Food Fads

Food Fads


Remember when eating yogurt was supposed to make you live longer? A yogurt eating tribe was discovered in the Caucasus where everyone lived to be over 100. But feeding yogurt to other people never produced the same results. Then oats were reported s heart healthy. Cheerios even advertised this for their product. The FDA made them retract their claim as unproven. The worst was the belief that margarine was healthier than butter. Then we finally discovered the trans fats in margarine was killing us.

The latest nutritional fads are olive oil an coconut creme. Re these any better? only imd will tell. the pale diet, soy hot dogs – there’s no end to new food fads.

Modern nutrition is less than 100 years old, beginning with the discovery of vitamin A in the 1930s. We still have a lot to learn.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

College Hi-Jinx


In my undergraduate days at U.C. Davis, the guys in my dorm kept dreaming up tricks to play. Not that I ever did anything like that. One time they jacked up a student’s car and put the rear wheels on blocks. When he put it in gear nothing happened. Someone told him his driveshaft was stolen and he ran up and down the dorm shouting, “Who stole my driveshaft? Who stole my driveshaft?” It took him several days to figure out what happened.

Another time someone came into our dayroom and announced “I can lift 10 people at once!” Immediately challenged, he had the largest guy in the room lie down on his stomach, stacked three people across him, then three across them, then three more on top. Turned out it was a trick on the guy on the bottom. He couldn’t move. They pulled his pants down and spray painted his butt blue, then sprayed his face with whipped cream.

We had a rivalry with another dorm, Bixby Hall. They put a wild duck in our bathroom, which created a lot more fuss than it deserved. Afraid of a wild duck? You’ve got to be kidding. Then we went and stole all of their toilet paper. They came back and moved the plastic tubing in our toilet tanks so it pointed out and squirted whoever flushed the toilet. Then we got some sheep from the school farm and ran them through their foyer. We left them there overnight and let them figure out what to do with them. But that was the last of the hi jinx. The sheep had been fed radioactive tracers and everyone involved was in deep doo doo if they ever got caught. They never did, but that sobered them up enough to think twice about any more mischief.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Put yourself in their shoes

published in the Bakersfield Californian, July 13, 2014

Put yourself in their shoes

Ten years ago, I visited villages in Central America populated with nothing but women and children. All of the men had gone north to the U.S. for employment. There were no jobs at home and the rocky hills didn’t grow enough food. This was only in the poorest areas. In areas with better soil and rainfall, the men stayed home and grew coffee and bananas.

Mail is unreliable. The poorest villagers depended on return visits for support. Now recent border surveillance has made this too risky. Faced with starvation at home or a long perilous journey north, what would you do?


Robert C Hargreaves

Barfaroni, the San Francisco treat


The memory is still vivid. On July 4, 1976, the bicentennial of the start of the American revolution, I went with my wife to see the play 1776. It was presented outdoors in Golden Gate Park with actors in period costumes. Then we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Half Moon Bay. We all went over the hill to see the fireworks in Hayward. On the way back I was suddenly hit with diarrhea. The car stopped, I jumped out in the bushes, and exploded at both ends.I was better by morning, but now I was itching all over. I had jumped out into poison oak!

My training had taught me this was a classic example of food poisoning, most likely from Staphylococcus Aureus. But what food was the staph in and how did it get there? We all had eaten the same food and no one else was sick. Then I remembered – I was the only one to buy a cup of coffee at the concession stand at the play. Coffee? not likely. But I added some cream from a pitcher that had been out in the sun all day. Cream was the perfect medium for the staph to grow in. How did it get in the cream? I didn’t follow it any further and didn’t report it to anyone who would. I didn’t seek medical attention from anyone who would report it. I didn’t need medical attention, the illness was over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States food poisoning causes 48 million illnesses each year. This is just a guesstimate because as in my own case, most are never reported. Even if they were, the overworked county health departments in charge of the initial investigation wouldn’t have the time to investigate. They concentrate on more important hospitalizations and deaths. The CDC reports that 128,000 hospitalizations an 3,000 deaths occur each year from food poisoning.  The big three causes are Salmonella, E. coli, and norivirus. Seventy-five per cent of food poisoning comes from these three.

Only 10 per cent of reported cases are successfully traced to their source. It usually takes a week or more before the incident is reported to the county health department, and two weeks at the earliest before an investigator starts knocking on doors. CDC has a standard questionnaire asking what foods were eaten and what restaurants were visited. People seldom remember everything they ate yesterday, much less two or three weeks earlier. All the information is fed into a computer that collates the most common foods and restaurants encountered. Tracing it back to a farm or other source is a matter of luck or good detective work. Rules  of thumb are often used, but these have proven to be more distractive than helpful. According to these rules, Salmonella typhimurium comes from mice and rats. Salmonella enteritiditis comes from poultry and eggs. E coli H70141 comes from cows. Norivirus comes from people.

Very often mishandling in food preparation has more bearing than the source itself. Donald Trump once gave a party for 1,000 guests and hundreds came down with food poisoning. The most likely suspect was egg custard. The caterer took a week to make all the custards and never refrigerated them! They never did find the source of the eggs, but egg producers took all the blame.

Sometimes an investigation takes unexpected turns. An outbreak of Salmonella enteriditis was traced  to an oriental restaurant. They were making their own mayonnaise and keeping it on the shelf unrefrigerated. The organism was in the mayonnaise. They only had one supplier for the eggs, for the mayonnaise, a small commercial egg flock. My department got involved to quarantine them and try to determine how they got infected. The breeder flock they got their birds from regularly tested for SE and all the tests were negative. Fish and Game came out and captured wild sparrows and animals but only found it in one opossum. Then we tested the water in a small stream running by the farm. Bingo! the stream was loaded with it. The stream was coming from a sewage treatment plant – the disease was coming from human sewage! Everyone with the runs dumps it in th toilet, and where does that go? The sewage treatment plant. This plant was 30 years old and handling 10 times the amount of sewage it was designed for. One of the veterinarians then tested water released from eight other sewage plants in the Los Angeles area. Six of the eight were releasing water with Salmonella and/or E coli.

Speaking of E cli, Human sources were finally indicated in a big outbreak of E coli in Germany. There are over 1,000 serotypes of E coli, but only seven cause disease in people. It took over two months to track it down to a sprout farm. First they blamed it on cucumbers. They found E cole H70147 on a cucumber, then lettuce. But the causative organism of the outbreak was E coli H70104, a different culprit. They finally traced it to a sprout farm and determined the infection came from workers on the farm.

Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of foods involved in food poisoning are raw vegetables. Properly cooking meat and eggs kills the organisms, but nobody cooks cucumbers. How it gets into the vegetables is still poorly understood.

Tremendous efforts have been made to remove food poisoning organisms at the farm. “Farm to fork” security has been a buzzword for over 40 years. E coli 0147 incidence has been cut in half., but Salmonella remains a big stumbling block. The big three, Salmonella typhimurium, newport, and enteriditis, have been successfully eradicated from commercial poultry farms. Improvents at the slaughter plant have reduced levels of other Salmonella by 90 percent. But people keep getting sick from Salmonella. Back to the drawing board.

Interest has been rekindled in irradiating meat and produce to kill food poisoning pathogens, The technology was developed in the 1950s but met stiff consumer resistance. The process doesn’t make the produce radioactive, but you can’t convince some people of that. When I was in Vietnam in the mid 1960s the U.S. military PX sold unrefrigerated irradiated milk with a shelf life of six months. I tried some and never glowed in the dark. Researchers are also looking at using microwaves to kill pathogens.

Better control at the farm level accompanied with irradiation would greatly reduce the incidence of food poisoning, but it can’t completely eliminate it. Food can still become recontaminated by infected food handlers, dirty water, and poor sanitation. The bugs have outwitted us so far. The experts still say the one biggest step in avoiding food poisoning is washing your hands in the kitchen.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Travels with a grapevine


I bought a condominium when I moved to Bakersfield and planted a grapevine. My next door neighbor was from New York City and thought that concrete and asphalt were there to protect her from wild things. She was forever trying to get rid of my grapevine.

Ten years later I married Linda, sold my condo, and took the grapevine with us. But Linda had twenty chihuahuas. It didn’t take long for the city of Bakersfield to come knocking on our door and telling us we could only have three dogs. We found a house in the county on 2.5 acres zoned for animals. It took some pruning, but I managed to fit the grapevine into our pickup and take it with us. Now the grapevine has behaved itself and hasn’t moved since.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

The Third Floor


With all of my problems with the ex, my daughter, and work, I needed something more positive in my life. Joining Mensa, the high IQ society, was a good ego boost, but after meeting all the other goofy Mensa members I decided this wasn’t such a great accomplishment after all. Then I answered a news article about the Fresno Adult Literacy Council, took their 12 hour class, and began tutoring at The Third Floor, a drug rehabilitation center. This was great, a real challenge and a need I could meet. The Third Floor was a live-in facility. The door was always locked to the outside. Members could leave if they wanted but weren’t allowed back. This place was tough. Prospective members had to sit on a chair in the hall for a week while the other members reviewed them, then the members voted on whether to accept them or not. They had to be really ready to turn their life around. Once accepted they were assigned an old member who went with them everywhere, even to the bathroom. Druggies learned to lie, cheat, and steal, but everyone there had already gone through that and knew all the tricks.

My class was chaotic. I usually had 10 to 15 in class, but they only showed up when they felt like it. I never knew who was going to show up. I copied off the lesson for each one and had it ready when they did show up. I usually had lessons going at three or four levels at once, from first grade reading level up through sixth grade or higher. They also needed basic math lessons, so I gave them math problems to do while I worked with each group separately on their reading. The biggest challenge was simply convincing them they could learn. No one ever left class without learning something.

The most frustrating part was the high turnover of students. Most stayed only three to six months before giving up and walking out. Accepting responsibility for your actions was new to them and a hard lesson to learn. Sometimes losing a student was heartbreaking. One student, Lupe, was brought to me because no one could understand her. Could I teach her English? I quickly found that she actually knew quite a bit of English but was using Spanish pronunciation rules with a thick accent. I ran her through the phonics lessons and concentrated on English pronunciation rules. In one month she was speaking understandable English. Everyone thought I was a miracle maker. She was a regular in my classes and one of my favorites. But one day she got in an argument with another member, got mad, and walked out. I never saw her again.

The program was supposed to be completed in one year, but the few successful students I had stayed longer than that. One started out at third grade reading level. He was a regular but never worked very hard at it. After three years I had him up to sixth grade level. Then he decided he wanted to go to barber school, but to get in he had to be reading at ninth grade level. Could I help bring him up to that in three months? I had my doubts, but I didn’t tell him that. It was worth a try and couldn’t hurt. He started studying night and day. When he took the test he came just short of ninth grade, and he talked them into taking him anyway. When he showed me his textbook I could see why they required ninth grade reading ability. There was a lot more to barbering than just cutting hair.

My favorite student was Freddie, a black dude and proud of it. When I first met him his hair was in corn rows and he had a bone in his nose. He looked like a cannibal. When he graduated from the program four years later he had his hair slicked back and wore a suit and tie. He was smart and learned everything I had to teach. He started Junior College but just couldn’t grasp the finer points of English grammar in his English class. I tried to help but he quit and got a job as a bus driver.

I was asked to become a tutor trainer and started teaching classes for prospective tutors. I was given several awards for my teaching.

Then my job moved me to Bakersfield and I started in with the Kern Adult Literacy Council. I began tutoring in several places and ended up at Mercy Learning Center on California Ave. I was teaching mostly English as a second language to Hispanics. I had a few students who had never learned to read in Spanish and this was a special challenge, but most had decent reading skills already. I had a two hour session each week. The first hour was for beginners and the second hour was for advanced students. Most of the advanced students started coming for the first hour as well for review. I also had the occasional student studying at high school level with independent study. I encouraged the more advanced students to go to the regular Adult School, but some were afraid of the large class size and anonymity.

Then in 2000 we had an outbreak of chicken flu that took me to Southern California for weeks at a time. This was followed in succession by outbreaks of Newcastle disease and bovine tuberculosis. I didn’t have time for classes, so I suspended them temporarily, I thought. But the emergency programs went on for five years and I never did go back to my classes.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Food Fads


Remember when eating yogurt was supposed to make you live longer? A yogurt eating tribe was discovered in the Caucasus where everyone lived to be over 100. But feeding yogurt to other people never produced the same results. Then oats were reported s heart healthy. Cheerios even advertised this for their product. The FDA made them retract their claim as unproven. The worst was the belief that margarine was healthier than butter. Then we finally discovered the trans fats in margarine was killing us.

The latest nutritional fads are olive oil an coconut creme. Re these any better? only imd will tell. the pale diet, soy hot dogs – there’s no end to new food fads.

Modern nutrition is less than 100 years old, beginning with the discovery of vitamin A in the 1930s. We still have a lot to learn.

copyright Robert C Hargreaves



The dairyman waved the paper in my face, exclaiming “What am I supposed to do about this? It was a form letter from the FDA, “You are in violation…” A full page of bureaucratic gobbledygook ending with, “Call this phone number.” It didn’t even say what the violation was! I knew, of course, having investigated antibiotic violations for several years, almost one a month.

“I called this number, only to be told that the number had been changed. When I called that number, I was told that the number was disconnected!”

This could give everyone in government a bad rep. I called my office and got the current number for the local FDA agent. This one had better be right! It was, but he wouldn’t give any information over the phone, only asking for an appointment to come see the dairyman. Then I asked “Where do you beef your cows?” “Beefpackers.” Fortunately it was the right time of day when the USDA meat inspector at Beefpackers wasn’t on the floor and was still in his office. I called the meat inspector and was able to get the backtag number of the cow and the antibiotic involved. “Let’s look at your records.” The dairyman pulled up his treatment records on his computer and there it was. The cow had been treated, then sent to slaughter the day the withdrawal time was up.

“There’s your problem. Withdrawal times are determined in healthy cows. Medications sometimes stay longer in sick cows. You need to wait a few days after the withdrawal time is up.”

I asked to see his meds .They were in a room next to the office. Everything was in order, the usual meds a dairy uses, with separate shelves for calves and adult cows. He gave all the meds himself.

Now the dairyman was required to call the meat inspector every time he shipped cows for six months. Every cow would be tested for drugs and antibiotics.

Under federal law, the presence of any antibiotics, drugs, or pesticides in meat and milk is illegal. The use of these substances is highly regulated and they can only be used for approved specific purposes. The length of time that drugs and antibiotics remain in the system, called withdrawal times, have been established. Meat and milk from treated animals cannot legally be sold for human consumption before the withdrawal time has been observed.

Enforcement of all these regulations depends on testing at slaughter and regular inspections of livestock and poultry facilities. Every truckload of milk is tested at the creamery for drugs and antibiotics. At any violation the entire truckload is poured down the drain. The creamery also tests for overall bacterial levels and a somatic cell count. Low levels of bacteria are controlled through pasteurization, but high levels can overwhelm the pasteurization process. At a first violation the creamery docks the pay to the producer. With a repeat violation the producer loses his class A contract and can only sell his milk for cheese or powdered milk.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establishes the regulations and is in charge of enforcement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does the actual testing at slaughter through its meat inspection service (FSIS). One per cent of all livestock and poultry are tested at USDA laboratories. This works well for poultry because most of the poultry comes from large flocks that are treated together. With beef, some of the smaller herds are missed, but the system catches up with them eventually.

My own involvement concerned investigation into violations, averaging about one a month. I also did annual inspections of dairies, feed lots, and poultry producers that included checking on drug regulations. The producer had to maintain records of all medications used, with dates, route of administration, and withdrawal time. Medicated animals were supposed to be kept separate from the rest of the animals. Most dairies had a separate hospital barn where the medicated cows were milked. Those without a separate hospital barn milked the medicated cows last to keep the milk out of the milk tank. Medications for calves and adult cows had to be separated and clearly labeled. Nearly all antibiotics used in human medicine aren’t allowed for livestock and poultry. By far the largest amount of antibiotics used in livestock and poultry are used for growth promotion and shouldn’t even be called antibiotics. At the levels used they have no antimicrobial action.

The FDA did their own investigations of violators and fined repeat violators. Producers usually told me the FDA investigator had also visited them, but I never did meet one. My own investigations were aimed at helping the producers correct the situation. The state had no enforcement provisions.

Pesticides are a different matter. The laws prohibiting pesticides in food still exist, but the tests for detecting pesticides became so refined that micro levels could now be detected. Low levels were being found in five per cent of everything we ate, including organic food. The regulations were modified, establishing maximum levels that could be tolerated. At one time the state of California maintained two laboratories devoted exclusively to testing for pesticides, but these were closed by budget cuts over 20 years ago.

This has never been a significant problem in livestock and poultry. The only pesticides ever approved for use in livestock and poultry are the same ones approved for household use, and they have never showed up in meat or milk. Newer developments of fly control that don’t use pesticides have reduced the use of even these pesticides.

The only case involving pesticides I was ever involved in came with the discovery of DDT in a cow sent to slaughter. The owner was feeding cull carrots to cows in two large fields, dumping the carrots on the ground. The field the cow came from had been planted to grapes 20 years earlier, and we suspected they had been sprayed with DDT. I took soil samples throughout the field but didn’t find any DDT. Then Feed and Fertilizer informed me that they were the lead agency in pesticide investigations. I had never heard of Feed and Fertilizer before. They came out and took more samples but still didn’t find the source of the DDT.

In the meantime the owner moved all of his cows to the other field. Then the meat inspection service told him that he couldn’t sell any more cows to slaughter until they were tested for DDT at his own expense. That could come to more than $50,000! He finally convinced my department to do the testing at state expense. What a hassle that was! The owner’s chutes and squeeze were antiquated and barely working. The cows weren’t used to the squeeze and nearly died in the heat and commotion. We cut a back fat sample from each cow and sent them in. They were all negative for DDT. Much ado about nothing.

Few people realize how closely regulated and inspected antibiotics, drugs and pesticides are. Rather than complaining about antibiotic resistance, we should be complaining about cutbacks in funding for regulation.

 copyright Robert C Hargreaves

Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer

Kirkus Reviews, an independent review of my book, Mr. Bob, the Chicken Engineer, published by Abbott Press

A poultry specialist recalls a two-year stay in Vietnam in this unassuming memoir of a noncombatant who, in his own way, worked to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Debut author Hargreaves arrived in Vietnam in 1965 as a fresh-out-of-college member of International Services, a precursor of the Peace Corps. I didn’t come to Vietnam to fight a war, he says, . Instead he used what he learned about avoiding the Ku Klux Klan as a voter registration volunteer in Mississippi a year earlier to avoid the Viet Cong in sometimes dicey situations. Posted to Phan Rang , a provincial capitol of 18,000 on the central coast, he  witnessed over the next two years a massive buildup of American troops there and elsewhere and transformed cities and villages and turned too many children and their adult handlers into crafty beggars. He stayed as far away as he could from the war, which, to his regret, undermined  American aid and education programs of the preceding 12 years, preferring instead to talk about chickens with peasants over green coconut milk’ help arrange pickups of military garbage for pig feed, or cultivate grapes. Villagers scoured military dumps for salvageable wood from napalm bomb crates for building chicken houses. He describes this endeavor without a whiff of irony or any words about the horrors of this flesh burning petroleum jelly. This is in keeping with a nonjudgmental narrative that frequently comes across like offhanded recollections told around a campfire. The flat tone and triviality of some anecdotes tend to deprive the storytelling of deeper meaning. But Hargreaves is not without opinions or a sense of history. He notes that the United States might have done better in Vietnam by listening to and understanding its people, just as a good veterinarian learns to listen to the chickens. The author’s deep affection for Vietnam, and for its cuisine, reveals itself in several aid-oriented visits to the country in the years since his tour.


An alternate view of America’s Vietnam experience from a worthy participant who left behind not bomb craters but chickens, pigs, and grapes.


Bull Tiki


The Portuguese in central California raise Mexican fighting bulls for bloodless bullfights. TB testing them is a real challenge. Unless you want to be a matador you have to be sure there is a strong steel fence between you and the bulls. One time a gate opened by accident. Fortunately it was only 150 pound calves, but they were bad enough. Everyone scattered, climbing fences and hiding behind posts. A high honcho from Sacramento dove head first into the water trough to get away. One bull calf lowered his head and charged at me. Once they lower their heads they can’t see, so I just stepped aside and he went charging by. If I had a cape I could have waved it over his head. Now I’m a bullfighter. No encores, please.

Mexican fighting bulls may be the worst, but Holstein dairy bulls can be trouble, too. A Chino bull put one of our guys in the hospital with two broken ribs. We were lucky, that never happened in our district. Most of the bulls were pussycats, but you never knew. Some were sneaky and would hunker down and hide behind a cow until they were right on top of you. I could usually chase them off by shouting and throwing dirt clods.

Most dairies have a fence between the feed bunkers where we tested and the rest of the pen, and we could lock the bulls out. But sometimes the gates were broken. Other times the cows were still out in the pens and we had to push them in ourselves.

One time we had one person holding off the bull and bringing in a few cows at a time to the bunkers while the rest of us were testing. The bull finally realized we were taking his cows and charged. It was a race to the fence. Our guy grabbed the fence with both hands and flipped over in a somersault, with the bull less than a foot behind. He later told us he was a track star in high school.

Another time when I arrived at the dairy a bull was standing there with a bullet hole right between the eyes. It was a $20,000 bull the dairyman was keeping for a friend for a few days. The night before, the bull charged one of the workers and he went and got his .22 rifle. For a while they thought it was dead, but it was up and around by the time I got there.

A bull went after me once and I ran behind a post. The bull went to one side, then the other, as we were jostling back and forth. I kicked him in the nose, but that just made him madder. The rest of the crew was only 20 yards away, but it seemed to take forever before they finally noticed my predicament and came to my rescue.

The smaller dairies I tested by myself. On one of these the dairyman had just purchased a new show bull that had been on the show circuit for two years. This was the first time he had ever seen a cow and he was having trouble connecting. He tried hard enough and was getting very frustrated. Then he turned around, saw me, and charged. He put his head between my legs and threw me thirty feet. Fortunately, he then just stood there looking at me and I was out of there. I went and got the dairyman and he held the bull off with a pitchfork while I finished the pen. When I went back three days later to read the test the bull was still in the pen. I went and got the dairyman again. He sneered derisively, “You mean you’re afraid of a bull?” “You’re darned right I am.”

copyright Robert C Hargreaves





Just another WordPress site