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The Final Proof: November 2013


November 5, 2013
By Stephanie Ortenzi

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Over-the-top food, an illness outbreak and how maple bacon jam sent shivers down the spine of the bakery industry.

Over-the-top food, an illness outbreak and how maple bacon jam sent shivers down the spine of the bakery industry.

It started very simply. Innocently, you might even say, because it wasn’t really that out there. It made sense. Besides, it’s perfectly reasonable for a really great idea to come from two other really great ideas, especially when a tugging heart feels they belong together, such as mac ’n’ cheese or cookies ’n’ cream ice cream. So it was with the croissant and the doughnut.

The cronut was unleashed in May by New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel, and people went nuts almost immediately. The public expressed such genuine excitement through words, photos and video from around the world about the cronut that food trend watchers started wondering if the cupcake was finally washed up as the enduring game-changer that it was for baking for so many years. Then the cronut landed in a food mash-up in Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition and the game changed, but not in a good way.

The Ex, as it’s affectionately known, is a summer fair famous for scream-inducing rides and a food pavilion that doubles as a great place to get your food business noticed. That was what the owners of Epic Burger and Waffles, and Le Dolci bakery, had in mind when they came up with their creation. They decided to make and sell a mash-up of a mash-up. They called it the cronut burger, which is a cheeseburger with a cronut as the bun. Whatever your personal taste, we live in a culture that supports Double-Downing at KFC, and Boston Pizza’s Pizza Burger, which in case you didn’t know, is a cheeseburger wrapped in a pepperoni pizza. We go nuts for over-the-top foods. They make us giddy, and we seem to need them, mostly I think, for “breating” rights.

Breating is a word I’ve just invented. It’s a mash-up of bragging and eating. Breating is how our foodie culture thrives. When the TV news cameras interviewed people in line to buy a cronut burger, chowing down on one, or who’d had one and had something to say about it were all breating. Whenever there’s buzz around a food, there’s breating. It was inevitable around the cronut burger because people were buzzing about it even before the gates of the Ex opened.

 And then the unthinkable happened.

But first, a quick step back in time. If you’re old like me, you’ll remember The Meaning of Life, a 1983 Monty Python film with a famous scene about an overly corpulent gourmand in a fancy restaurant. When he reaches the end of his meal, he eats a slim chocolate after-dinner mint – which used to be a thing in the old days. After eating that slim little mint, he lets rip the most disgusting scene in film history. I think that’s a fair assessment since even Quentin Tarantino thought so, and he’s put some pretty hard-to-watch scenes on film himself.

In some ways it was similar, but certainly not so extreme and certainly not intended to make anybody laugh, when 250 people who ate Toronto’s cronut burger got sick. Some required an ambulance and then IV and oxygen once in the ER. It was all because of a condiment, the maple bacon jam that went on top, unnecessarily gilding the lily, you might say. In a weird way, the jam made sense. The competition is stiff. Sometimes to keep our customers, we need to go over the top of the over-the-top.

The health department came in as soon as the first few unfortunates starting having those ugly food poisoning symptoms. Both business owners promptly and voluntarily shut down their businesses. They made statements to the public that can stand as great models of how to face the public when something like this happens. Le Dolci’s statement was particularly touching. Lisa Sanguedolce took full responsibility and expressed remorse and regret for the suffering she’d caused. Later in September, she hosted an open house for customers. Forgive me and trust me again, she was saying. Fair enough.

Investigators said that improper refrigeration allowed the jam to do its damage. They also found an unwelcome bacterium in the bacon, but it was unrelated to the bacteria that had made people sick and hadn’t caused illness itself. Bullet dodged. The offending toxin could have come from raw ingredients, from surfaces or from the food handlers. That’s as exact as they could get.

There isn’t a food business owner alive who doesn’t in some corner of his or her heart feel relieved that this hadn’t happened to them. The fact that it doesn’t happen more often says a lot about our food safety practices, until someone takes one small misstep.

Let’s all watch our steps and remember how important food safety is, whether feeding one person at home or thousands in public.

Stephanie Ortenzi (www.pistachiowriting.com ) is a Toronto-based food-marketing writer.


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