Friday, August 5, 2011

'Gone Too Far' premiere: DJ AM, gone too soon by Ken Tucker

The premiere of Gone Too Far, a series about coming to the aid of drug abusers, was haunted by the death of its host, Adam Goldstein, aka DJ AM. Goldstein, a highly talented musician and producer, died two months ago at age 36, from what was ruled an accidental drug overdose.
Gone Too Far will chronicle Goldstein’s attempts to help eight addicts. First up this night was Amy, from Goldstein’s hometown of Philadelphia. Goldstein was a first-rate interviewer, questioning Amy’s mother, brother, and sister with careful precision. (Amy’s dead father, we were told, was also a drug addict.) “I feel a lot of pressure,” Goldstein tells the camera as he emerges from these conversations — pressure to get Amy cleaned up and sober.
We heard about Amy stealing from her family — “thousands of dollars” — and saw footage of her shooting up in a car. “I used to be a good person,” said 23 year-old Amy. “I know I’m better than this.”
Gone Too Far followed a structure we’re familiar with from other shows: the user uses, there’s an excruciatingly intimate family intervention. Then the addict is whisked off to rehab, and emerges clean, for however long he or she decides to remain so.
But what those other shows don’t have is DJ AM. He’s calm here, with a warm voice but a firm manner. He’s straightforward: “I want to get her enough clean-time where it’s not just a bag of dope we’re talking to,” he says of Amy.
Amy did indeed go into rehab — though not without shooting up one more time in a restroom in the Philadelphia airport. After the 90-day treatment, her family and Goldstein visit. She’s clear-eyed and cheerful. Goldstein gives her an iPod with the inscription “Don’t pawn me” and uploaded with “some of my mix-CDs,” he tells her.
You can criticize or debate how much the presence of TV cameras helps or hurts the recovery process. You can’t deny that this was a moving series. “I’m a recovering drug addict,” Goldstein said at the top of the show, over the opening credits. It’s sad he’s not around to say that again.


E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection

E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection

Published: October 3, 2009

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Ben Garvin for The New York Times
Stephanie Smith, 22, was paralyzed after being stricken by E. coli in 2007. Officials traced the E. coli to hamburger her family had eaten.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.
Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.
“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.
Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.
Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.
Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.
The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.
Using a combination of sources — a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger — allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.
Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.
Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.
“Ground beef is not a completely safe product,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bender, a food safety expert at the University of Minnesota who helped develop systems for tracing E. coli contamination. He said that while outbreaks had been on the decline, “unfortunately it looks like we are going a bit in the opposite direction.”
Food scientists have registered increasing concern about the virulence of this pathogen since only a few stray cells can make someone sick, and they warn that federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly and to wash up afterward is not sufficient. A test by The Times found that the safe handling instructions are not enough to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the kitchen.


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