In the last two weeks, US consumers have been alerted to killer cantaloupes ... E. coli-tainted ground beef ... and even cornea-slicing contact lenses. "Kid-friendly" microwaveable cups of Velveeta Shells and Cheese were recalled on September 30th because along with the food dye, fake cheese, and chemical preservatives, some packages contained metal slivers in every bite!
"Attack Of The Killer Cantaloupes"
No, it isn't a 1950s horror movie title. A batch of conventionally-grown cantaloupes from Jensen Farms of Colorado left the state teeming with deadly listeria that has killed 23 people and sickened over 100. The melons are still "at large" in at least 17 different states, so I suggest you get your fruit fix another way until this latest alert passes.
And in case you didn't hear, food giant Tyson recalled a mountainous 131,000 pounds of ground beef after discovering the mega-batch contained E. coli bacteria. One reason that E. coli is so prevalent in ground beef is that the standard supermarket package of ground meat comes from many different steers. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service doesn't test every animal's meat for the bacteria, just samples. (E. coli infiltrates meat during the slaughtering process, when flaws in large-scale, industrial butchering lead to intestinal excrement mingling with meat. Ugh!)
The myth of "organic recalls"
Despite mainstream media's attempt to blame these recalls on organic produce and animal products, just the opposite is true.
A survey of 48 recent FDA recalls (which occurred during the span of two weeks!) revealed only one organic product: Limited Edition Fresh 'n' Easy grape tomatoes.
As a matter of fact, many organic procedures (and I'll explain this in a moment) actually lessen the risk of foodborne illnesses.
The best-publicized organic produce recall in the US occurred last year with Specialty Farms sprouts, which tested positive for listeria. Another conventional sprouts purveyor, Caldwell Fresh Foods, recalled sprouts that caused salmonella illnesses in several consumers. Why? Sprouts grow in a moist environment and thus are more prone to carrying listeria and salmonella.
Organically-grown or not, there's no way to guarantee that a food is bacteria- or pathogen-free. But you can reduce your risk of exposure. Here are some tips...
How to avoid tainted foods
Shop organic. One frequently recalled food item, the omnipresent egg, is much safer when it is organically-raised. For instance, Organic Valley's eggs "undergo far more rigorous safety testing than required by the Food and Drug Administration," according to DailyFinance.com, in an article that covered last year's salmonella-based recall of 550 million eggs. Additionally, the USDA's organic regulations demand that organic chickens be given more space, which cuts down on the transmission of salmonella. When you pack chickens into the smallest space possible, and leave them to stand in their own excrement and claw and peck each other bloody, you can bet those eggs are way more prone to making you sick.
Buy whole foods. If you're biting into a bar that has over 20 ingredients, you're taking 20 more chances when you take that bite. For instance, Clif Bars had to recall some of its bars recently because it used peanuts from a source connected to the salmonella peanut scare. You're better off having a handful of organic peanuts and dates, instead.
Choose local foods. Stay close to the source. Coloradans who live near the Jensens cantaloupe farm can easily avoid tainted melons because the network is known and the awareness is high. Unfortunately, residents of the 17 states in which Jensen Farms exports their products don't enjoy this level of safety. As the company admitted, they alerted the companies in their distribution network, but they don't have a handle on where the melons were re-sold.
Grow your own. If you're really worried about where commercial produce has been before it landed in your kitchen, you may want to take up backyard gardening. This is the best way to control what goes into your food. Sprouts, by the way, can be grown on your kitchen counter all year round (watch this video to see how easy it is).
Organic guidelines trump conventional
Organic food producers are required to comply with local, federal and state health guidelines. And when it comes to the use of manure (a potential source of E. coli), organic farmers must provide proof of much more strict regulation of manure application than conventional farmers, per the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
Organic livestock must be housed humanely and given more space, which eliminates many of the health risks that accompany factory farming or CAFO operations. Packing animals in at high density is not only inhumane, but it also leads to a higher risk of E. coli, avian flu, antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and inter-animal transmission of salmonella and listeria. The antibiotics and pesticides utilized to control these conditions are passed on to the consumers of these factory farms eggs, poultry, and meat products.
11 ways to dodge deadly bacteria
Here are 10 easy tips that can help you to avoid listeria, salmonella, and E. coli.
Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food.
Clean food preparation areas thoroughly -- and don't use the same cutting board for veggies that you used for raw meat, poultry, and fish.
Rinse vegetables and prepackaged salads thoroughly before eating.
Be sure to cook meat thoroughly.
Don't eat cracked, punctured or leaky eggs. (Even safer: Wash your eggs with soapy water, then rinse thoroughly.)
Avoid eating at big buffets and picnics where foods have been sitting out for longer periods.
Pay attention to expiration dates of food labels.
Don't eat processed meats and hot dogs unless they're organic.
Launder cloth kitchen towels frequently.
Microwave your kitchen sponge for 2 minutes to kill bacteria.
Review the FDA's recall list for updates. You never know what will turn up there next.
Although the recent spike in recalls can make you want to become a "breathatarian" who needs only air to survive, you shouldn't panic. When you employ these "eat smart" tips, you can maximize your safety, security, and eating pleasure.
Remember that food safety isn't only about kitchen hygiene and sourcing; it's also about eating foods that heal, not harm. Come visit us at MyHealingKitchen.com to discover delicious healing recipes and breaking nutrition and health news.
Now it's your turn: What are your favorite food safety strategies and words of warning? Let us all know by sharing your comments below.