Food for Thought: Food-Borne Illnesses, Contaminants & Recalls

Veggies and eggs Gambling at the Grocery Store

As I sit down to write this post, I have just returned from doing our weekly grocery shopping at Super Target. Prior to making the run to Target, I had done the research for this post. You know the feeling you have in a dirty, public restroom? Yeah, that's how I felt.* The information I had quickly absorbed was still on my mind, and I stood there inspecting produce and looking at labels to decipher from whence the product originated a little longer than usual. {I'm sorry to say that the majority of the produce I checked was grown in Mexico, but that's a story for my organic, locally grown, etc. post}.

Target was out of the smaller-sized, locally grown, greenhouse tomatoes that I usually buy, but still had plenty of the smaller-sized tomatoes grown in Mexico. I opted for the larger-sized tomatoes just so that I could still get the local produce. I thought about getting sprouts to make my absolutely delicious hummus and veggie sandwich, and then decided against it due to my research. I bought locally grown ground beef to make chili later this week. I passed by the celery and after VERY careful inspection of the strawberries thought better of buying them. And, in general, I wondered which foods in my cart are truly safe to be consumed and which foods are tainted, even just slightly; it's truly a gamble.

Recalls

Just this past weekend there was a ground beef recall in CA. A thoughtful reader tipped me off to this recall today. According to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS):

Feb. 5, 2011 - American Food Service, a Pico Rivera, Calif. establishment, is recalling approximately 3,170 pounds of fresh ground beef patties and other bulk packages of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

FSIS reports that it became aware of the issue when another federal regulated establishment contacted them to report receiving the suspect product. For detailed information on this recall, click here.

Recalls occur due to various issues: contaminants found in food through testing; food-borne illnesses traced back to a particular product; unsanitary conditions or other issues at the processing plant, farm, ranch, animal lots, etc.; or incorrect labels.

Commonly Contaminated Foods

There are a few foods that typically have more recalls issued than other products due to food-borne illnesses. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) these are the top foods associated with food-borne illnesses:

  1. Raw Meat
  2. Poultry
  3. Raw Eggs
  4. Raw Shellfish
  5. Unpasteurized Milk
  6. Fruits, consumed raw
  7. Vegetables, consumed raw
  8. Sprouts

CDC states that the reasons for these issues with these particular products are:

"filter-feeding shellfish strain microbes from the sea over many months, and are particularly likely to be contaminated if there are any pathogens in the seawater.   Foods that mingle the products of many individual animals, such as bulk raw milk, pooled raw eggs, or ground beef, are particularly hazardous because a pathogen present in any one of the animals may contaminate the whole batch.  A single hamburger may contain meat from hundreds of animals.  A single restaurant omelet may contain eggs from hundreds of chickens.  A glass of raw milk may contain milk from hundreds of cows.   A broiler chicken carcass can be exposed to the drippings and juices of many thousands of other birds that went through the same cold water tank after slaughter."

The issues involving raw fruits and vegetables are different, but just as concerning:

"Washing can decrease but not eliminate contamination, so the consumers can do little to protect themselves.  Recently, a number of outbreaks have been traced to fresh fruits and vegetables that were processed under less than sanitary conditions.  These outbreaks show that the quality of the water used for washing and chilling the produce after it is harvested is critical.  Using water that is not clean can contaminate many boxes of produce.  Fresh manure used to fertilize vegetables can also contaminate them.  Alfalfa sprouts and other raw sprouts pose a particular challenge, as the conditions under which they are sprouted are ideal for growing microbes as well as sprouts, and because they are eaten without further cooking.  That means that a few bacteria present on the seeds can grow to high numbers of pathogens on the sprouts.   Unpasteurized fruit juice can also be contaminated if there are pathogens in or on the fruit that is used to make it."

Source: www.CDC.gov

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are 12 fruits and vegetables that contain more pesticides than other produce. They've termed this list of 12 fruits and veggies, the Dirty Dozen. The EWG suggests that if you can't afford to buy all organic products at least buy organic versions of these 12 fruits and veggies:

The 2010 Dirty Dozen

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Kale
  10. Cherries
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes (Imported)

Source: www.EWG.org

Our household consumes a lot of the produce on this list on a regular basis. Eek! Check out the EWG's site for their list of 15 Clean Fruits and Veggies.

Information Sources

If you have questions concerning food-borne illnesses, also referred to as food poisoning, check these site for more information:

  • FoodSafety.gov: Detailed information regarding specific causes of food-borne illnesses and how to report any such illness.
  • CDC: Answers to many questions regarding food-borne illnesses.
  • FDA: Food Safety information and specific information regarding contaminants in food, etc.
  • FSIS: Food safety alerts and information regarding meat, poultry and processed eggs products.

The Scoop

Our household has had our fair share of food-borne illnesses over the years, but don't worry I'll spare you the details. Considering the number of reported food-borne illnesses is 48 million Americans per year, all of us have had our fair share of food poisoning. While there have certainly been times that DH and I were sure it was the whipped cream on a slice of cheesecake gone bad or a Swedish smorgasbord or this or that, we have actually never filed a report of any such illnesses. Have you ever formally reported food poisoning? Over and out...

Anna

*You know I'm paranoid like that. Remember my story of air travel after Sept. 11, 2001? Or the Stalking Awareness post? Or... I may sound crazy, but aren't you glad I'm doing this research for you?

You might also like:

Sippy Cups: BPA-Free or Not. What’s the Big Deal?

The Perils of Feeding a Child: Food-Related Choking Hazard Warnings

Stand in the Place Where You Live, Think About the Earth and Wonder Why You Haven’t Before

www.MotherlyLaw.com

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