When you get off work after a long day, the last thing you want to do is cook yourself dinner-never mind make lunch for the next day. But going out to a restaurant takes up time (and $$$), too, so the rise of grocery store prepared foods has seemed like the solution we've all been waiting for. But grabbing that quick sushi roll or chicken dish at the market's hot buffet on your way home might be a little too good to be true. Prepared grocery store meals are making people sick, and it's making a serious case for rethinking your meal habits.
Most recently, two cases of hepatitis A in Detroit were linked to Whole Foods' prepared food section. The International Business Times reports that it is still unclear as to how the disease was contracted; however health officials are urging anyone who's eaten the prepared items at the grocery chain between October 6 and October 12 to get vaccinations.
And this isn't the first time a grocery giant has run into problems with prepared food. After Costco's E. coli contamination and Boise Co-Op's salmonella outbreak sickened customers last year, Whole Foods halted its fresh meal production at one of its commercial kitchens that produces fresh meals for retail stores. This was a direct response to safety gaps in the company's Boston plant. As a result, Whole Foods has been forced to discontinue processing meat, poultry and raw seafood in that kitchen-plus two others-and focus on coming up with a new approach.
So what gives? The model has been working for so long, why are we suddenly seeing an upsurge in illness? It's most likely due to the fact that demand for prepared foods has grown considerably (to put it in perspective, prepared foods sales doubled in the last year, from $15 billion to $28 billion), as has the complexity of the dishes. A basic deli sandwich doesn't cut it anymore. Now, customers have their choices between hot chicken entrees, fresh produce, grain and pasta salads, seafood, and even desserts. Naturally, with such developments comes a greater risk for food-safety.
What Whole Foods and other chains will do in response is yet to be determined, but until we see a serious revamp of the prepared foods process, consider that the convenience might come with a seriously unsettling risk of illness.
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