Phyllis Entis’s new book “Tainted” shows readers that when it comes to food safety, conventional wisdom isn’t always enough. As Entis puts it, “the food preparation skills we learned from our parents and grandparents are no longer good enough to keep us safe.”
Whether it’s Salmonella in eggs, listeria in deli meats, melamine in milk or Cyclospora in lettuce, “Tainted” illustrates that everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the food we eat is as safe as we can make it. Entis shows that everyone — government regulators, farmers, ranchers, food processors, food service workers, retailers, educators and consumers — are needed to accomplish this herculean task.
Phyllis Entis is a retired food safety microbiologist. “Tainted” is the update of her 2007 book, “Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.” The original version had an academic bent, but “Tainted” is more in line with Entis’s original vision of making food safety accessible to the lay reader.
In recent years, Entis has honed her storytelling abilities as she has been working as a mystery writer. She is known for the Damien Dickens Mysteries series, which includes “The Green Pearl Caper,” “The White Russian Caper,” “The Chocolate Labradoodle Caper,” “The Gold Dragon Caper,” and “The Blue Moon Caper.” Her debut novel, “The Green Pearl Caper,” was a Library Journal SELF-e Selection.
Writing mystery novels prepared her well to write “Tainted,” as food safety illnesses often function as mysteries. “Tainted” often reads like a true crime novel, where laymen and authorities uncover clues to save the public from future poisonings and reveal the culprits of past poisonings.
After reading “Tainted”, I asked Entis if she has a particular story from the novel that she finds most memorable. She pointed to the Regent Chocolate episode.
In January 1974, a Salmonella Eastbourne outbreak was linked to Regent Chocolate. Entis’s lab with Canada’s Health Protection Branch was responsible for checking all of the suspect chocolate stored in warehouses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “I am a chocoholic and it was torture to be surrounded by all those giant Easter bunnies and chocolate Christmas tree ornaments and not be able to nibble.”
Entis was able to watch Regent’s response firsthand and see how effective the company’s approach and changes were. She explains in the book how Regent could serve as a model for how companies can learn from their mistakes.
Though “Tainted” is a great book for those interested in learning more about food safety, it’s also a book for those who simply want to be entertained by the drama behind the scenes of food safety.
If you read “Tainted” and have been spurred to read more about food safety, Entis recommends Nicols Fox’s 1997 book, “Spoiled, The Dangerous Truth About a Food Chain Gone Haywire,” Jeff Benedict’s “Poisoned,” and Deborah Blum’s “The Poison Squad.”
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