Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oh Fiddlesticks, I've Got Foster Farms Chicken in My Kitchen!

I'd get rid of it if I were you.

If you have Foster Farms chicken with the following numbers on the packaging: P6137, P6137A, P7632, either throw it out or take it back to the store and exchange it for a non-salmonella tainted batch, or how about a different brand all together. With 278 reported cases of salmonella poisoning, and 42% of those cases resulting in hospitalization, all the CDC and Foster Farms have to say is, gee, that's a higher number than normal, people really ought to be using a meat thermometer when they cook their chicken. Really. So for the hundreds of thousands of people that ate chicken in the last month, these guys just happened to cook theirs improperly, I doubt that has much to do with why so many have fallen so ill in such a brief period of time. I believe the real culprit here, besides the despicable business and welfare practices of most companies in the food industry, is cross-contamination.

As someone licensed by the state of California in food management and safe handling procedures, and I don't mean a food handler's certificate, I am licensed to oversee the food handlers, food, and environment in which it is handled. In the 18 years that I oversaw a restaurant kitchen, we never had a reported incident of food borne illness and were actually put on an elite program, by the Health Department, to receive yearly inspections rather than quarterly or every six months, as our standards of cleanliness, and lack of reported safety issues, were above par. And yes, we handled raw meat in that kitchen.

With an established background in food safety, what makes me think the salmonella outbreak is related to cross-contamination, well, you can cook your chicken all day long but do you cook your cutting board, your knife, how about the sponge you clean those things with, what about your hands? Here's the deal, all chickens have the possibility of becoming contaminated by salmonella, one sits around in a vat too long and the bacteria begins to grow, then more chickens are thrown in there with the contaminated chicken, the bacteria begins to multiply, then the chickens are processed and all the machinery, workers and surfaces that these chickens touch, become contaminated. You, dear consumer, unwittingly take home a package of this salmonella chicken, you put it in the refrigerator, you take it out, it sits on the counter, into the sink to get rinsed, onto the cutting board, into the pan, you wipe your brow with your hands before washing/bleaching/cooking them thoroughly and there you have it, a trip to the hospital. I am very curious to know, besides the number of individuals this has affected, the number of households. In a situation where you have brought home a product tainted by salmonella, your only recourse, the only way to be entirely safe, is to bleach the hell out of everything, including your hands.

This is what the food industry is telling us, it is our responsibility, as consumers, to cook the meat thoroughly, bleach, or don't use, a sponge, designate cutting boards for different tasks, and pray you aren't one of the unlucky ones who forgets to do all these things and makes themselves ill. Excuse me, accountability, anyone? Ever notice that meat is only recalled if it has Mad Cow Disease but any produce that is related to a food borne illness is immediately recalled, wonder why? Because you aren't expected to cook all your veggies, but the meat, that's all on you, not on the companies willing to allow contaminated product out of their facilities, into stores and into vulnerable bodies. In some European countries, salmonella has nearly been eliminated simply by tossing out batches that include any infected meat, this is considered to be too expensive of a practice to attempt in the United States. The United Chicken Council even noted that:

"Publicly available data show the prevalence of Salmonella on raw poultry products has been significantly reduced since the performance standards were implemented, but the incidence of salmonellosis in the human population shows no measurable improvement during the same time period."

That is from 2004-2012, their conclusion:

"For consumers, the bottom line is that chicken is safe when properly cooked and handled, and that chicken producers and processors are continually working to make them even safer. Instructions for safe handling and cooking are printed on every package of meat and poultry sold in the United States – when followed, one can be assured of a safe eating experience every time."

Its still up to you, its all on the label afterall. Foster Farms can generate infected meat for the rest of the year (remember, this is the second outbreak this year, the first was in March) and never be held accountable for it because it is your responsibility to cook your meat properly. With that in mind, we can all just stop buying Foster Farms chicken and if you can afford it, go organic, right? Coastal Range Organics is Foster Farms line of organic poultry so beware, just because it says organic, doesn't mean its safe or being handled better, they also refused to tell me what “natural flavor” was added to their “organic” ground turkey, so I've got an issue with them already.

My conclusion, leave Foster Farms products on the shelves, cook your chicken as you see fit and keep an eye on what is laying about where in your kitchen. And please, don't try to cook the salmonella out of the contaminated batches, its absurd and irresponsible to expect people to tote around bacteria laden meat and then blame them when it infects other products, surfaces, or hands, in their kitchen, in my opinion, you are owed uninfected product.

If none of that ruffled your feathers, the USDA has approved 4 plants in China to process U.S chicken and then send it back to the U.S. without labeling that the chickens have more stamps in their passports than many of us.
Profit before safety, this is what the warning on meat labels ought to say.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Explanation of Benefits Package

A note to our friends and family who are wondering, “Whatever happened to the Buzzells?”

    We had such a wonderful pre-tirement, lots of fun with family and friends, D&D afternoons that turned into parties that went on a day and more, too much rum and hookah and a glorious, indulgent time together being newlyweds. But on August 11th of 2012, Gary left to work in Korea, our pre-tirement came to an abrupt, and painful, end. We had been together every night since November of 2011, it was to be our first separation in nearly a year. I became very depressed and cried my way through, I did a good job of keeping busy with friends and family, all the while a little bit sad. To be honest, I hated going out of the house without him, most of our friends are couples and when in groups, I felt terribly alone. I lived for an email or the five minute phone call I got from Gary every evening, and if I missed that phone call, I became enraged because it was all I got, five minutes, none of which he was feeling great about, as he was miserable in Korea. The job in Daegu was good but the conditions were not favorable, besides bunking with 50 snoring men, Gary had to walk about a mile to work in 90+ degree weather with 90+% humidity. Before Gary left, one of his Commanders asked if he would come back and work for them permanently, Gary politely listened, but declined to make a commitment, thank goodness.

     After three weeks apart I picked Gary up from the airport and it took only a few minutes for us to get into a fight. I have trouble with being physically distant from a significant other, re-bonding is incredibly difficult for me, regardless of that, we were fighting about my driving of all things. We recovered from our argument but life was not to be the same, carefree, lazy existence that we were spoiled with before.

     Why did Gary go to work in Korea?  I had taken a very part time job in May of 2012, but our savings were waning and none of the law enforcement, or government, jobs that Gary had applied for were turning up results. While working for the Navy Reserves he discovered that he could go on brief assignments, practically anywhere, and get paid well. The only downside, of course, was that I didn't get to come along. Understanding that we needed to have an income, I was willing to let him go on these chosen assignments, this was before I knew what Hawai'i had in store for us.

     In October of 2012 Gary took a job in Hawai'i working at COMPACFLT, you know, the guys from the movie, Battleship. He was the first Reservist to be trained to supervise the “watchfloor” at COMPACFLT. I was under the impression it was another temporary position, this time for a month, but he was actually being groomed as the first in an experimental program that was not at all short term. Having literally no idea about this, I visited him in Hawai'i in November, had a lovely time, came back to the mainland and waited for his return.

     Throughout November and December I worked a lot, my twin nephews were born, there were tons of parties and Holidays and one more assignment that took Gary to Rhode Island for two weeks. While in Rhode Island Gary got a call from COMPACFLT, they wanted him back for a job that started mid-January and would go until September of 2013. We were on the phone, states and states away from one another and Gary was telling me all this and saying that he wanted me to move to Hawai'i with him for this job. I stopped him there and told him I would need to get off of the phone and call him back. We were, in essence, being asked to make a life-changing decision in 48 hours while we were miles apart, thanks COMPACFLT!

     I hate moving, everything about it fills me with horror, dread, anxiety and more horror, dread and anxiety. Who wouldn't want to live in Hawai'i? But it was more complicated for me than that, the complication of moving from our beautiful apartment, finding a new one on a foreign (trust me) island, then just turning around and moving back, having to find a new apartment, I was not keen on the idea, nor on what it would cost us to do so, none of which would be financially facilitated by the Navy. Thoughts, emotions, questions, swirling about in my head, I did what I always do in such a situation, I called family. My sis-in-law, Regina, answered and we talked it out. By the time we got off the phone I was ready to move, but that feeling was to be short lived. The more I thought about it the more I did not feel at peace with moving, it seemed a rash and financially unwise move to make. I asked Gary to get more information from his contact and, as it turned out, though the Navy would not pay for us to move, they would pay for our housing in both Hawai'i and California.  I was relieved to learn this, Gary also gave me permission to stay, he would need to be in California from time to time for job interviews anyway and it was decided that I would simply fly back and forth monthly.

     On the 13th of January, Gary got on a plane, it would be a month before I made it out to Hawai'i, we wanted to give him time to adjust to the job, get a car and apartment, I would fly out for Valentine's Day in February. I cannot express the emotion I felt when I hugged him in the O'ahu airport, except to say that I cried then and I'm crying as I write about it.

     Gary had found an incredible apartment in a friendly little area called, Hawai'i Kai. I had a nice visit and then returned to-San Jose, a lot of gin and an increasing self-imposed isolation. The months that followed are what I call, “Bottle Battles of the Pacific Blues”, more on that another time. To give you an idea of what life was like on a daily basis in Hawai'i, Gary had a 2-3 hour commute, if he was working a day shift he got up at 3.30am, drove to work, was on the watchfloor for 12-14 hours and then got home between 7 and 8pm. If he was working a night shift (he almost exclusively worked nights when I was there so I'll detail our schedule), he would get up around 3pm, have breakfast and leave for work by 4. I would then clean the house, do laundry and shopping, get home by 6pm, prepare his dinner, usually a casserole as I would need to heat it up in the morning, eat, drink and pass out. Around 6am I would wake up, waiting for his call that could come as late as 8am, once he called I would get up, put his dinner in the oven and go back to bed. He would get home usually a little after 9am, eat and go to bed. I would go back to bed with him as it was the only way to spend time with him, I didn't care that we were sleeping, I just wanted to be near him. I would wake around 11am, get up, start his laundry and the days would repeat themselves into weeks. Eventually I just stayed on Hawai'i time, even in San Jose, generally getting up late in the afternoon and staying up into the bleak morning. We didn't get out much, Gary was perpetually in need of sleep and I didn't have a car and was 49 bus stops away from what we called “downtown” i.e. Waikiki, which we didn't like anyway, and there was no reason to travel there as we had everything we needed in Hawai'i Kai, even a health food store! It actually wasn't until our last week in Hawai'i that I realized how much we never got out, I'm not sure if I'm bothered by it or not, it was our reality, the monotonous traffic, stiffling heat and maintained isolation, there were good things too, I loved the birds and made friends with some of the local homeless cats. Gary did have days off sometimes, but he usually slept during them and we learned to treasure any hours that we could spend on the couch together. During this time I turned 40 and we had our two year anniversary, which Gary had to work on, we did get to go to the Big Island for a few days though, and I cherish that trip and time off we had.

     On Monday the 15th of July, Gary missed a phone call, it was the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. I was playing on the computer next to him when he returned the call, they wanted him to come in for his final interview. Just so happens that I was flying back to California the next day, Tuesday, so we booked Gary a thousand dollar plane ticket and flew back together. He had his interview Wednesday, flew back to Hawai'i Thursday and went back to work Friday. He got the job!

     Ecstatic, I flew back to Hawai'i the following Wednesday, we moved out of our apartment a week later and into the BOQ (Bachelors Officer's Quarters) on base, the same BOQ he had lived in during his first week in Hawai'i, almost a year before. It was at this time that I realized how little we had left our apartment as a couple, we finally had time to go to the Punchbowl, climb/hike/walk Diamondhead and even just have breakfast at a cafe together, I thought it was paradise and that it would continue while he was in the Academy, wishful thinking.

“Working in Paradise is not a vacation.”-Navy co-worker

    Most important to me, when Gary got temporarily stationed in Hawai'i, was that he was somewhere that I could visit him, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. I repeated this phrase to myself and to everyone I spoke to about the move, over and over, like a mantra, like something meant to soothe, but it became too easy to say rather than to express my confusion, depression and loneliness, all of which still rests with me today. You see, normally when a spouse comes home from a deployment, there are a few months spent with family before they go back to work, the military understands the need for the couple to re-bond before sending them away again. It may seem that Gary and I were not so separate as I could see him in Hawai'i, but please re-visit a few paragraphs before this one and read again that I had to get into the same bed with him to spend time with him, we were asleep, not talking, not bonding, not sharing more than a bed, this was on and off for a year. When he moved back to San Jose, he had three days spent on work, two with family, 2 ½ with friends and 2 ½ with me, then he started Academy.

     The first night of Academy we were up until 2.30am trying to manage his workload, at 4am, he got back up and went to the Academy. The first weekend he had off was devoted entirely to Academy chores, it was, for both of us, an extremely difficult time. We are at the end of the third week, our routine is as follows: Gary gets up between 3 and 4.30am, leaves the house by 5.30am, gets home between 7 and 8pm, eats, does homework, gear preparations, shines his boots, irons his uniforms, lays on the couch with me for 20 minutes and goes to bed by 10pm, if he's lucky. I cook, I clean, I cherish my 20 minutes at mealtime and my 20 minutes on the couch and then, we sleep in the same bed together.

     So what has happened to the Buzzells is a very long, hard year of repeating that August feeling, waiting desperately for a 5 minute phone call.

     Last weekend, Gary actually had Labor Day off and we got to watch some movies together, it felt like the best thing ever. This weekend Gary has Reserve Duty, he'll come home from Academy tonight, get his uniform ready for the weekend, eat and go to bed, he'll leave the house at 5am tomorrow and be home at 6pm on Sunday, then he goes back to Academy Monday morning. I'm not complaining, I'm extremely grateful to him for the unbelievably hard work he's done the past year, he found some very ingenious ways of getting a paycheck. I'm also in awe of his dedication, commitment and continued patience with me. He is an amazing man and I am very lucky to have him as my husband.

    Please don't be offended if we are distant for the next 6 months, completing Academy is a priority, as is spending any free time we have, alone, for now. I'm sure we'll eventually make it out into the world again, in the meantime, be patient, know that we miss you but that for now, we need to take care of one another and spend what time we do have together, awake.

This concludes your Benefits Brief.