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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Alfred Lubrano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — For the poor, food is not only scarce, it’s often rotten and germ-ridden.

Corner stores and small supermarkets that feed vast swaths of impoverished Philadelphia offer bacteria-laced foods in unhealthy conditions that can lead to foodborne illness, a Drexel University study shows.

Customers vouch for the science.

“Potatoes and baby food are moldy, lettuce is rotten, and the mice are having a good time in boxes of noodles,” said Rodney Jenkins, 47, an unemployed North Philadelphia man. “I ate bad fruit from a corner store and got sick.”

A father of seven who was laid off last fall from a sound company that provides microphones and other equipment for events, Jenkins worries about feeding his children with so few worthwhile food choices.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “When we get food up here, it’s like we get the end of all food, the last batch of it.”

For years, advocates for the poor have endeavored to keep people alive, conjuring ways to get fruits, vegetables, and other staples into so-called food deserts like North Philadelphia.

But there has never been an investigation of food safety risks that desert-dwellers face.

Until now.

The only research of its kind in the United States, according to microbiologists, the study of retail food safety risks is being conducted by Jennifer Quinlan, a food microbiologist in the department of nutrition sciences at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

She and her team visited nearly 400 corner stores and small supermarkets between 2008 and 2010 to study microbes in milk, eggs, lunch meat, sandwiches, and ready-to-eat fresh fruits and greens.
The results were alarming.

“We found milk likely to have more bacteria,” Quinlan said. “And when we could find fresh produce, it had a lot of contamination on it.”

Foodborne illness is tricky. Some might not know they have it, since symptoms — cramps, diarrhea, vomiting — can be caused by many factors.

Foodborne illness is rarely deadly. Recent federal estimates show that of 9.4 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States in a year, fewer than 1,500 resulted in death.

Those numbers include instances of foodborne illness from lettuce, leafy greens, and cantaloupes from large-scale farms, according to Donald Schaffner, president of the International Association of Food Protection, and a food microbiologist at Rutgers University.

Most such sicknesses are transmitted by inadvertent exposure on farms to animal or human feces, Schaffner said.

Much of the damage done by foods gone bad in corner stores is to poor people’s wallets.

For example, many corner store owners get milk from larger stores, and transport it in their own cars, scientists at Yale University found. Milk spoils faster under conditions of “temperature abuse.”

Similarly, Quinlan and her researchers found that newly delivered milk will often stand outside refrigerators for longer periods because there are too few employees to put it away.

A customer then finds the milk goes bad much sooner than on-carton expiration dates indicate. Because the smell of spoiled milk keeps anyone from drinking it, the result for an individual is not foodborne illness but wasted dollars, Quinlan said.

In corner stores, she found higher microbial counts in bagged salad, strawberries, and cucumbers. These bacteria indicated the food was closer to spoilage. Many times the items rot soon after purchase, another waste.

It wasn’t uncommon to see mice in stores, which is why many corner stores keep cats, who carry their own germs, Quinlan said.

Additionally, Quinlan found evidence of fecal coliforms in foods, even in markets in high-end neighborhoods.

Fecal coliform is a group of bacteria that indicates possible contamination from human or animal waste. E. coli, for example, is a fecal coliform.

People can ingest fecal coliform without consequence; but its presence may mean other disease-causing organisms are in the food, scientists say.

Stores in low-income areas in Philadelphia demonstrated a 100 percent rate of fecal coliforms in ready-to-eat greens, the study said.

Similarly, eggs were often found to be unrefrigerated in corner stores, a salmonella risk.

Quinlan’s study did not include data on people sickened by eating food from corner stores. Officials from the city and from several local hospitals said they had no such information, either.

Poor people understand that they have few options in protecting themselves from bad food.

“If you’re living on the edge and not getting enough to eat, you make riskier choices in order to eat,” Schaffner said.

AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown

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Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)