beach-beatMost days news of the food safety variety is alarming at best and tragic at worst, so it is with tremendous pleasure that I can share a couple of stories that crossed my screen in recent days. They left the office cat staring blankly, yet defensively, as I chuckled at Google news alerts. ‘Nothing spoils summer like Pink Chicken’ Brought to you by an unidentified genius in the PR department at Food Standards Scotland, a new summer barbecue food safety campaign has a catchy slogan and a hilarious super villain. Dubbed simply Pink Chicken, the super villain is scheduled to travel the hills and dales of the tiny nation for three months, visiting beach partiers and backpackers while “creating mayhem and ‘spoiling’ summer” according to the Scottish food safety agency. Since I’m an American and write in American English, I can say this without fear of profanity filters blocking me: It’s bloody brilliant. Scottish Pink ChickenWho doesn’t grin at the thought of a human-sized pink plucker, wielding grilling tongs and warning cooks to leave their poultry on the barbie a bit longer or “suffer the consequences.” The consequences being a Campylobacter infection, which Food Standards Scotland (FSS) says is the most common form of food poisoning in the country. Granted, some adults like food safety advocate/educator Doug Powell of BarfBlog will likely find Pink Chicken annoying. But the combination of the visual image of the 6-foot fowl and the slogan “Nothing spoils summer like Pink Chicken” is memorable — and that’s a win when it comes to something like food safety. It’s easy to imagine wee lasses and lads reminding mums and dads of the woes Pink Chicken can visit on them. “Evidence tells us that barbecues and increased purchase of chicken during the summer months coincide with a spike in reported food poisoning cases at this time of year,” FSS Chief Executive Geoff Ogle said in the agency’s news release introducing Pink Chicken. “Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in Scotland, and it tends to be attributed to chicken. Food poisoning can be contracted through chicken which is not properly cooked, contact between raw meat and ready to eat foods, or poor hygiene.” Besides being just plain fun, the Pink Chicken campaign reminded me of one of the great U.S. radio serials of the ’60s — “Chickenman” created by Dick Orkin on Chicago’s WCFL and carried by Armed Forces Radio to troops in Vietnam. If you’ve never heard mild mannered Benton Harbor cry out “buck, buck, buck, buuuuuck” tune into YouTube and check it out. ‘A Microwave Burrito Filled With E. coli’ Our readers in the Big Apple will be able to check out this theatrical production during the upcoming 20th Annual New York International Fringe Festival in August. Seriously, there’s a stage play entitled “A Microwave Burrito Filled With E. coli” and it’s not a Greek tragedy. Written by and starring the comedic duo Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock, the production is being directed by Mark Finley, artistic director of the renown The Other Side of Silence Theatre in New York. The show is scheduled to be staged Aug. 12-28 at The Huron Club at Soho Playhouse. So what’s got to do with food safety? Not a lot.

Andrea Alton, left, and Allen Warnock wrote and star in "A Microwaved Burrito Filled With E. coli." (Photo courtesy of Andrea Alton)
Andrea Alton, left, and Allen Warnock wrote and star in “A Microwaved Burrito Filled With E. coli.” (Photo courtesy of Andrea Alton)
Despite the so-called intelligence of the Google bots, the Google news alert that brought Alton and Warnock’s latest work to my attention — E. coli — results in a few unwanted messages in my email inbox every day. But, I’d rather have to delete a handful of boil order news briefs from local media outlets across the country than possibly miss a foodborne E. coli outbreak. And sometimes Google makes me giggle, as it did with the alert about “A Microwave Burrito Filled With E. coli.”
Playwrights and comedic duo Andrea Alton, left, and Allen Warnock.
Playwrights and comedic duo Andrea Alton, left, and Allen Warnock.
Knowing that Chipotle Mexican Grill makes and serves fresh food, per their commercials and website, I was certain that the alert had nothing to do with the restaurant chain that’s been in the headlines in recent months. The word microwave was a dead giveaway on that count. But I couldn’t resist clicking to see what the news story was about. I was so intrigued that I contacted one of the playwrights. “The title and show idea for ‘A Microwaved Burrito Filled With E. coli’ had been floating around my head for many years, long before Chipotle ran into problems,” Alton told me this week. “Originally, the play was a solo show set in a seedy Mexican food restaurant and there was no “E. coli” in the title. I pitched the show idea to my creative partner, Allen Warnock, and we decided to turn the idea into a two-person comedy. “We (added) a line in the show, ‘If we can’t microwave the food in 20 seconds we don’t serve it!’ Around that time, we added the words ‘Microwaved’ and ‘E. coli’ to the title.” The program notes reveal the story is set at a “Mexican restaurant so far out in Brooklyn that it’s probably in Queens.” Dubbed “Enchilada Shelly’s” by Alton and Warnock, the restaurant is the site of a wedding reception where wedding guest Molly “Equality” Dykeman meets a Southern chatterbox waitress, Angie Louise Angeline. “I created the character of Molly ‘Equality’ Dykeman several years ago,” Alton said. “She loves anything fried, fattening, caffeinated, and loves sugar. She pretty much lives on Slurpee’s, nachos and chicken fingers… If she got food poisoning I think her solution would be to keep eating so it would flush the bad food out.” Alton said she and Warnock didn’t model anything in the show after any real restaurants or chains, stopping short of saying anything resembling real people or events is coincidental. “While the play has nothing to do with Chipotle’s bad run of luck, every time there’s a food contamination or restaurant that shuts down, that definitely stays in our heads and becomes part of our collective thinking. I should also mention that we love Chipotle. “The burrito props we used in the press pics were from Chipotle and we ate them afterwards.” (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)