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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You're invited to celebrate Unhappy Hour. It's a ceremony that gives you a poetic license to rant and whine and howl and bitch about everything that hurts you and makes you feel bad.

During this perverse grace period, there's no need for you to be inhibited as you unleash your tortured squalls. You don't have to tone down the extremity of your desolate clamors.

Unhappy Hour is a ritually consecrated excursion devoted to the full disclosure of your primal clash and jangle.

Here's the catch: It's brief. It's concise. It's crisp. You dive into your darkness for no more than 60 minutes, then climb back out, free and clear.

It's called Unhappy Hour, not Unhappy Day or Unhappy Week or Unhappy Year.

Do you have the cheeky temerity to drench yourself in your paroxysmal alienation from life? Unhappy Hour invites you to plunge in and surrender. It dares you to scurry and squirm all the way down to the bottom of your pain, break through the bottom of your pain, and fall down flailing in the soggy, searing abyss, yelping and cringing and wallowing.

That's where you let your pain tell you every story it has to tell you. You let your pain teach you every lesson it has to teach you.

But then it's over. The ritual ordeal is complete. And your pain has to take a vacation until the next Unhappy Hour, which isn't until next week sometime, or maybe next month.

You see the way the game works? Between this Unhappy Hour and the next one, your pain has to shut up. It's not allowed to creep and seep all over everything, staining the flow of your daily life. It doesn't have free reign to infect you whenever it's itching for more power.

Your pain gets its succinct blast of glory, its resplendent climax, but leaves you alone the rest of the time.

If performed regularly, Unhappy Hour serves as an exorcism that empties you of psychic toxins, while at the same time -- miracle of miracles -- it helps you squeeze every last drop of blessed catharsis out of those psychic toxins.

Pronoia will then be able to flourish as you luxuriate more frequently in rosy moods and broad-minded visions. You'll develop a knack for cultivating smart joy and cagey optimism as your normal states of mind.

Now let's get you warmed up for Unhappy Hour.

First, unload a groan.
Second, disgorge a howl.
Third, unfurl a sigh.

Now say or sing these declarations:
Life is a bitch and everything stinks.
My pain is so bad I can hardly think.
I'm afraid to live, I'm afraid to die.
The world's so messed up, I can't even cry.

Exhale another very long groan. Eject a further desolate howl. Spill an additional self-pitying sigh.

Now you're almost ready. When I say GO, you will have as much freedom as you want to dredge up and steep yourself in your savage sorrow, your unspeakable doubt, your shrill anguish, your secret shame, and your fearful fantasies.

Give yourself permission to make guttural moans, rueful cackles, or animalistic growls and squawks. Argue with God or your parents or the past while blurting out manic, explosive wails. Allow yourself to be crushed and dissolved, flung around and flayed, appalled and unhinged.

And while you're at it, you might want to scrawl down curses, scratch out narratives, or scribble symbolic drawings incited by your misery.

Later, make photocopies of these curses, narratives, and drawings, and conduct a ceremony of purification, burning them to ash, being careful not to set your house or the woods or yourself on fire, too.

As you burn, pray that you will extract all of the mojo you possibly can from the pain, and that the pain will make you smarter and wilder and kinder and trickier.

Pray that you will grow to feel gratitude for the pain, thereby turning the pain into a blessing and diminishing its power to hurt you.

Ready? Get set. GO. Be unhappy -- but for no longer than 60 minutes.

Now back to regular programming.

This special program was brought to you by Rob Brezsny and his book, Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CARLI_MAE 10/18/2009 2:02AM

    OMG, you made me laugh so hard! I had a friend years ago who used to get in her car, windows shut, and just scream at the top of her lungs. When I was younger, I could benefit from this on a more frequent basis. I must have really mellowed out quite a bit, as my favorite outlet is pounding nails or smashing some useless piece of junk that's destined for the trash anyway to smithereens, but the last time I felt the need to do that was over 4 years ago when I stopped smoking. Oh, and then there were the holiday disasters with the few cousins I have left.

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CAROLYN4033 10/15/2009 11:43AM

    I thought this a great idea when I got the newletter myself...didn't think to post it for all to see, see how you are? Always the thoughtful one....Peace, Carolyn

Im with Bobbi, I will wait for the full moon, maybe we can howl together.....

Comment edited on: 10/15/2009 11:47:02 AM

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_VALEO_ 10/15/2009 2:56AM

    Like Kia, I'll rain check it till I hike in the forest.
That's such a great idea to express all our pain and tensions during 1 hour instead of brooding them over and over till they eat us.

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FLORIDASUN 10/14/2009 10:14PM

    Maha...another aha blog! Me likey this's good to get down to the poop in our lives and go primal....yowwwwwwelll! I'm saving my hour for a full moon when I always howel anyhows... emoticon emoticon emoticon

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CORPUSANNIE 10/14/2009 9:20PM

    UH...this really works.

I only have problems with finding enough alone time to do it with any regularity.

My adult children would cringe were they to witness it, but I think my grandkids might understand.

Thank you for sharing. emoticon

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DRAGONFLY7149 10/14/2009 2:56PM

    Mmmm...I'm not sure if an hour would do it!

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MAZZYR 10/14/2009 12:13PM

    Hmmm... interesting.


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FRANCESCANAZ 10/14/2009 10:55AM

    Gotta read that book! Gracias amiga mia.

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LOLAGEEK 10/14/2009 10:36AM

    This was a Rob Brezsny concept? Awesome!! I may have to check out that book. I couldn't be unhappy during today's Unhappy Hour, perhaps I'll rain check ya'll til next time


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MISS_VIV 10/14/2009 10:18AM

    OF COURSE MAHA would post this one. Amazing. Just in the nick of time some might say. I use this something similar to this (1 hour away) to deal with times when I feel blue or depressed. I ALLOW myself to feel whatever is causing the blueness or depression.... then get on with my life.

What a concept.


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SLAYINGDRAGONS 10/14/2009 9:37AM

    Wonderful idea! I think I just might do this! emoticon

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SLASALLE 10/14/2009 9:23AM

    I personally think this is a GREAT idea!!! Where do you come up with this stuff, my friend? You are, as always, amazing!! But I realize you are on a quest ...

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LYNNANN43 10/14/2009 9:15AM

    I'm shall use my 60 minutes to expel my demons about MS & my parents!

Let the screaming commence!

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HMARTO 10/14/2009 9:10AM

    I have to say that this was the most "unexpected" text that I have read today. I am happy to say that I already had my unhappy hour for the month and while it didn't exactly follow your instructions, I did feel better and now I am over it.

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NSTEWARD 10/14/2009 9:10AM

  Wow....I really loved this. This a good way to relieve your stress. Thanks for the suggestion, will definitely have to use this.

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Listening, a crucial and rare skill

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Listen to presences inside poems.
Let them take you where they will.
Follow those private hints,
And never leave the premises.
-- Jellaludin Rumi

This is what poet John Fox says about poetry:

"Poetry shows life rather than tells about it. Through this directness, poetic language gives access to meaning by allowing us to ask and respond to significant questions: what does it mean to be human, to be a part of life? What does it mean to experience loss and suffer, to celebrate and find renewal?

"Poetry is about honesty, intuition, imagination and surprise. It pushes us to discover what matters to us.

"Elements of poetry such as sound, sense awareness, rhythm and image weave together to make meaning accessible not only intellectually, but much more importantly, so meaning is deeply felt. It is this capacity of poetry to reach with such depth into our real feeling that gives it the ring of truth. Poetry is a voice within me that speaks of this meaning, of this ring of truth."

How beautifully he expresses the truth of poetry for me in my own creating and in taking in the work of others that touches my soul.


When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.

-- Nick Penna, fifth grade
(from Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making, by John Fox, )

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CAROLYN4033 10/14/2009 8:41PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon.....Carolyn

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SLAYINGDRAGONS 10/13/2009 9:49AM

    Love that poem! Creativity comes from listening and listening through every part of your body, mind, and soul is vital to expression!
emoticonwish more people would listen!

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VALERIEMAHA 10/13/2009 9:36AM

    What does "I like this blog" do pray tell, Sue? I've never clicked that.

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SOULCOLLAGESUE 10/13/2009 9:19AM

    You find such lovely people to share with us, today John Fox and young Nick. The art of listening forms the cornerstone of healing. Its gentle touch even permeates - or not - the SparkWord. Those who "listen," free the person who feels heard. Those who don't, erect a gate that has no fence.

I appreciate your blog and hope others join me in clicking the "I Liked This Blog!" button. Thank you for these moments of still presence, Maha.

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Simple Steps to Clean Your Indoor Air

Monday, October 12, 2009

Timely information for me! Perhaps it will be of use to you as well.

Did you know indoor air pollution can actually be more of a problem than outdoor? As the seasons change and you’re warming up inside your home, try these inexpensive solutions.

1. Replacing your standard filter with one that is pleated (increased surface area collects particles more efficiently) and electrostatic (helps capture small particles and allergens) can help clean up forced air from the furnace. Look for a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of ten or higher.

2. Use ventilation fans in the bathroom and kitchen if you have them. High levels of humidity breed mold and mildew. Microscopic particles from these can trigger allergies, asthma attacks, and, in rare cases, lung infection or poisoning. Get rid of mold naturally.

3. Lower VOC (volatile organic compounds) exposure by looking for low VOC paints or paint strippers. VOCs can cause headaches and upper-respiratory health problems as well as liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage.

4. Purify with plants, which can remove common chemicals from the air, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide. These plants actually thrive on them! Peace lilies, bamboo, palm, English ivy, mums, and gerbera daisies are among the top air-purifying plants.

5. Pick cleaning products with care by steering clear of ingredients in air fresheners and cleaning products that are known causes of health problems, including cancer and respiratory ailments, says Samuel Epstein, MD, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. Go with nontoxic products (or make your own cleansers) whenever possible.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CODEMAULER 10/12/2009 2:52PM

    I love any reason to acquire more house plants!!

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JNEUBS 10/12/2009 2:29PM

    As bring such value to our lives!

ChiTown Jeff
emoticon emoticon emoticon

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MISS_VIV 10/12/2009 11:12AM

    Great ideas. I used to have a LOT of indoor plants, but they just didn't like me. I was smoking then, so maybe they will do better NOW. I have to go to the Nursery today anyway (to have some roots of some roses checked) and I will see what they have to add to my smoke free air.

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JUS911 10/12/2009 10:55AM

    Good blog. I like the ideas about the plants.

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FRANCESCANAZ 10/12/2009 10:31AM

    I'm a sleep with the windows open in noviember type myself. Deciembre-marzo I keep them open just a crack for a few hours each day. W are so blessed to live in the Adirondacks and be able to BREATHE! Gracias por el blog amiga. Paz...

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LOLAGEEK 10/12/2009 9:42AM

    Sounds like a great excuse to get another house plant to me

Comment edited on: 10/12/2009 9:43:12 AM

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PEACEFULONE 10/12/2009 9:30AM

    Great advice. Thank you.

Airplane plants, also called spider plants, are another excellent plant for removing toxins from the air. One important thing about caring for plants in the home is to let the soil get dry to the touch before watering. There is the possibility of growing mold in the soil. It's better for the plants too, as most houseplants are killed by over watering.

There is a chance of allergies to some plants. I found out I had an allergy to some flowering bulbs when a friend gave me a pot of blooming paperwhites.

Have a terrific week Maha!

Comment edited on: 10/12/2009 9:33:06 AM

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LOVESLIFE48 10/12/2009 9:15AM

    Thanks for the info!!!!! emoticon

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SLAYINGDRAGONS 10/12/2009 9:14AM

    Great advice. Never thought about the pleated filters vs flat ones.

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PALMTREEGIRL1 10/12/2009 9:05AM

    Excellent advice - especially with our houses being shut up for the dreaded winter! I'm going to do some of these suggestions right away! Thanks!!!

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Top 15 Cleansing Foods

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On a more positive note now, I love focusing on the foods that have special nourishing qualities. So here goes:

When it comes to cleansing your body of harmful toxins, food really is the best medicine. You'll be amazed to learn that many of your favorite foods also cleanse the body's detoxification organs like the liver, intestines, kidneys, and skin, preventing harmful toxic buildup. Help ward off the harmful effects of pollution, food additives, second-hand smoke, and other toxins with delicious fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, and beans.

APPLES. Because apples are high in pectin, a type of fiber that binds to cholesterol and heavy metals in the body, they help eliminate toxic build up and to cleanse the intestines.

AVOCADOS. We rarely think of avocados as a cleansing food but these nutritional powerhouses lower cholesterol and dilate blood vessels while blocking artery-destroying toxicity. Avocados contain a nutrient called glutathione, which blocks at least thirty different carcinogens while helping the liver detoxify synthetic chemicals.

BEETS. Time to whip up some delicious borscht soup since its main ingredient, beets, contain a unique mixture of natural plant compounds that make them superb blood purifiers and liver cleansers.

BLUEBERRIES. Truly one of the most powerful healing foods, blueberries contain natural aspirin that helps lessen the tissue-damaging effects of chronic inflammation, while lessening pain. Blueberries also act as antibiotics by blocking bacteria in the urinary tract, thereby helping to prevent infections. They also have antiviral properties and help to block toxins from crossing the blood-brain barrier to gain access to the delicate brain.

CABBAGE. Cabbage contains numerous anticancer and antioxidant compounds and helps the liver break down excess hormones. Cabbage also cleanses the digestive tract and neutralizes some of the damaging compounds found in cigarette smoke (and second-hand smoke). It also strengthens the liver's ability to detoxify.

CELERY AND CELERY SEEDS. Celery and celery seeds are excellent blood cleansers and contain many different anti-cancer compounds that help detoxify cancer cells from the body. Celery seeds contain over twenty anti-inflammatory substances. It is particularly good for detoxifying substances found in cigarette smoke.

CRANBERRIES. Cleanse your body from harmful bacteria and viruses that may be lingering in your urinary tract with cranberries since they contain antibiotic and antiviral substances.

FLAXSEEDS AND FLAXSEED OIL. Loaded with essential fatty acids, particularly the Omega-3s, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are essential for many cleansing functions throughout the body.

GARLIC. Eat garlic to cleanse harmful bacteria, intestinal parasites and viruses from your body, especially from the blood and intestines. It also helps cleanse build-up from the arteries and has anti-cancer and antioxidant properties that help detoxify the body of harmful substances. Additionally, garlic assists with cleansing the respiratory tract by expelling mucous build-up in the lungs and sinuses. For the health benefits, choose only fresh garlic, not garlic powder, which has virtually none of the above properties.

GRAPEFRUIT. Add a ruby red grapefruit to your breakfast to benefit from pectin fiber that binds to cholesterol, thereby cleansing the blood. Pectin also binds to heavy metals and helps escort them out of the body. It also has antiviral compounds that cleanse harmful viruses out of the body. Grapefruit is an excellent intestinal and liver detoxifier.

KALE. Steam some kale to benefit from its powerful anti-cancer and antioxidant compounds that help cleanse the body of harmful substances. It is also high in fiber, which helps cleanse the intestinal tract. Like cabbage, kale helps neutralize compounds found in cigarette smoke and strengthens liver cleansing.

LEGUMES. Add a handful of cooked beans to your next meal since they loaded with fiber that helps lower cholesterol, cleanses the intestines, and regulates blood sugar levels. Legumes also help protect the body against cancer.

LEMONS. Excellent liver detoxifiers, lemons contain high amounts of vitamin C, a vitamin needed by the body to make an important substance called glutathione. Glutathione helps the liver detoxify harmful chemicals. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (not the bottled variety) to pure water to support your cleansing efforts on a daily basis.

SEAWEED. Seaweed could be the most underrated vegetable in the western world. Studies at McGill University in Montreal showed that seaweeds bind to radioactive waste in the body. Seaweed also binds to heavy metals to help eliminate them from the body. In addition, they are powerhouses of minerals and trace minerals.

WATERCRESS. If you haven't tried watercress add this delicious green to your next sandwich since it increases detoxification enzymes and acts on cancer cells in the body. In a study at the Norwich Food Research Centre in the United Kingdom, smokers who were given 170 grams of watercress per day eliminated higher than average amounts of carcinogens in their urine, thereby eliminating them from their body.

Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables assists with detoxifying harmful substances from your body. Who knew cleansing could taste so good?

Michelle Schoffro Cook, RNCP, ROP, DAc, DNM, is a best-selling and six-time book author and doctor of natural medicine, whose works include: The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, and The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan. Learn more at:

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TINAT247 1/18/2012 5:33PM

    awesome blog post!!!!thank you for posting!

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DOKEYOKEY 10/11/2009 7:56PM

    What a great list! Some of my favorite foods are on it.

I wonder why bottled lemon juice isn't so good, though? I guess fresh is always better.

And -- for those (like me) who are allergic to flax, chia seed is a great alternative. Yes, it's the kind used to grow Chia Pets! It is a great source of Omega-3s and has the same effect on the digestive system as flax.

Thanks, Maha!

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NEWMOMOVER40 10/11/2009 7:40PM

    Kale is actually good in a whole grain lasagna, along with spinach. Very hearty. You do have to tear it up and leave out the spines, though!

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CARLI_MAE 10/11/2009 6:19PM

    Oh ... yum, yum, yum ... now I'm hungry. What to eat, what to eat??? Maybe a hotdog? lol -- just kidding .... was thinking of trying this Greek chic pea/spinach/garlic/olive oil thing ... I've been putting off my shopping ... must get to it tomorrow. I'm with Smashy, I often stop and think of buying kale and then remember I don't know what to do with it. Maybe I will get it this time and scout out some recipes. And beets ... love 'em and haven't had any in a long time ... now I want some. emoticon

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DOROTHYM56 10/11/2009 2:35PM

    thank you for the information

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SLAYINGDRAGONS 10/11/2009 2:20PM

    What a lot o great info! emoticon

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MISS_VIV 10/11/2009 10:55AM

    Bless you Maha.. I knew that all the food I was eating had to be doing something for my body besides add the pounds. I am printing that one out and putting it where I am sure I can find it again. (hopefully) About the only thing I don't eat, that is on the list is KALE .....I have never figured out what to do with it. (steam it I guess?) You are so good to us SPARKIES, keeping us ever vigilant on our balance in this world.


oops, I don't have seaweed very often either.. Maybe a couple of times by accident.

Comment edited on: 10/11/2009 10:57:14 AM

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CAROLYN4033 10/11/2009 10:37AM

    "Oh', The All Informative One", What would I do without you???What a handy-dandy guide you provided all of us! This is definitely a keeper, truly thank you so much for your wisdom, once again....Peace & Love, Carolyn

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MAZZYR 10/11/2009 10:04AM

    One of my favorite subjects... nutrition. Thank you for sharing this information.

I include most of these cleansing foods into my diet, however, I wish I knew of the health benefits years, years, years, years ago. LOL. I love the media attention about nutrition these days.


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NORLANA 10/11/2009 9:59AM

    I am currently reading detoxing ... the complete idiot's guide :) My daughter and I are going to start in a week or so. Thanks for the handy guide.

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DANA47 10/11/2009 9:40AM

    Thank you for the information. I appreciate it.

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FLORIDASUN 10/11/2009 9:06AM

    Beautiful Maha my teacher, friend, soul sister:

Thank you for this beautiful information...I love all of the above and I'm printing this out to go in my RAW folder...blessings to you dear one..I wished we lived closer and I could just soak in all of the important information you have to share...I guess the computer will just have to bridge the link...and for that I'm grateful...hey we got our beautiful Taz even more interested in sparkin' the RAW...whoop da! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon LOVE it that you always provide links..for further study....cheers!

Comment edited on: 10/11/2009 9:12:05 AM

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ONEMORETHING 10/11/2009 9:04AM

    Wow!! that was very interesting to read and I did not know those many foods can clean your body out so thank you very much for taking the time to share that information with us all! You have a good day and enjoy!

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TOP 10 Riskiest Foods (what a distinction!)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This is important information. Though a bit "long in the tooth" I decided this is an appropriate forum in which to share it, so here goes --

What do strawberries and oysters have in common? Both make the list of the top ten foods responsible for the most outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States. Oysters, okay -- but berries?

A century ago, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and cholera were the common foodborne diseases. Improvements in food safety (think pasteurization, safe canning, disinfection of water supplies) have conquered those diseases -- but a host of other foodborne diseases have stepped up to the plate, so to speak, to take their places. Foodborne disease outbreaks are currently responsible for tens of millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths every year in the United States.

This week the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published their report of the top ten riskiest foods (FDA Top Ten) overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is responsible for regulating produce, seafood, egg and dairy products, as well as packaged foods such as cookie dough and peanut butter. The FDA regulates nearly 80 percent of the American food supply. From the CSPI, here they are -- followed by precautions from the CDC on how to reduce the risk:

1. LEAFY GREENS: 363 outbreaks involving 13,568 reported cases of illness.
Ouch. Salads and other leafy greens (iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce, escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula or chard) account for 24 percent of all of the outbreaks linked to the FDA Top Ten, the very leaves we're supposed to be eating to improve our health! E. coli accounts for 10 percent of all outbreaks in leafy greens; Norovirus, which is commonly spread by the unwashed hands of an ill handler or consumer was linked to 64 percent of the outbreaks in leafy greens. Salmonella was responsible for nearly 10 percent of the outbreaks.

2. EGGS: 352 outbreaks involving 11,163 reported cases of illness
The overwhelming majority of illnesses from eggs are associated with Salmonella. Regulations for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s and have reduced salmonellosis caused by external fecal contamination of egg shells. However, Salmonella enteritidis, the most prevalent type of Salmonella in eggs today, infects the ovaries of otherwise healthy hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed. Notably, final regulations that require the adoption of controls aimed at minimizing Salmonella enteriditis in egg production were issued in July 2009 (and will become effective in 2010 or 2012, depending on producer size), after over a decade of inaction by the federal government. Half of all egg outbreaks occurred from restaurants and other food establishments.

3. TUNA: 268 outbreaks involving 2341 reported cases of illness. Scombroid, the illness caused by scombrotoxin, was by far the most common cause of illness related to tuna dishes, affecting over 2300 people who were reported to have been sickened. Fresh fish decay quickly after being caught and, if stored above 60F degrees, begin to release natural toxins that are dangerous for humans. Adequate refrigeration and handling can slow this spoilage, but the toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking, freezing, smoking, curing, or canning.

Symptoms of scombroid poisoning can include skin flushing, headaches, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, palpitations, and loss of vision. In addition to scombrotoxin, Norovirus and Salmonella caused illnesses related to tuna consumption, affecting nearly 1000 people. Over 65 percent of outbreaks linked to tuna occurred in restaurants.

4. OYSTERS: 132 outbreaks involving 3409 reported cases of illness
Though they comprise a trivial part of the American diet, tainted oysters are the fourth entry in the FDA Top Ten, responsible for almost 2000 reported illnesses. Not surprisingly, the majority of outbreaks from oysters occurred in restaurants.

Illnesses from oysters occur primarily from two sources: Norovirus and Vibrio. Although Norovirus in other foods is usually associated with improper handling during harvest or preparation, oysters can actually be harvested from waters contaminated with Norovirus. When served raw or undercooked, oysters can cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and small or large intestines.

The most dangerous of the two pathogens found in oysters is Vibrio. This hazard is a type of bacterium in the same family as cholera. The most common strains in the U.S. are V. vulnificus and V. parahaemolyticus, both of which can cause severe disease. In immuno-compromised persons, particularly those with chronic liver disease, V. vulnificus can infect the bloodstream, causing a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesions. V. vulnificus bloodstream infections, called septicemia, are fatal about 50 percent of the time.

5. POTATOES: 108 outbreaks involving 3659 reported cases of illness
Potatoes, often in the form of potato salad, were linked to 108 outbreaks, with more 3600 consumers reported to have been sickened by spuds since 1990.

Potatoes are grown in the soil, but they are always cooked before consuming. Outbreaks are linked to dishes, like potato salad, that can contain many ingredients and also a broad range of pathogens. Salmonella is most common, associated with almost 30 percent of potato outbreaks. E. coli also appears in the potato category, accounting for 6 potato outbreaks. Normally found in animal feces, the presence of Salmonella and E. coli in potato dishes could indicate cross contamination from the raw to the cooked ingredients or possibly from raw meat or poultry during handling and preparation. Shigella and Listeria monocytogenes also appear in outbreaks associated with potatoes. Shigella is easily transmitted from an infected person to a food product, and thus may indicate improper handling during

6. CHEESE: 83 outbreaks involving 2761 reported cases of illness
Cheese products were linked to 83 outbreaks that sickened thousands of consumers since 1990, making it number six of the FDA Top Ten. Salmonella was the most common hazard among cheese products.

Cheese can become contaminated with pathogens during the initial phases of production (curdling, molding, and salting), or later during processing. Most cheeses are now made with pasteurized milk, lowering the risk of contamination with milk-borne pathogens. However, as recently as August 2009, California officials warned consumers about eating Latin American-style cheeses (such as queso fresco, queso oaxaca, and others), which may be made by unlicensed manufacturers using unpasteurized milk that could contain harmful bacteria.

Pregnant women should be particularly cautious about consumption of soft cheeses (such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese), which can carry Listeria. Linked to at least four outbreaks from cheese since 1990, listeriosis is vastly under-reported, since overt symptoms of infection can be mild in those who are not particularly at risk. Outbreaks from cheese products occur most frequently in private homes.

7. ICE CREAM: 74 outbreaks involving 2594 reported cases of illness
The largest ice-cream outbreak in history occurred in 1994, when a popular ice cream manufacturer used the same truck to haul raw, unpasteurized eggs and pasteurized ice cream premix. Contaminated with Salmonella en route to the plant, the premix was not pasteurized again before being incorporated into ice cream products. The result: thousands of people sickened in 41 states.

Soft ice cream can be a particular hazard to pregnant women and others who are more susceptible to listeriosis. A particularly hardy bacterium, Listeria can survive on metal surfaces -- such as the interior of soft ice cream machines -- and may contaminate batch after batch of products. Almost half of all ice-cream outbreaks contained in CSPI's database occurred in private homes. This is most likely due to the use of undercooked eggs in homemade ice cream.

8. TOMATOES: 31 outbreaks involving 3292 reported cases of illness
In 2005 and 2006, tomatoes were implicated in four large multistate outbreaks of Salmonella, sickening hundreds of people across the country. Tomatoes may have been wrongly implicated in a sweeping 2008 outbreak (later linked to fresh jalapeno and serrano peppers), tomatoes have caused at least 31 identified outbreaks since 1990. The most common hazard associated with tomatoes is Salmonella, which accounted for over half of the reported outbreaks. Salmonella can enter tomato plants through roots or flowers and can enter the tomato fruit through small cracks in the skin, the stem scar, or the plant itself. Once inside, destruction of Salmonella without cooking the tomato is very difficult. Norovirus was the second-most common hazard. Restaurants were responsible for 70 percent of all illnesses associated with tomatoes.

9. SPROUTS: 31 outbreaks involving 2022 reported cases of illness
Raw and lightly cooked sprouts have been recognized as a source of foodborne illness in the U.S. since the 1990s. Since 1999, CDC and FDA have recommended that persons at high risk for complications of infection with Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7, such as the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts. Although FDA has provided guidance to sprout producers to enhance the safety of sprout products, these commodities are still causing problems.

Notably, FDA has been encouraged to mandate consumer warning labels for sprouts. These labels would warn high-risk consumers about the dangers of raw sprout consumption. While it requires similar warnings for other high-risk foods (such as unpasteurized juice and raw oysters), FDA has not moved forward to mandate sprout warnings.

10. BERRIES: 25 outbreaks involving 3397 reported cases of illness
In 1997, over 2.6 million pounds of contaminated strawberries were recalled after thousands of students across several states reported illnesses from eating frozen strawberries in their school lunches. Hepatitis A was the culprit, and contamination may have occurred through an infected worker at a farm in Baja California, Mexico. That same year, raspberries imported from Guatemala and Chile were implicated in an outbreak of Cyclospora across five states. Most of these illnesses, affecting 2700 consumers, were caused by Cyclospora in berries. The resulting infection is a parasitic illness of the intestines, which can cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, and stomach cramps. Importantly, the illness does not resolve itself without antibiotics, thus requiring a trip to the doctor.

What can consumers do to protect themselves from foodborne illness? Follow these precautions form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

COOK meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Using a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat is a good way to be sure that it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria. For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160F. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.

SEPARATE: Don't cross-contaminate one food with another. Avoid cross-contaminating foods by washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, rather back on one that held the raw meat.

CHILL: Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be eaten within 4 hours. Large volumes of food will cool more quickly if they are divided into several shallow containers for refrigeration.

CLEAN: Wash produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime. Remove and discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage. Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetable, be careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them up on the cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours. Don't be a source of foodborne illness yourself. Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food. Avoid preparing food for others if you yourself have a diarrheal illness. Changing a baby's diaper while preparing food is a bad idea that can easily spread illness.

REPORT: Report suspected foodborne illnesses to your local health department. The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find our more about an illness you had, your cooperation is important. In public health investigations, it can be as important to talk to healthy people as to ill people. Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.

SPEAK UP with Care2: The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bipartisan food safety reform legislation in July 2009 that would update the law and strengthen the system: Now the Senate must act. Your Senators have the opportunity to change course and help protect children, families, senior citizens and all others from foodborne illness. Tell your Senators it is time to pass strong food safety legislation now! You can also ask Prime Minister Harper to fix the food safety deficit in Canada (open to all).

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

NEWMOMOVER40 10/11/2009 7:38PM

    Sounds like most of these problems could be avoided by buying local, organic, freshly made products. Maybe. Is that picture in the background Oregon by any chance? It reminds me of the view from that tower in Astoria, OR that was the first cable television tower in the world. :)

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CARLI_MAE 10/10/2009 7:26PM

    So many things come to my mind regarding this problem. I wonder if it just seems like it's gotten worse because we have so much more information to us than ever before. I wonder what the percentage of illness outbreaks to total production and consumption for these periods were. Our food goes through so much more handling than ever by the time it reaches our tables, and there are so many food suppliers that deal in multiple types of foods now, unlike 50-60 years ago & more where a mfgr/distributor would only handle one or two similar things, like poultry or beef or produce ... but not all three. And I wonder about the dramatically increased practice of packaging produce in plastic bags and if that wouldn't provide the ideal climate for bacteria to grow and multiply, while deceptively keeping it looking "fresh" for a longer time and allowing stores to keep items on the shelves longer.
The FDA has been notoriously under-funded and lacking in sufficient numbers of inspectors compared to the USDA. It is heartening to know that this administration is finally taking steps that should have been in place decades ago, but will it be enough? Only a rediculously low percentage of domestic and imported foods are inspected (I think it's under 5%).

When I lived in the S.F. Bay Area, my friends used to tell me ... "oh, old wive's tale" when I would stick to my grandmother's Mediterranean "old country" caveat to eat shellfish only in the months with an R in them ... until one summer hundreds of people became sick from eating oysters, clams, and scallops. When things were all sorted out, science revealed that even in the cold Pacific, these scavengers fed off of a bacteria that was prevalent and capable of surviving only in warm weather when the ocean temps were also higher, and that that was why people were becoming ill. HA ... Nonna may not have known the why or the how, but she knew what she was talking about!

And then there is the individual factor. Sometimes I swear people are getting dumber by the minute ... a cousin of mine was over one day & began to try to help me prepare dinner ... first I had to stop her and tell her to wash her hands; next, because I had some pre-cooked shrimp I'd planned on setting out with sauce, she was about to trust the food manufacturer I guess, and just throw them in a bowl. I imagine she thought I was too fussy, but I again stopped her, took the things, doused them in boiling water for a few minutes, and then ran them under cold water and re-chilled the things. Same story with the bagged spinach ... people assume because it says "prewashed" they don't need to wash it again. Maybe I'm getting a bit OCD, huh? If so, at least I'm sure everything I eat and cook is washed by MY hand, not by some machine that rodents and roaches have been climbing around on overnight.

Wundering wandering meandering rambling ... me

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SLAYINGDRAGONS 10/10/2009 1:41PM

    Very good info. I had no idea about the foods that are contaminated from the inside! Wow! Sure pays to know sources, huh?!

When I was young, we only rinsed fruits and vegies. Living in Brazil, I learned to not only wash them but to kill parasites that might be on them. For years, I used bleach until I learned that it leaves a residue behind. Now I use vinegar in a 30 min soak. I have read other options. My SIL uses vinegar and salt. With all the outbreaks in North America, I have wondered how many there actually wash their produce to prevent illness.

Getting ill from eating away from home really is a fact of life here, and I suspect it is in many countries. When we travel, I carry both meds for constipation and diarrhea! It is so odd to us to see that getting ill from food makes intl news when it is in the U.S.! But then I realize that if anyone will do something about it, it will be done there and the citizens will be better protected!

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DOKEYOKEY 10/10/2009 1:18PM

    Hi, Maha -- Thanks for posting this. I think it's really important information and I want to invite everyone to take a look at food safety from another angle that involves being as conscious as we can about knowing where our food comes from. I subscribe to Natural News, and here's what the author had to say about the CSPI "risky foods" list:

"The real question is how do foods get contaminated? And that answer involves the growing and processing of those foods. Foods that are grown near factory animal farms are far more likely to be contaminated with e.coli than those grown in more natural settings. Foods grown using methods of biodynamic gardening are far more likely to be free from e.coli than those grown as monoculture crops.
"What really causes foods to be contaminated are conventional mass-agriculture farming practices, not the foods themselves. So buying leafy greens from a local organic market is completely different from buying leafy greens grown with a corporate-controlled monoculture approach." (
Food for thought. My approach is to buy local and organic as much as possible -- not always easy, but the more we support such farmers, the stronger they will become -- and the more easily they can provide us with healthy food!
Namaste. Kathleen

Comment edited on: 10/10/2009 1:28:42 PM

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MAZZYR 10/10/2009 11:10AM

    Knowledge is power. Thank you for sharing.

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LOLAGEEK 10/10/2009 9:58AM

    Thanks for sharing. Do you have any information about the use of food you grow yourself, or from your local farm, etc. vs. conventional? I know many E. coli outbreaks in leafy greens are the result of contamination from human waste or neighboring agricultural waste. I am curious about the prevalence of Salmonella in eggs from hens with ovary issues from conventional vs. cage-free circumstances. I think the potatoes one is fascinating since the pathogens are attributed to cross-contamination and not necessarily the tuber themselves.

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FLORIDASUN 10/10/2009 9:56AM

    Such valuable information MAHA..and a whole lot of typing too...thank you dear one for alerting us to these dangers..and I was thinking I was doing so good on my RAW ... I'll have to be extra diligent about washing things...hummm seems the only way to be safe is to grow our own... hee..hee produce that is! emoticon emoticon hugs to you ... the informer... we two are SO much alike..and that's a compliment! I think! emoticon emoticon

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JUGE300000 10/10/2009 9:39AM

    Hmmm. Some of my faves. Sounds like nothing is safe...Guess I'll just go on eating the way I always have.

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HOTMAMA1980 10/10/2009 9:29AM

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing. I regularly eat most of those foods.

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