FDA Finds Hazards Lurking In Parsley, Cilantro, Guacamole

The Food and Drug Administration has started testing randomly selected fresh herbs and prepared guacamole. So far, the agency has found dangerous bacteria in 3-6 percent of the samples it tested.

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Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started looking for dangerous bacteria in a few of America’s most beloved fresh foods: parsley, cilantro, basil, and prepared guacamole. The very freshness of these foods carries a risk. Since they aren’t normally cooked, they may harbor nasty bugs like salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

The testing has barely begun, but the agency has released the first results, revealing that it has, in fact, discovered disease-causing microbes in a small percentage of those samples.

Out of 139 samples of fresh herbs tested, four tested positive for salmonella and three contained disease-causing E. coli. Most of the herbs that the FDA tested, and all of the contaminated samples, were imported from other countries.

The FDA tested 107 samples of processed avocado and guacamole, divided roughly equally between domestic and foreign suppliers. Four samples tested positive for disease-causing listeria, three of which were processed in the United States.

Listeria is especially troublesome because it can proliferate in cold conditions, such as in a refrigerator.

Eventually, the FDA plans to test 1,600 samples of both fresh herbs and processed avocados. The agency says that no conclusions can be drawn from the results so far, because most of the testing remains to be done.

Robert Buchanan, an expert on food safety at the University of Maryland, wrote in an email to NPR that “I did not find the result unexpected. These frequencies are not unusual in fresh produce.”

Buchanan also cautioned that the amount of contamination in each sample, which the FDA did not disclose, is important in determining the real risk to human health. Healthy people can eat slightly contaminated food without getting sick.

No amount of contamination, however, is legal. According to the FDA, when it detects any of these disease-causing microbes in fresh produce through such tests, it can launch enforcement actions such as a recall, or, in the case of imported food, blocking that food from entering the United States.

Craig Hedberg, an expert on food safety at the University of Minnesota, says that contamination with salmonella or listeria is “an indication that companies need to pay more attention to sanitation in their plants.”

Washing fresh herbs may reduce the amount of bacterial contamination, he says, but it won’t eliminate it altogether.

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Plastic Additive BPA Not Much Of A Threat, Government Study Finds

Bottles of mineral water

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The chemical BPA isn’t living up to its nasty reputation.

A two-year government study of rats found that even high doses of the plastic additive produced only “minimal effects,” and that these effects could have occurred by chance.

The finding bolsters the Food and Drug Administration’s 2014 assessment that water bottles and other products containing BPA are not making people sick.

“[It] supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a statement issued by the agency.

The study’s findings are at odds with claims by advocacy groups that exposure to BPA is associated with a wide range of health effects including cancer, obesity, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The study results appear in a 249-page draft report released Friday by the National Toxicology Program. The research was a joint effort involving the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics used to make products like water bottles and in the epoxy resins used to line some metal food cans. The chemical has long been known to weakly mimic the hormone estrogen and in the 1990s scientists showed that tiny amounts could leach out of plastic products and get into our bodies.

That touched off a heated debate about BPA’s safety.

Critics of the chemical point to numerous small studies done by academic researchers. These studies, usually of rodents, have suggested that BPA can disrupt the body’s hormone system in ways that affect health.

But studies that met the FDA’s Good Laboratory Practice standards have suggested that BPA is safe at levels encountered by consumers. So the agency has approved its use on most consumer products.

The new draft report is part of an effort called CLARITY-BPA, which set out to “bridge guideline-compliant research conducted at the FDA with hypothesis-based research investigations conducted by academia on the toxicity of bisphenol A (BPA).” It describes only the research done by government scientists.

In the study, rats were exposed to BPA during gestation as well as after birth. Doses ranged from levels similar to those experienced by consumers to doses thousands of times higher. Researchers looked to see whether the chemical had any effect on things like growth, weight and tumor development.

And the scientists concluded that “BPA produced minimal effects.” They also said that the effects they did see appeared to be “within the range of normal biological variation,” meaning they could have occurred by chance.

The draft report will go through a peer review process. It is scheduled to be discussed at a public meeting in April. A final report that incorporates research by academic scientists is expected in 2019 and will be used to guide FDA policy on BPA.

But that report may be moot by the time it arrives.

In response to consumer fears about BPA, plastic makers are already marketing a wide variety of BPA-free products. And most food cans are no longer lined with BPA, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute.

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Guns And The Trump Slump

25.2 million

Sales of firearms have soared in America over the past twenty years. But fewer people are purchasing.

Today America’s guns are concentrated in the hands of a comparatively small number of enthusiasts.

Their love of add-ons and special features has been a boon to gun manufacturers. Their periodic fear of anti-gun regulation has made sales spike in the past. But relying on a concentrated market of mega-buyers can come at a cost.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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One By One, Companies Cut Ties With NRA

The First National Bank of Omaha was among several businesses that renounced partnerships with the National Rifle Association in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

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As a groundswell grows against the National Rifle Association in the aftermath of last week’s school massacre in Parkland, Fla., several businesses say they are ending their partnerships with the the gun advocacy group.

The brands — ranging from insurance companies to car rentals — all announced their decisions on Twitter, many in direct response to tweets demanding change coalesced under the trending hashtag #boycottNRA.

On Friday, Symantec, the cyber security company announced via Twitter it has halted its NRA discount program.

Symantec has stopped its discount program with the National Rifle Association.

— Symantec (@symantec) February 23, 2018

About an hour later, the insurance company MetLife followed suit tweeting, “We value all our customers but have decided to end our discount program with the NRA.”

We value all our customers but have decided to end our discount program with the NRA.

— MetLife (@MetLife) February 23, 2018

A day earlier, First National Bank of Omaha announced via tweet that it “will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.” It was responding to a tweet saying “Please END your relationship with the @NRA. #NRABloodOnYourHands.” The bank said “customer feedback” spurred it to review its relationship with the NRA.

Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA. As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card.

— First National Bank (@FNBOmaha) February 22, 2018

Later Thursday, Enterprise Holdings, which owns and operates car rental agencies Alamo, Enterprise and National, announced via tweets from each brand’s account that by March 26 it would sever its NRA member discount program.

Thanks for contacting us. We ended the program – effective March 26. https://t.co/gwYeQR3xAh

— Alamo Rent A Car (@alamocares) February 23, 2018

Thank you for contacting us! All three of our brands have ended the discount for NRA members. This change will be effective March 26. Thank you again for reaching out. Kind regards, Michael

— EnterpriseRentACar (@enterprisecares) February 23, 2018

Thanks for contacting us. We ended the program – effective March 26. https://t.co/BMqcoac4s2

— National Car Rental (@nationalcares) February 23, 2018

Company spokespeople would not elaborate on the announcements.

The NRA did not respond to an NPR request for comment.

On its web site the NRA says, “It pays to be a member! Get back hundreds of dollars more than you pay in dues,” and offers “benefits” running the gamut from home and auto insurance to prescription drug discounts to the “Official Wine Club of the NRA.”

On Tuesday, ThinkProgress, a liberal-leaning think tank, published a list of some two dozen “corporate partners” that offer incentives to NRA members. ThinkProgess says it asked all of the corporations “whether they plan to continue their relationships with the gun lobby. Four of those companies have ended their relationship with the NRA since this list was initially published.”

Under car rental discounts, Hertz, Avis and Budget are still listed as “NRA partners.”

Social media users have taken to Twitter in an effort to name and shame those companies and others for their NRA affiliation.

Dear @Hertz
I have been a loyal customer for years. However I refuse to continue to do business with you while you are a partner of the @NRA, an organization stained with the blood of children. I urge you to sever your business relationship with this shameful group

— Ken Reid (@KennethWReid) February 18, 2018

There are only 5 million NRA members but over 300 million of us! Businesses have a choice whose business they prefer. We are watching. #BoycottNRA

— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) February 23, 2018

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre addressed the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday and spoke of “the breakneck speed for gun control laws,” following the Florida Shooting. “As usual, the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” he said.

Proponents of the NRA have also used the hashtag #BoycottNRA to express support for the group.

I will not #BoycottNRA. In fact, I will be renewing my membership and so will millions of other Americans. 💯

— Danny Kampf (@BleedingRedDan) February 23, 2018

On Friday, Reuters reported Chubb would no longer underwrite NRA insurance for gun owners. A spokesperson told NPR that decision had been made some time ago. “Three months ago, Chubb provided notice of our intent to discontinue participation in the NRA Carry Guard insurance program under the terms of our contract,” Chubb said in a statement.

Also Friday, Wyndham Worldwide, parent company of major hotel brands including Travelodge, Howard Johnson, Ramada and Days Inn, tweeted that it “is no longer affiliated with the NRA.”

Hello Elaine. Please know, Wyndham is no longer affiliated with the NRA.

— Wyndham Worldwide (@Wyndham) February 23, 2018

ThinkProgress reports Wyndham Worldwide stopped offering NRA discounts following a pressure campaign after the Sandy Hook shooting. “We ended our relationship with the NRA late last year,” a spokesperson told NPR.

Meanwhile, some teachers in Florida were unsettled to learn earlier this week that the retirement funds to which they’ve been contributing invest in the gun company that produced the weapon used in the Parkland attack. Bloomberg News reports the Florida Retirement System Pension Plan held more than 41,000 shares in American Outdoor Brands Co. (formerly Smith & Wesson), maker of the semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle used by the suspect.

The President of the Florida teachers union has called for the fund to divest itself of shares. But the Washington Post reports that a spokesman with the state pension fund said that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 of their classmates and educators dead, are also using their platform to increase pressure on the NRA.

On Wednesday, at a CNN town hall, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio broke with an NRA stance when he announced he would support raising the age from 18 to 21 for “buying a rifle.” He was responding to a question from student survivor Cameron Kasky. However, during the same exchange, Rubio refused to say he would renounce NRA donations. (Rubio has earned the NRA’s highest A + rating)

Stoneman Douglas survivors have also mobilized students from across the country, who have been protesting, staging school walk-outs and calling on legislators to act.

March for Our Lives,” a national rally, is planned in Washington, D.C. on March 24.

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Heavy Rotation: The Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing

Mélat’s song “Push” is featured on this month’s edition of Heavy Rotation.

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Every month, NPR Music asks DJs from public radio stations across the country for the songs they’re spinning on repeat. These can be new releases, favorites from local artists and everything in between.

This month’s playlist includes a new track from an up and coming Austin artist, an upbeat song about white privilege from Tune-Yards, and a jazz instrumental cover of Amy Winehouse.

Heavy Rotation: The Songs Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing

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Push

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Mélat, ‘Push’

  • from Move Me II: The Present

Born to refugees who relocated to Austin after fleeing their native Ethiopia, Mélat has an unique outlook and life experience for someone her age. Influenced equally by her father’s affection for R&B and her own cultural upbringing in an Amharic-speaking household, Mélat’s confidence as a singer-songwriter shines through every track she graces with her powerful but smooth vocals. Mélat’s propensity for bold vocal performances and overall passion has already culminated in two full-length albums and a day named in her honor by Austin mayor Steve Adler. Mélat’s latest offering is Move Me II: The Present, 10 tracks of R&B, hip-hop infused excellence. The second song on the record (which also served as the second promotional single), “Push,” provides a perfect platform for Mélat’s vocals complete with a Curtis Mayfield-evoking guitar groove. — Jack Anderson, KUTX

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Lucius, ‘Neighbors’

  • from NUDES

Following the bright pop burst of 2016’s Good Grief, Lucius has opted to lay it bare and go back to basics. The new LP Nudes peels back the layers of elaborate production for a simple, acoustic backdrop that showcases the duo’s best assets: their vocals. Most of the album is made up of back catalog revisits and covers, but the first single is a brand new track called “Neighbors.” This song reveals just how powerful the voices we’re dealing with are as they soar, pull back, go soft, and then rip through the final lyrics: “Signal’s loud but it’s still busy, baby.” These are the (only) kind of nudes I’d be happy to receive. — Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio

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Dream Wife, ‘Somebody’

  • from Dream Wife

The idea for Dream Wife germinated when three friends created a fake girl band, complete with original songs and an accompanying mockumentary, as a performance art school project. The songs turned out great and the London-based trio — one Icelander and two Brits — had so much fun, they decided to keep it going as a real band. Their resulting eponymous debut is an infectious collection of indie-punk songs. The incredibly catchy album standout, “Somebody,” was originally released as a single last year on International Women’s Day. The band describes it as a ballad for women.

“The song explores the experience of living in a female body within our society. It’s a conversation on the reclamation of bodies by the women who occupy them in a tender, yet direct and empowering way,” says the band of the track.

The song is bold, confident and makes me want to hear more from this talented young band.— Cheryl Waters, KEXP

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Marquis Hill, ‘Coming Out Of The Universe’

  • from Meditation Tape

When it’s good, jazz provides the listener a respite from ordinary life (as the great drummer Art Blakey said, it “washes away the dust”). At its very best, though, this music can provide a sort of transcendental experience. The style that so often transcends is typically categorized as the catch-all sub-genre known as spiritual jazz. in Marquis Hill’s new Meditation Tape, we have a mixtape-style album that materializes a new fork in the path for this genre. On “Coming Out Of The Universe,” Hill’s singular style is updated: his trumpet plays through distortion, soaring over the heavy bass groove laid down by Junius Paul and the ethereal synth textures of Brett Williams. It’s all held together by longtime collaborator and fellow Chicagoan Makaya McCraven’s boom-bap break beat. One final collaborator is heard at the end, in the form of the legendary drummer Marvin “Bugalu” Smith – waxing poetic on the nature of human consciousness and its relationship to our physical universe. — Matt Fleeger, KMHD

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Everything Is Recorded, ‘Close But Not Quite’

  • from Everything is Recorded by Richard Russell

The best of these is “Close But Not Quite,” featuring Mercury Prize winner Sampha. The song features a sample of Curtis Mayfield‘s “The Makings Of You,” from Mayfield’s classic 1970 solo debut, Curtis. The introduction of the song beginslike a soft lullaby with a gentle piano, and an in-the-pocket bass line that keeps the beat as Samphasings tenderly: “Fate lets you fall into her arms without a word/And only the size of your breath that hurts/I’m not one to go to church/But you made me believe in something more than hurt.”

Then the payoff hits hard on the chorus, as Russell blends the Mayfield sample into the chorus with seamless attention to detail where Sampha and Curtis Mayfield’s voice becomes one, and a new long song is born. — Bruce Warren, WXPN

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Tune-Yards, ‘Colonizer’

  • from I can feel you creep into my private life

Like Annie Clark with St. Vincent, Merrill Garbus with Tune-Yards steadily advances her music toward a larger audience without sacrificing her integrity as an artist. Her voice plus her band’s propulsive synths, programming and percussion, result in Tune-Yards’ signature sound. More focused this time, inspired by her investigations of house and techno music, plus African and Haitian rhythms, the sound supports Garbus’ smart, searching lyrics. Halfway through the record, “Colonizer” arrives. The song’s repeated phrase “my white woman’s voice” is impossible to miss, even to the most casual listener. “Colonizer” has something to say about race, gender, privilege, culture and appropriation.

Garbus is an artist who is aware of what she’s doing in her music, and what’s going on in our culture, and she wants to let you in on it. But Tune-Yards is here to entertain, not to preach. It’s a fun listen from start to finish. — Mark Simmet, Iowa Public Radio

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Greta Van Fleet, ‘Highway Tune’

  • from From the Fires

The big festival line-ups for summer are bereft of real rock bands but in a recent interview, Jack White said we shouldn’t worry, a renaissance is just around the corner. It’s being led by a brash band of brothers from Jack’s home state of Michigan, with a girl’s name: Greta Van Fleet.

“Highway Tune” has been at No. 1 on our chart already, unusual for a debut and for a rock song! They’re compared to Led Zeppelin in reviews and last week, Robert Plant signed off on them, even suggesting that Josh Kiszka, the singer, could fill his role, as he’s not interested in a reunion! Elton John has also given them a big thumbs up. He throws a pre-Oscar party in LA every year and invites a hot new act to join him (Adele and Ed Sheeran in years past), but this year he’s bringing back the rock by inviting GVF! — Mark Wheat, The Current

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Inara George, ‘Young Adult’

  • from Dearest Everybody

A blissfully sweet fairy tale with a touch of misunderstanding, “Young Adult” is an ode to the passing of Inara George‘s father, a subject she has long since avoided writing about. In Dearest Everybody, her first album since 2009, George presents a set of songs of self-reflection for everyone listening. Though “Young Adult” carries the process of facing the loss of her father, it’s a tune that most every 20-something can relate to. Lyrics presenting the ups and downs, the process of just figuring out who you’re supposed to be, yet melodies serving as a reminder that everything turns out well in the end. George shows us that the seemingly simplest of lyrics can bring together the most beautiful moments of healing. — Alexis Palmer, Mountain Stage

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Hart, Scone & Albin, ‘Rehab’

  • from Leading the British Invasion

John Hart is a guitarist who has paid past tribute to jazz touchstones like Billy Strayhorn and Thelonious Monk. Leading The British Invasion finds him in a trio with drummer Rudy Petschauer and organist Adam Scone, taking a glimpse not at The Beatles or The Kinks but rather a series of female British soul stars, from Dusty Springfield to Lorde to Adele to Sade.

Hart breaks down the track perfectly: “We picked up the tempo on the 2006 Amy Winehouse hit ‘Rehab,’ with a street beat from Rudy reminiscent of some of the great collaboration between guitarist Grant Green and organ great Big John Patton.” Yes! Yes! Yes!— Gary Walker, WBGO

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Despite Frigid Weather, The Snow In Pyeongchang Is Fake

Elvedina Muzaferija of Bosnia and Herzegovina start a run during Alpine Skiing women’s downhill training on day 10 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Jeongseon Alpine Centre on Feb. 19, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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If you’ve been watching the Winter Games on TV, you may have noticed there’s not a lot of snow in Pyeongchang. While the South Korean region is known for its frigid winters, major snowstorms are rare in February.

That’s where Snow Making Inc. (SMI), comes in. The Michigan-based company has installed snow-making machines at seven Winter Olympics, including Pyeongchang.

“Depending on which venue it is, we estimate between 90 and 98 percent of the snow that’s there has been machine-made and produced in advance of the games,” Joe VanderKelen, president of SMI, tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.

The Games’ organizers spent nearly $6 million to bring in snow cannons, which push cold water and pressurized air through a “snow gun” to produce artificial snow. At past Olympics in Sochi and Vancouver, the host cities also deployed fake snow on mountain ranges due to unseasonably warmer weather.

“Machine-made snow is like one-week or two-week-old natural snow that’s been sitting there and takes a while to go into a different grain size, and actually can become a better surface once it’s tilled for the athletes,” VanderKelen says.

Surprisingly, athletes prefer manufactured snow because it is more consistent, he adds. When preparing the courses, organizers will actually push off natural snow before spreading the fake stuff.

“The racers like a very hard surface that minimizes rutting, so that between the 40 and 60 competitors that might race they’re trying to keep that surface as consistent as they can as they carve those gates and those corners,” VanderKelen says. “So they really like a very hard surface, and they don’t like natural snow at all.”

SMI’s fully automated snow-making system consists of 100 snow cannons posted on towers and carriages at the Jeongseon Alpine Center, according the company’s website. The entire system can store up to 33.6 million gallons of water, which is enough to fill 51 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“Take the Jeongseon Alpine venue. We’ve had people over there since early November, and they pretty much made snow from November 15 until about January 10,” VanderKelen says. “They converted around 200 million gallons of water into snow during that time” and then stored it until the games began.

The next host of the Winter Olympics, Beijing, will almost completely depend on man-made snow, according to a 2015 report by the International Olympic Committee.

“There would be no opportunity to haul snow from higher elevations for contingency maintenance to the race courses so a contingency plan would rely on stockpiled man-made snow,” the IOC wrote, a month before it designated Beijing the 2022 host.

Though harmful to the environment, the technology behind man-made show has become more energy efficient, VanderKelen says.

“The end result for the mountain resorts around the world is they’re making a lot more snow, a lot more efficiently, at a lot warmer temperatures, for a lot less money,” he says.

But a lack of snowfall has proven harmful to the commercial ski industry. A low-snow year can cost the U.S. winter sports industry up to $1 billion, according to a report by Protect Our Winters, a climate advocacy nonprofit. Less snow can deter people from hitting the slopes and delay the start of the season.

“Snow is currency,” Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Ski Resorts and a Protect Our Winters board member told NPR. Snowmaking is “a stop gap, it’s an insurance policy. But it doesn’t replace the natural product.”

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