Food Borne illness…nothing to sneeze at!

October 27, 2013: Reser’s Fine Foods Recalls More Products for Possible Listeria Contamination…October 25, 2013: Taylor Farms Recalls Broccoli Salad Kit Products for Possible Listeria…October 25, 2013: Another 100,000 Pounds of Ready-to-Eat Chicken and Ham Recalled for Listeria…October 25, 2013: Boston Salads Recalls Ready-to-Eat Chicken Salad Products for Possible Listeria Contamination…October 23, 2013: E. Coli Illness Prompts Minnesota Costco Ground Beef Recall

These are just a few of the food recalls on the list over the past few days.  Kinda makes you want to stop eating food if you think about it too much.  Food-borne illness is more and more common in today’s mass-produced, pre-packaged world, and it doesn’t look like there is an end in sight.  Truth is, the more industrialized our food system becomes the harder it is to not only keep tabs on every production facility out there, but also to be able to trace food back to it’s source should someone get sick.  This results in recalling large amounts of food that is most likely safe (a waste) as well as a lot of mass hysteria (think spinach). 

Though food-borne illness certainly is nothing to take lightly, there really is no need to avoid spinach for the rest of your life either.  A little education on the subject as well as taking precautions in your own home to prevent it can go a long way. 

Lets take leafy greens for example, unfortunately one of the riskiest foods in terms of food safety.  The CDC recently found that between 1998 and 2008, 22% of food-borne illnesses were attributed to leafy vegetables.  Because leafy greens grow close to the ground, they are at higher risk for contamination from animals, contaminated water, or poor worker hygiene.  Pre-washing of leafy greens also makes them riskier since several batches of greens from different farms could be washed together.  This can cause safe greens to become contaminated by one small batch of bad greens, and also leads to traceability problems.  Because greens from different farms are comingled in the bath, it becomes hard to trace which farm the contaminated product came from. 

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So what’s an eater to do?  Well, the benefits of eating leafy greens most definitely outweigh the risks, especially for adults with healthy immune systems whose bodies can usually fight off the bacteria without causing symptoms.  The elderly, young children, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems are always at much greater risk in terms of food-borne illness. 

There are a few things you can do to help to reduce your chance of being exposed to food-borne illness.  First, buy your leafy greens, meat, eggs, and other high-risk foods from a local grower whenever possible.  You are then able to meet, talk to, and ask the farmer about their growing methods, and hold them accountable for the food they grow. You also get a fresh product that has been minimally handled, which greatly reduces your chances of worker contamination.  There is no risk of commingling either, since what you buy will only come from one farm.

Be sure to rinse produce in cool, running water, even if it is a pre-washed product, and take the following food safety precautions when handling meat in your home:

  • Wash hands, cutting boards, countertops, and knives thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw meat.
  • Always store raw meats in the refrigerator away from produce or ready to eat foods.
  • Make sure all meats are cooked to proper internal temperatures.
  • NEVER thaw meat on the counter, always thaw it in the refrigerator.

Here is a link to the recipe for this week, Brussels Sprouts Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette.  I used a bit less vinegar than it called for and the vinegar did turn the brussels sprouts a kind of olive-y green, but it sure did taste delicious.  Also I cooked it for a little longer than called for so the Brussels wouldn’t be too firm.

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