Beriberi (I can’t, I can’t)

bacteria-108895_1920Pseudomonas bacteria are a genus of bacteria which exist widely in the environment. They are gram negative, rod shaped, non spore forming, motile, flagellated aerobes. Pseudomonas aeruginosea, probably the most well know of all pseudomonas strains, is an opportunistic pathogen that has the capability of adapting to many niches. It can infect animals and humans alike and can cross the species barrier and for this reason it is considered a potentially zoonotic pathogen. This type of bacteria is immune to many types of bacteria because it has within it’s cell wall a mechanism known as an efflux pump which pumps antibiotics back out of the cell before they have had time to take effect. It is the second most common bacterial contaminant in hospitals and it is known to be paticularly malicious in burn units where it prevents the regeneration of healthy tissue. Bacteria of the pseudomonas family are grown on blood agar which turns from a blood red color to a marine blue/green hue. It also gives off a quite pleasant slightly minty smell.

One form of Pseudomonas pathogen causes a highly contageous disease in horses which is also highly infectious to humans. The disease in horses is know as glanders because it affects the glands in and around the throat and jaws of the horse. This disease was common when colonial forces shipped large quantities of horses to places like Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Now, this disease is more rarer. The scientific name of this pathogen is Pseudomonas Mallei and it is registered as one of the possible bacterial strains that could be used in bacterial warefare together with Clostridium Botolinum and Anthrax.

Other forms of Pseudonas bacteria are known to cause spoilage in food at low temperatures. These psicrophilic Pseudomonas strains include: P. fragi which causes spoilage of dairy products , P. taetrolens which causes mustiness in eggs and P. mudicolens, and P. lundensis, which causes spoilage of milk, cheese, meat, and fish.

The term spoilage is used in food hygiene for a condition by which the food takes on an unpleasant texture, color change smell taste. This does not mean that the food has necessarily become a serious health risk in the same way as if meat were infected with e.coli or salmonella, for instance, but at the same time it is definitely not advisable to eat spoiled food. It means that the food has been infected with bacteria which cause the physical nature of the food to change. For instance, meat may become slimy to the feel or the outer lawyer of certain foods may become pulpy, it may also smell slightly sour and change color. This happens to food which has been stored in refrigerated conditions for long periods of time in places which have not been properly cleaned with anti bacterial disinfectants. I often see this condition in places such as deli counters where meat is sliced in front of the customer.

However a little slime on meat, such as with cured pastrami in particular and with other types of processed meats is not always a sign of spoilage. It may well be due to a reaction between the protein of the meat, the curing chemicals and the air. Many manufacturers now use preservatives to prevent such spoilage. In addition, the reaction of the preservative with the air and other factors within the meat can cause the color of the product to change slightly as well. The color of the may become slightly irridescent or take on a greenish hue. If the meat smells even the slightest bit sour, feels or looks slimy or has a bad color refuse to accept it.

Spoiled food such as cured meats meat can cause stomach discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting or mild allergic symptoms in some people and may even become more serious in people whose immune system is compromised. Remember this central rule of food hygiene, “When in doubt throw it out”.

Fish products are particularly susceptible to spoilage and it can be very difficult to guess from a casual inspection if the deterioration of the fish is due to spoilage bacteria such as the psicrophilic pseudonmonas species stated above or if the cause is due to more dangerous, pathogenic forms of bacteria. If fish looks even slightly slimy, discolored or smells in the least sour don’t buy it or if it has turned bad in your fridge throw it out and clean you fridge thoroughly with disinfectant. (A tactic used by many fresh fish mungers to hide the tell tale smell of fish which has started to show signs of going off is to constantly pour sea water over it. Watch out for this trick. If you are not sure if you are smelling the actual fish or sea water, don’t buy the fish). Most importantly, keep all fish products in closed containers to avoid cross contamination with of by other food products in your fridge.

The same goes for eggs milk and cheese, if you distinguish any changes in color texture or smell, don’t take any risks, better to throw out and buy fresh. To lower the risk being sold spoiled or food which is about to spoil, buy only from supermarkets and stores which are very busy and have a high turnover of merchandise, particularly in the deli sections. Don’t be embarrassed to inspect what you buy, you are paying for fresh and healthy food and the decision to take what is on offer or not is entirely your own. The customer is always right. If you notice that the food you buy goes off quickly and you know that a). your fridge is clean and b). the temperature of the fridge is as it should be then take the food back to the store with your receipt and demand a refund or a fresh replacement. If the problem continues report your findings to your local authority for food hygiene.

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Here’s a little extra for those cooking fanatics among you.

OK, lets get one thing straight, In Hungary goulash is a soup but in the west we have turned it into a main course dish similar to stew. When I make my goulash all my Hungarian friends think it’s a joke.
So let’s get down to making a really great (albeit Western) goulash.
Goulash, in non Hungarian terms is a combination of meat, Usually beef, carrots, potatoes, sauerkraut and spices in a thickish sauce.
The dish can be cooked in a pot on the stove or in a casserole dish in the oven.
The ingredients that you will need for goulash are fairly simple and straight forward. Here’s the list:
1) Cubes of Beef. I use number two or number ten cuts for goulash. They are less expensive cuts and quite good enough.
2) Potatoes, diced into large cubes
3) Carrots, cut into thickish rings.
4) Sauerkraut.
5) Onions, cubed and lightly fried.
6) Beef Bullion cubes.
7) Sweet Paprika powder.
8) Black pepper
9) Crushed Garlic.
10) Tomato Puree (or paste. optional)
11) Water
Quantities:
For a family of four to six people you will need about one kilogramme of beef. The content of potatoes and carrots use in the goulash should make up about two thirds of the quantity of the beef.
Method.
The first job is to sear the meat on all sides on a lightly oiled skillet. Once that’s done transfer the meat into your cooking pot.
at this stage add your sweet paprika, sprinkling about three teaspoons onto the meat while stirring over the flame.
You can now add about one small half teaspoon of black pepper, stirring onto the meat. Now add water until the meat is covered by about one inch of water. Heat until the pot is boiling and then turn the heat down so that the pot is simmering.
Add about one large cup of sauerkraut and stir in. After this add one large cup of chopped and lightly fried onions and one teaspoon of crushed garlic.
Leave the pot to cook now for about half an hour stirring only occasionally.
When the half hour is up check to see if the meat is tenderizing. Once the meat is starting to show signs of softening add a bullion cube and taste. You may need to add a little more depending on which type of bullion cubes you use.
Stir well and then add the potatoes and carrots. Continue to stir occasionally making sure that the ingredients do not stick to the bottom of the pot.
If you like a tomato taste to your goulash, use a little tomato puree to thicken the dish, add two to three teaspoons of tomato puree and stir in well.
Tomato paste is tart and for this reason we do not add it until the final stages of cooking because it causes the meet to toughen again and go rubbery. Additional cooking time will be needed to soften the meat.
Continue to cook the dish until all the ingredients are soft enough to eat but not breaking up.
If you like your goulash to have a little bite, you can add a few drops of tabasco.
The way that I thicken the sauce is to take about one teaspoon of corn flour mixed into a little water and to stir it into the boiling mixture. This way the cornflour gives the goulash a nice shiny appearance.
An optional extra that gives goulash a pleasant sweetish taste is to add some garden peas. I do this occasionally for a change.
In effect Goulash is an all in meal that has a combination of protein, carbohydrate and vegetables.
I like to serve goulash in a long oval bowl on a plate with a few slices of gorgeous, thick crusted caraway seed bread.
A strong red wine helps the goulash to go down a treat.

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Beriberi is a disease which is cause by the lack of vitamin B1 or thiamine. The disease is very common in areas in which the inhabitants are suffering from advances malnutrition due to famine or in areas where the diet mostly consists of pure carbohydrates such as white rice and cassava. This disease was particularly prevalent in the last century in Asia due to the reliance on white rice to make up the bulk of the diet. The typical distended stomach of children in famine regions or in regions where white rice makes up more than eighty percent of the diet is due to thiamine difiency.

Although beriberi is not a true food hygiene issue I have decided to talk about it because it does have direct relevance to certain food safety issues.

Executives of the Similac baby food corporation in Israel were taken to court for selling infant milk formula which was lacking vitamin B1 (thiamine). Due to the rarity of the disease in Israel doctors were baffled by the symptoms that the children displayed. the disease was eventually diagnosed by an intern who remembered seeing the symptoms during a section of her studies which she conducted outside of Israel. Once diagnosed the infants were given Thiamine Hydrochloride which helped most of the effected infants to recover within the period a few hours. Some infants died before and shortly after the error was diagnosed and some suffer from severe neurological disorders including partial paralysis.

The executives responsible for the distribution were prosecuted for criminal negligence in the Israeli courts. The Israeli prosecutors office claimed that the executives had prior knowledge to the fact the formula which they buy from Germany was devoid of thiamine. The case continues.

Vitamin B1 is found in a wide range of foodstuffs but particularly in whole grain bread, eggs, cereals, whole grain rice, meat, yeast, fruit, green vegetables and legumes. Lack of vitamin B1 can cause high levels of lactic acid and pyruvic acid to develop in the blood due to the fact that lack of the vitamin interferes with the aerobic metabolism of glucose by interfering with the breakdown of glucose molecules, causing the body to function on an anaerobic pathway.

Indications of beriberi include fatigue, lethargy and complications of the disease effect the nervous, muscular, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. the milk of a mother who has thiamine deficiency often causes the child to suffer from the deficiency as well. Beriberi can also be found in chronic alcoholics ans sometimes in patients who have undergone gastric bypass.

Symptoms of the disease include severe weight loss, fatigue, emotional disturbances and sensory perception, weakness and pain in the limbs, edema (swelling of body tissues) and irregular heart rate. When cases reach the advanced stage heart failure and death are not uncommon.

Beriberi causes wasting of peripheral tissues and nerves which leads to partial paralysis. It can also leas to a lack of sensation in the skin tissues. Beriberi can be cured by giving the patient a thiamine rich diet but the return to functionality will be much slower than by administering thiamine via injection.

The likelihood of seeing beriberi in the western world is very slim but if you are feeding your baby on milk formula it is worth knowing something about the symptoms of this condition to prevent the terrible tragedy that happened in Israel from happening again.

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