Mexican salsas, hot sauces found to contain concerning levels of lead

(NaturalNews) If you enjoy a little extra spice on those enchiladas or flavor with those tortilla chips, you may want to practice more caution when purchasing salsas and hot sauces originating from Mexico. A new study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) recently found that at least four popular Mexican brands of both hot sauce and salsa contain noticeably detectable levels of lead, a known neurotoxin, that in some cases exceed regulatory maximums for other foods.

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For their study, UNLV researchers purchased 25 brands of imported hot sauce and salsa from local ethnic markets, grocery stores, and flea markets throughout the area. Each of the bottles was shaken for 60 seconds and analyzed for lead concentrations and pH levels. The team also tested the bottles and labels themselves for lead content, as food packaging has been known to leech lead and other chemicals into food.

Based on its analysis, the UNLV team learned that about 16 percent of the hot sauces and salsas contained more than 0.1 parts per million (ppm) of lead, which is the maximum upper limit established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for candies — the agency has not yet established a maximum upper limit for lead in salsas and hot sauces.

According to the data, which was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B, the four offending salsas and hot sauces that tested for more than 0.1 ppm of lead, each of which is produced by a different manufacturer, include:

• El Pato Salsa Picante, manufactured by Walker Foods, 0.23 ppm lead
• Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, manufactured by El Yucateco, 0.21 ppm lead
• Bufalo Salsa Clasica, manufactured by Herdez, 0.17 ppm lead
• Salsa Habanero, manufactured by Salsas Castillo, 0.14 ppm lead

Also included as an offender was El Yucateco’s Caribbean Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero, which tested in just below the threshold at 0.091 ppm lead.

No amount of lead is safe; these were just the worst offenders
Several years ago, the same UNLV researchers had discovered what was later determined to be unsafe levels of lead in spicy candies imported from Mexico, which is what prompted them to begin studying other foods like salsas and hot sauces. Back in 2006, according to reports, officials actually pulled the tainted candy from store shelves because of the study’s findings, and the FDA later established a 0.1 ppm maximum contamination level for lead in candy.

But the agency did not apply this same limit to other foods like salsas and hot sauces, which may also be a health threat. Though there is technically no safe level of lead in food, a general threshold of 0.1 ppm or even lower seems reasonable to apply all across the board to protect the public against possible brain or other neurological damage. Children, as you may well know, are most susceptible to harm caused by lead poisoning.

“The results indicate the need for more rigorous screening protocols for products imported from Mexico, including an applicable standard for hot sauce,” says Shawn Gerstenberger, one of the study’s main authors. “Without enforceable standards for hot sauces and condiments, manufacturers will not be encouraged to improve quality control measures designed to reduce the amounts of lead and other toxic elements before exporting.”

Gerstenberger and his colleagues are pushing for both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an array of new chemical safety standards for food, including a 0.1 ppm maximum level of lead for hot sauces. These same agencies are being urged to enforce existing safety standards which some food manufacturers continue to violate without penalty.

Thanksgivukkah Mash-Up Meals

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As we enter the threshold of this year’s holiday season, more and more people are catching on to the excitement for the “once in a lifetime” holiday mash-up now known as “Thanksgivukkah.” Coined by a Massachusetts resident, who also created this Facebook page and this Twitter page to spread the word, the term “Thanksgivukkah” is a name combination of the American holiday of Thanksgiving and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Both holidays are set to be celebrated in tandem on November 28, 2013.

According to this interview with Jonathan Mizrahi, a physicist and Jewish calendar specialist, this overlap will not occur again for approximately another 80,000 years.

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All the more reason to indulge ourselves, don’t you think? Well, we’re certainly not the only ones who think so!

All levels of food enthusiasts have begun to brainstorm dishes that combine traditional flavors from both holidays. The following is a sampling menu of Thanksgivukkah-themed dishes that perfectly combine flavors iconic to these two highly-celebrated holidays!

Turkey and Root Vegetable Soup with Sage-Scented Matzo Balls
(Recipe Credit: Chef Marjorie Druker of Massachusetts, owner of the New England Soup Factory and The Modern Rotisserie)

Ingredients for Sage-Scented Matzo Balls:

7 eggs (separated)
1 tbsp. kosher salt
¼ cup chicken fat
2 C. matzo meal
3 tbsp. club soda
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Procedure:
Fill an 8-quart pot three quarters of the way with salted water, and bring to a boil.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl, and add a pinch of salt. Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks, salt, chicken fat, matzo meal, club soda, onion powder and herbs. Gently fold in the egg whites. Place this mixture in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Using your hands, roll the mixture into walnut size pieces and drop into boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for 35 minutes.

Give the gift of good food and drinks

Black Friday ate Thanksgiving. And I hope it tastes terrible.Listen, I love
gifting. So I didn’t mind when Thanksgiving and Black Friday co-existed, one following the other. It was a shopping after-party to family day.

But I drop my purse on the floor when it comes to family dinners, the big feasty kind, where we all sit together and talk and give thanks. Those aren’t as common as they once were. We can’t allow the growing number of Thanksgiving Day door-buster distractions to keep us from family.

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So I’m going to ask you, my friends, not to let deeply discounted gifts drive you crazy. Take this day back from big businesses. Watch football, eat until you need to unbutton your pants. Take a nap and struggle through awkward conversation with your loved ones. We all have traditions. Whatever yours are, do that today. Don’t let the retail frenzy clear your plates.

But as I said, I love gifting. Every Thursday through Christmas, you can find me here and online (@jeneeinkc) with tips and gift guides of the non-Black Friday variety.

Today: The gift of good food and drinks. Never underestimate the power of taste. And you don’t have to shop on Thanksgiving to score gift cards that come with a bonus.

Stone Canyon Pizza: Eat at Zona Rosa or Parkville, but whatever your pizza pleasure, just try the honey wheat crust. It’s delicious. Right now, if you buy $30 worth of gift certificates, you get an extra $10 gift certificate. Pizza for the baby-sitter and a neighbor, too. StoneCanyonPizza.com

Bread & Butter Concepts: Every restaurant in this group (Taco Republic, Gram & Dun, BRGR and Urban Table) is good, but Santa might like BRGR’s Roadhouse burger. It’s busting with bacon and jolly. Buy $50 or more in Bread & Butter Concepts gift cards and get 20 percent back in Bread & Butter Bucks. And with restaurants on both sides of the state line, there are plenty of options. BreadNButterConcepts.com

Bristol Seafood Grill: Sweet mother of lobster macaroni and cheese — this is a gift your parents deserve, a night of fine dining. Be it in Leawood or the Power & Light District, Bristol dishes up the delicious. A $100 gift card gets you a $20 gift certificate. That’s dinner for them and a happy hour for the best friend. BristolSeafoodGrill.com

Caribou Coffee: Fa La Latte, anyone? Shake off the Grinch’s chill with a hot cup of holiday comfort. For every purchase of $25 or more in eGift cards, you get a $5 eGift. Your co-workers will love you. CaribouCoffee.com

Pierpont’s at Union Station: It’s romantic and sophisticated, and the lounge menu offers fine dining on a recessionista’s budget. $100 in gift cards gets you a $20 gift card. Take your Christmas crush on a dinner date, and give the gift card to your roomie. Note: You can also use these gift cards at Hereford House locations. Did you say steak? 360KC.com

Louie’s Wine Dive: ’Tis the season for wine by the carafe, right? Eat, drink and be merry at this Waldo gem. The gift card special: $50 earns you $5; $100 gets you $15. LouiesWineDive.com

Drunken Fish: Sushi may not sound season-friendly, but throw back a sake and you’ll sing a different tune. Drunken Fish, with locations in Leawood and the Power & Light District, is the perfect place for holiday happy hours and white elephant parties. And their gift card deal is stacked: A $100 gift card earns you a $20 gift, $75 gets you $15, $50 gets you $10 and $25 gets you $5. DrunkenFish.com

The Extras: I know I said it was all about food, but since we’re talking gift cards that come with a gift, I have stocking stuffers for you. Half Price Books is giving a $5 bonus with each $25 gift card purchased, so go score a copy of “The Lump of Coal” by Lemony Snicket. HalfPriceBooksOnline.com. And for the dog lovers, Brookside Barkery & Bath has two deals. Every $50 gift card comes with a $5 gift, and the $100 gift card earns you $10. BarkeryBath.com

London Food And Drink News: 5 December 2013

Inside this week: mince pies, pancakes and a new Ramsay restaurant
Mince Pie Project

Friday sees the launch of the third annual Mince Pie Project, a Christmastime charity initiative that sees big-name chefs design and bake their own pies to be auctioned for charity. Funds will be split between Food Cycle, which serves meals to millions of people in Britain at risk of food poverty, and Kids Company, which provides practical, emotional and educational support for inner-city children. Last year the initiative raised over £30,000 with Duck & Waffle chef Dan Doherty raising £1,900 at auction for his box of gingerbread mince pies.

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If you’re not in the market for spending quite that much, you can buy a raffle ticket for £2 with the chance of winning one of the chef’s pies and other foodie prizes. Those already announced as taking part this year include Clare Smyth of Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road who’ll be using cranberries, apples, white chocolate and a crumble topping, and Anna Hansen from The Modern Pantry who’ll be incorporating almond and kumquat into her recipe.

Log onto the website here to bid, buy raffle tickets and find out more.
Pricey Pancakes

Just popped up in Covent Garden piazza this week is the Krug Kreperie experience, which runs until Sunday. Set inside three over-sized Champagne crates, you can pop-in mid Christmas shopping for a crepe created by French super-chef Pierre Koffmann (who previously popped up on Selfridges’s roof) accompanied by a glass of the namesake Champagne for £35. Pretty pricey for a pancake, though the cheapest Koffmann food you’re likely to find any time soon.
New Ramsay Restaurant

It was confirmed this week that Gordon Ramsay’s next restaurant will be London House, due to open this coming February in Battersea Square (a part of London the website refers to as Battersea Village, no less). At the more casual end of the Ramsay spectrum, the restaurant will feature a “modern European menu”. This will be Ramsay’s second south-of-the-river venue after Union Street Café in Southwark, and looks likely to be in a similar vein. The announcement comes following new openings Source and Augustine Kitchen not far away, giving Battersea’s restaurant scene a (much needed) breath of fresh air.
This Week’s Openings

In Soho this week the team behind Spanish and Italian restaurants Salt Yard, Dehesa and Opera Tavern have launched Ember Yard; there’s a focus on cooking over charcoal, with grilled and smoked foods (and cocktails) at the heart of the menu. In Covent Garden Augustus Harris is a new daytime wine shop and deli that morphs into a Venetian-style bacaro (like Polpo) serving small Mediterranean platefuls of an evening. Fulham boozer The Imperial Arms has been abbreviated to The Imperial and relaunched as a gastropub with a seasonal British menu. And Shoreditch is getting a taste of Peruvian food courtesy of Andina, a new opening from Martin Morales who runs Ceviche in Soho; included is a BBQ, a games room and a downstairs pisco bar. Tried or going to any? Let us know in the comments below.

World’s largest gingerbread village wows, but don’t be tempted to take a bite

A delectable-looking gingerbread village, sadly never to be eaten.

That’s what New York Chef Jon Lovitch created, while simultaneously nabbing the title world’s largest edible gingerbread village.  Certified by the Guinness Book of World Records last week, this real life Candyland has 152 houses, 65 candy trees, five trains, and even an underground subway station.

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Made with homemade candy and a custom-designed gingerbread recipe, the delectable behemoth clocks in at over 1.5 tons — making it the largest edible gingerbread village ever built.

Lovitch told FoxNews.com he began the project in February, baking all of the pieces in his tiny Bronx apartment. He kept the spare parts in an extra bedroom before moving them to the New York Hall of Science in Queens for final assembly.

Many candy villages use chocolate or even inedible materials, such as glue, to fit the pieces together, but GingerBread Lane is one solid mass of just three main components. With 2,240 pounds of icing, 400 pounds of candy and 500 pounds of gingerbread dough, this village is any dentist’s worst nightmare. Talk about a sugar rush.

Lovitch, who is the executive sous chef of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, says he’s thankful for the support of his company during the holiday project. After coming home from work, he would spend four or five hours-sometimes more– baking and building. “I’ve become a bit nocturnal during the fall,” Lovitch he said. “Sometimes I’m still working when my wife wakes up to go to work in the morning.”

Lovitch’s passion for gingerbread projects began almost 20 years ago and he has shown his displays in Washington, D.C., Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Knowing the village this year would be exhibited in such a large space, he said he was inspired to go big.

“This year, being in New York City, I just wanted something really imaginative to go with the whole theme of science.  It’s just whimsical, so I wanted to play with the height and largeness of the space,” he said.

Aside from creating his own gingerbread recipe – a true “kitchen sink” effort that sometimes involves switching pancake mix for traditional flour – Lovitch believes handmade candies really add that extra something special to his designs. “I like using reindeer corn, handmade candy canes and cut rock candy. They really hold up so much better than the drug store varieties.”

And gingerbread villages don’t come cheap. Lovitch funded the entire project and says he spent “a few thousand dollars,” although he didn’t reveal an exact figure. The effort apparently paid off with his Guinness Book of World Records title.

The village will be on display until the beginning of January 12, after which lucky visitors will have the chance to receive a piece of this enormous confection –just for a keepsake.  Biting the months-old cookies would probably crack a tooth.

“People usually keep their houses as a display item, but somebody asked me in January if they could eat it. I said, ‘If there’s an apocalyptic episode and there’s nothing else around, then yah!’”

Foods and drinks to avoid before flying

With the holiday season approaching, many of us are booking flights to visit family, friends, or simply to go on a vacation. Though flying often is a convenient and quick way to get from one place to another (if you don’t get hit with delays or airport lines), it can also come with some unpleasant side effects.

For those traveling longer distances and passing through different time zones, jet lag can be hard to avoid. But another common side effect of air travel, “jet bloat,” might actually be quite easily prevented.

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“Jet bloat” is not a made-up term, but an actual condition that’s surprisingly common among passengers on an airplane. According to a report on PRweb, the term “jet bloat” refers to “the body’s increased volume of gas that occurs from airline travel,” and the higher the altitude, the more the gas expands in our bodies. Luckily, there are a few simple things we can do to try to avoid the feeling of extra bloating and discomfort during flights, starting with what we eat.

Before boarding an airplane, it might be smart to stop and think about what foods and drinks we choose to consume. Though the classic preflight cocktail at the airport might calm your nerves, it can also make your flight more unpleasant: The air on a plane is much dryer than what we are used to, and combined with the dehydrating effect of alcohol, this can easily lead to headaches and other feelings of discomfort. Alcohol and coffee are both drinks one should avoid before flying, both because the risk of dehydration and their tendency to mess up a normal sleeping pattern.

If you’re feeling hungry before jumping on a plane, there are also a few food items that probably should be saved for a post-flight meal. Though grabbing a burger and fries from the fast-food joint next to your gate might seem like a smart choice on-the-go, at an altitude of more than 35,000 feet your body might start to disagree. Though fast-food is never the best food choice, digesting foods loaded with sodium and saturated fats becomes even harder for our body at a high altitude.

A more unexpected food item to avoid if you’re looking to prevent that bloated feeling is chewing gum, which might indeed help popping your ears, but the continuous chewing also makes us swallow air, causing extra gas in our bodies.

In order to avoid “jet bloat” and make your next voyage more pleasant, we at The Daily Meal have picked out 11 foods and drinks you might want to hold off eating until your flight has landed. So before heading to the airport next time, click through our slideshow and get tips on how to be smart about you travel-day snacking.

Fish and chips shops batter it out for survival against the fast food giants

Britain’s fish and chip industry grew +1.1% in the year ending September 2013 but faces heavy competition from fast food brands in £11bn market.

New foodservice industry figures from The NPD Group Inc, a global information company, show that Britain’s fish and chip shops saw a small increase in total spend (sales) of +1.1% to year ending September 2013. Consumers are now spending an average of £3.20 per person each time they visit their local chippie.

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But will Britain’s chippies struggle to survive as they compete with the fast food giants and other chains? Fast food has done well in the recession as people trade down to the cheaper channels when eating out. The British fast food market (which includes burger chains, chicken shops, kebab shops, takeaways, chippies and pizza deliveries) is now worth £11.4bn in Britain – that’s 23% of the total out-of-home (OOH) eating industry. Brands account for 50.4% of traffic and 50.6% of sales in the fast food market and they’re growing. These figures are up +1.9% and +3.3% respectively over the last year, and saw double digit growth since 2008.

Chippie challenges?

The independent outlets selling fish and chips need to offer quality and good prices if they are to beat off the fast food brands. ‘Quality of food’ has increased in importance this year with 24.5% of fast food consumers saying this was a reason for choosing a particular place to eat (up from 22.6% last year). 28.7% of consumers cite ‘good price’ as a reason for choosing where to eat in the fast food market – up significantly from 9.7% in 2008.

Guy Fielding, Director of Business Development for The NPD Group, said: “The independent chippies will need to fight hard to compete with the might of the big chains in terms of promotions and overall marketing activity. Our chippies need to think ‘family’ and attract adults with their kids, offering real value rather than just cheap food at low prices. But despite our love affair with fish and chips, survival isn’t guaranteed. Many of the chain competitors selling burgers and chicken directly over the counter are offering great family deals, something that is not replicated in the chip shop channel. You can feed a family for £12 at a fast food chain – can the same be said for the independent British chippie?”

How can chippies fight back?

There are three big motivations for eating out at fast food restaurants that can easily work in the chippie’s favour:

Convenience: 39.5% of fast food consumers cited this as a reason for where they choose to eat out (YE Sept 2013). Fish and chip shops would do well to emphasise convenience because they can serve fresh, hot food quickly, and they typically serve a local and often loyal catchment area that’s close to the outlet.
Family dining: People are going out to eat less often, but it has become more of a special event. ‘Spending time as a family’ has increased in importance every year since 2008 – with 11.2% of fast-food consumers citing this as their motivation to go out and eat now vs. 7% in 2008. Fish and chip shops can underline their family appeal more.
Treat yourself and the kids: The desire for a ‘treat’ was the motivation to eat out for 22.7% of fast-food consumers (YE Sept 2013) vs 19% in 2008. Do consumers feel a visit to their local chippie is a ‘treat’?

Guy Fielding says: “If chippies can tap into the current food service trends within their local community – convenience, family dining, honest, quality food and value – then they have a chance of survival. Playing the local card will be key.”