andrew schneider investigates

June 15, 2009

Bye guys. This blog is being replaced with

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 17:57

I’m moving. Again. is being replaced with my new site,

Although I know how to dig through documents and get bad guys to confess their misdeeds, I’m learning as I go about the best ways to use this new medium. And one of the things I’ve learned — especially from many of you — is that the name I had was too long, too easy to misspell and just generally a pain. So we’re changing it to Short, easy to remember and ready for you to check out.

You’ll find the same investigative coverage of health, environmental and workplace issues from me. And you’ll also see investigative work from my colleague Ben Shors, a journalism professor at Washington State University and a very talented environmental reporter.

So,  if you want to keep up on the latest hot facts, you can now find them on

I’m hoping that I’ll see you on the  other side.come

a. schneider


June 8, 2009

Better eating through chemistry.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 06:51

There are two gigantic professional food organizations that gather their members each year to compare notes and discuss what’s new.

The International Association of Culinary Professionals musters its legions of chefs, recipe creators, food stylists, restaurateurs, educators and writers. They debate and discuss what new styles of cooking, innovations in cuts and seasoning of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, goats and seafood of all types, and treatments of fruits, veggies and salads will be appearing on menus throughout the world.
IFT Books
The other culinary blow out is the international conference and food expo of the Institute for Food Technologists, which is meeting here in Anaheim this week. Jumping from meeting to meeting and cruising the poster sessions, it appears to me that safety is this group’s most important product. Scientists of almost every conceivable specialty gave scores of presentations on making food safer and keeping it safe, which is what the food developers, producers and processors they work for must have.

I walked around the exposition floors where about 1,200 companies are showing their products and services and checked out what was being touted as new and better. Most were additives.

Make up your own mind if this bothers you or if you realize that it’s just a necessary fact of life in the food industry.

Here are just some of the additives I could recognize. There were:
Acids and alkaline agents.
Anti-caking agents.
Antimicrobial agents.
Bulking agents.
Bleaching agents.
Brining, pickling and curing chemicals.
Fat replacements.
Flavoring agents, hundreds of different ones.

I only made it around half of the display hall, but it’s obvious that lots of substances are added to what we eat. I wonder whether these additives deal with safety of the food or marketability?

June 7, 2009

World’s top food scientists debate keeping food safe, tasty, exciting and available

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 11:05

I’m in Anaheim, Calif., and I’m not visiting Disney’s mouse. For the next few days, I’ll be attending the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual international conference.  It’s not nearly as boring as it sounds.

There are about 15,000 food scientists, microbiologists, engineers, chemists, educators, government regulators, chefs and a score or more of other PhD-toting specialists from well over 50 countries.  What they all have in common, besides being in this hunk of California, is that just about every one of them is obsessed with food – its safety, flavor, shelf life, appeal, delivery and just about every other aspect of food creation, processing and marketing that makes edibles leap into your shopping cart.


Sitting at the bar in the convention hotel – the Hilton —  a cluster of the attendees were sputtering in their drinks last night as one scientist said he felt really at home in this hotel because the water in his room was as chalky white as gunk that came out of the hand-dug well in his rural farm in Somalia. But, he said, the water of his childhood tasted better.

Knowing that they had a hotel full of scientists whose life’s work is to prevent and detect bad things in liquids and foodstuff, you might have thought that the hotel staff would have been more candid about the nasty-tasting, opaque water that squirts from their facets.

Fresh from the Hilton tap

Fresh from the Hilton tap

Two front desk managers feigned amazement when I asked about the weird water, both saying they’d never heard of it but they’re sure that it’s safe. However, it wasn’t a surprise to the housekeepers, bartenders and a telephone operator,who all said: “Whatever you do, don’t drink the water.”

Of course, the Hilton was helpful, a flavor scientist said sarcastically . “They told me that room service would gladly bring me as much of the $6 a liter ‘artesian water’ as I wanted to  buy,” he repeated.

Don’t let me leave the impression that all the attendees do is drink (there are beaches 20 minutes away.)  There are 1,400 scientific lectures, seminars and symposiums such as:  the oxicative stability of raw chicken breast and beef loin; the handling of blue pigments in crushed garlic cloves; the antioxidant capacity of traditional rye breads; PCBs and organochlorine insecticides in fish oil being sold in Canada, and many, many more.

One of the main reasons that I came is that there are about 12 hours of lectures on nanotechnology in food. By the time I attend them all, I hope to be able to spell the word.

I admit that this is not beach reading but these are the people who work to keep our food tasty and safe.

More on how they do that later.

June 6, 2009

Silver nanoparticles may be a new life saver.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 06:51
Prof. Dash

Prof. Dash

Physicians have figured out that nanoparticles of silver may be a new way to prevent blood clots and some coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Debabrata Dash and colleagues at India’s Institute of Medical Sciences at Banaras Hindu University said they pursued the anti-clotting study because “patients urgently need new anti-thrombotic agents because traditionally prescribed medications too-often cause dangerous bleeding.”

The scientists found that when low levels of silver nano particles – only 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair – were injected into the bloodstream laboratory mice, it reduced the ability of platelets to clump together by as much as 40 percent.

I asked a couple of cardiologists in Seattle and Boston about the reduction, and both said, if reproducible in humans, it could be a very big deal.

“Nanosilver appears to possess dual significant properties critically helpful to the health of mankind — antibacterial and antiplatelet — which together can have unique utilities, for example in coronary stents,” 
Dash said.

In email, Dash said that while the results are important, more work needs to be done.

When asked if he and his team were worried about harmful side effects from the injection of the silver particles.

“ Yes, the concerns remain as we have not carried out any human toxicity studies,” Dash told me but added that in the mice testing  In mouse model the nanoparticles “appeared to be quite safe. . . “

“However, like any other drug,” the doctor said, “one has to weigh between the benefits and side effects of nano silver before considering a therapeutic use.”

Dash’s study will be published later this month in the American Chemical Society’s peer-reviewed scientific journal Nano.

Here’s a link if you want to see the study.

June 4, 2009

Melamine dishes, bowls, cups and saucers can be harmful when used to serve certain food, according to health officials.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 06:56

Sometimes there are things that we should just stop using.

Take melamine for an example.

The plastic-like substance has been used for tens of thousands of products such as Formica countertops, whiteboards, tiles and fabric. And let’s not forget the scratched and stained tableware from the 50s and 60s called Melmac that still magically migrates from one yard sale to the next.

But tens of millions of pieces of melamine eating-ware are still being produced, mostly in Chinese factories, and sold throughout the world.

This week, health officials in Indonesia ran tests of 62 samples of melamine plates, bowls, spoons and forks. The head of the country’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency said that “30 of them released formaldehyde when used for anything hot, watery or acidic,” the Jakarta Globe reported.

In Korea, food scientists tested eight different brands of Chinese-made melamine dinnerware in January and February and found that 88 percent of the plates and bowls released formaldehyde when heated in a microwave.

And last week in Hong Kong, officials with the Consumer Council told the Hong Kong Standard that it had checked 300 melamine products from 20 household goods and chain stores, and only 5 percent of samples were properly labeled to warn customers not to use them in microwaves.

The head of the Indonesian FDA said, “Melamine resin products were relatively safe to use for some dry foods or cookies,” according to the paper.

German scientists developed melamine in the early 1800s. Today, worker safety warning information affixed to barrels and drums of melamine caution that the material is “harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Chronic exposure may cause cancer or reproductive damage.”

Food scientists in the U.S. say that there are melamine products in which it’s safe to cook and serve, but because of inadequate labeling it’s almost impossible to tell the safe products from those that can release formaldehyde.

Importers estimate that millions of pieces of melamine eating ware is imported from Asia into the U.S. and Canada every year.

The Chinese created havoc with melamine in 2007 when it was added to pet food, killing thousands of dogs and cats throughout the world. Last year, over 50,000 infants in China were poisoned when milk producers added the compound to fraudulently boost the protein level in milk, thus getting higher prices.

U.S., Canadian and European manufacturers lost millions when they had to toss out thousands of products ¬— including the most popular candies and snacks and beverage mixes — because they used melamine-tainted dry milk from China in their processes.

May 31, 2009

The cult graffiti artist who did the official, unofficial, “hope” portrait of the Obama campaign has gone to the dogs. Maybe a few cats also.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 08:07

adopt poster
A reader emailed me and asked if it were true that Shepard Fairey, the wonderfully creative street artist whose stylistic portrait of the president became the icon of the campaign, had done a spinoff to aid dogs languishing in pet adoption shelters.

Yep, here it is. I’m told that he even signed a few dozen to help spark donations to adopt-a-pet.

May 23, 2009

Physician, heal thyself, or at least get to the head of the line.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 10:57

I got an email overnight from someone in Atlanta who said she was outraged because the government is going to “protect a handful of favorites from a killer while ignoring the rest of the population.”

Wow. This great plot for a novel becomes a bit less exciting when all the facts are known.

Yes, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday that $1 billion will be spent to produce enough vaccine to protect the medical community, firefighters and emergency responders against the flu formerly known as “swine”.

Part of the money will go to U.S. companies already licensed for other flu vaccines to produce and stockpile protection against Influenza H1N1.

CDC map showing reports of flu

CDC map showing reports of flu

But a good portion of the funds will be used over the summer for clinical studies to better define what is needed in a vaccine for this strain of flu.
“Our goal throughout this new H1N1 outbreak has been to stay one step ahead of the virus,” Sebelius said in a statement.

In answer to the woman who wrote me, the decision to have vaccine available for the public health community, emergency responders and others whose jobs are considered “critical” was not a capricious act, but rather part of the thoroughly researched and endlessly debated National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.

First, understand that a pandemic is a sudden outbreak of a serious infectious disease that spreads easily among and affects a large proportion of the population in a region, a continent, or the world.

Think what it would be like if we didn’t protect our physicians, nurses, medics, firefighters and law enforcement to perform their vital services amidst the fear and havoc the disease could generate.

As of Friday, 6,552 cases of H1N1 flu have been reported, and nine people have died from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

For those who suspect a sinister plot behind every decision, here is a link to more than you ever wanted to know about the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.

May 10, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 11:50
David Burnick earned the millions that W.R. Grace paid to  ensure its acquittal

David Bernick earned the millions that W.R. Grace paid to defend itself against criminal charges for the poisoning of Libby, Mont.

Les Skramstad and Gayla Benefield with just some of the crosses made for a Memorial Day service for those in Liby who died from asbestos related disease from the lethal fibers from the vermiculite mine.  Les died two years after the photo was taken.   (c) a. schneider

Les Skramstad and Gayla Benefield with just some of the crosses made for a Memorial Day service for those in Libby who died from asbestos-related disease caused by the lethal fibers from Grace's vermiculite mine. Les died two years after this photo was taken. (c) photo by andrew schneider


May 8, 2009

BULLETIN W.R. Grace and the three remaining defendants were acquited of all charges. No surprise considering judge’s restrictions on prosecution.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 09:38

BULLETIN In a verdict expected by most, the jury in the W.R. Grace trial has found the company not guilty of all charges brought in the nation’s largest environmental case. (m

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Schneider @ 09:32
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