was in the habit of doing the Athens–to–Atlanta Inline Skate Marathon (86 miles from Athens, Georgia to Piedmont Park in Atlanta, on the road) every year, trying a running ultra seemed like an interesting challenge.

As time has passed my interest has waned such that nowadays I'm happy if I do 30 or 40 minutes of slow jogging three or four days a week.

I watched the above–titled DVD last night and I can only say: Oh, man.

It is truly unbelievable.

For the $9.47 price of admission (at Amazon) you get to meet some extraordinary people.

It is impossible to summarize this DVD but I will say the following:

• The Badwater Ultramarathon accepts 40 people who want to try and complete what is simply a brutal course, indescribably difficult. It takes place every July, begins in Death Valley and covers 135 miles, with tremendous inclines and decline, ending 8,000 feet up Mt. Whitney.

• There are no cash prizes: you get nothing but an extremely coveted belt buckle for covering the 135 miles under 48 hours. The course record is just under 28 hours. About one–third of those starting drop out, one–third finish under 48 hours, and the other third finish within 60 hours, when the course closes.

• If you don't want to see some really terrible looking feet and toes then don't buy this DVD.

• If you don't find yourself repeatedly dumbfounded and amazed at the enormous mental strength and reserves of the varied living embodiments of Samuel Beckett's, "I can't go on — I'll go on" who participate in this race, you're a harder person than me.

February 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Carpenter's Pencil

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Measure twice, cut once.

So why not do it with throwback elan?

From the website:

    Carpenter's Pencil and Sharpener

    Mark it like the pros

    Skinny pencils are hard to hold and easy to lose.

    Not these.

    Large, flat carpenter's pencils fit comfortably in your hand and are easy to grab and use.

    Specially designed sharpener fits pencil exactly and sharpens flat pencil into a round point.

    Each pencil is 7"L.

    These are very popular items in our retail store.

5 pencils cost $3.95.

The sharpener is $4.95.

February 22, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Doctor Admits Implanting Screwdriver In Patient'

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Above, the headline of a February 15 story broadcast on WKMG–TV News in Honolulu, Hawaii about an exceedingly bizarre event that occurred in an operating room at Hilo Medical Center back in 2001.

The x-ray above shows two vertical pieces of the broken screwdriver shaft (it fractured a week following surgery) used by the surgeon, Dr. Robert Ricketson, in place of indicated titanium rods which were not immediately available.

Watch the video here for a summarized version of the strange happenings.

Rod Thompson reported on the episode in detail in a story which appeared on Friday, February 10 in the Honolulu Star–Bulletin; it follows.

    Medical malpractice suit involves makeshift implant

    An hour into back surgery on patient Arturo Iturralde at Hilo Hospital in 2001, Dr. Robert Ricketson discovered that two titanium rods he planned to attach to Iturralde's spine were missing.

    Brushing off an offer from a representative of the rod manufacturer to fly two more rods from Honolulu to Hilo in 90 minutes, Ricketson used a hacksaw to cut off the shaft of a screwdriver and inserted it into Iturralde's back.

    The screwdriver piece broke a week later.

    For the next 2 1/2 years, Iturralde suffered increasingly severe medical problems until he died in 2003.

    As the medical malpractice trial opened yesterday, Mark Davis, attorney for Iturralde's sister, Rosalinda, told jurors medical supply company Medtronic Inc. failed to check the shipment of rods from New Orleans.

    Medtronic attorney Murray Levin said the company sent them.

    "The rods were lost in the hospital," he said.

    The hospital is also a defendant, represented by attorney George Playdon.

    Ricketson will make his own opening statement to jurors on Monday, representing himself since he failed to buy insurance that would have provided an attorney.

    Ricketson's medical license was suspended in Oklahoma because he prescribed narcotic medication for patients but used it himself, becoming addicted, Davis said.

    Texas revoked Ricketson's medical license for drug use.

    The state of Hawaii had placed Ricketson on probation because of drug use.

    In a file at Hilo Hospital, Ricketson himself had reported five prior malpractice lawsuits against him.

    A nurse reported seeing him deliberately cut a nerve in another patient's arm, Davis said.

    During the screwdriver operation, a nurse shouted, "Dr. Ricketson, you cannot do this," Davis said.

    When the broken screwdriver piece was removed later, nurses saved the pieces and gave them to Hilo attorney Robert Marx, who is co-counsel with Davis.

    Patient Iturralde, 73, was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 235 pounds.

    He had had heart surgery, suffered from diabetes and urinary incontinence and various falls, Davis said.

    The botched screwdriver surgery, followed by three corrective surgeries, injured Iturralde's nerves, causing inability to walk and further urinary complications that led to infections and his death, Davis said.

    Attorney Levin countered that the one week the screwdriver piece was in Iturralde's back did not lead to his death.

    Even before the operation, "He was a nice man. He was also a very sick man," Levin said.

********************

Other accounts of the case are here, here and here.

February 22, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

TastyBite Indian Microwave Meals

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I happened on these at my local Kroger the other day during one of my of my frustrating, interminable searches for something whose location I simply cannot remember in a grocery store I patronize regularly (and have for years).

Anyway, I looked at the picture on the box and thought, that's different (it was Peas Paneer with Basmati Rice, in case you're wondering).

So I bought it along with two other meals.

Long story short: they're superb.

And so nicely elementary in terms of preparation:

1) Open the box

2) Remove the two pouches from the plastic cooking bowl

3) Open the rice and dump it in the bowl

4) Open the second (peas) pouch and pour it on top of the rice

5) Loosely place the box cover on top

6) Nuke for 2 minutes

Very nicely done.

All the little things have been thought of, such as the pouches being nicely notched on both sides toward the top so you don't have to hunt for a knife or scissors to open them.

I don't recall the price in the store but I know it was more than this website's $1.99–$2.99/meal.

Highly recommended.

********************

Note added today at 9:20 a.m.: The website also offers a selection of similarly packaged Thai meals.

I ordered five different ones and my recommendation is to stick to the Indian selections.

For one thing, some of the Thai dishes cannot be prepared quickly in a microwave but instead require first boiling water to prepare noodles.

Second, those that are quick microwave meals aren't very good.

The jasmine rice is so heavily scented you feel like you're standing in an elevator with someone wearing cheap perfume and the other constituents offer little in the way of eye appeal or palate delight.

February 22, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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