Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is It Safe?

Earlier this week it was hot, hot, hot in Seattle and that put food safety on my brain. As I rode by Super Jock 'N Jill, the temp read 90 degrees, a rarity in these un-air conditioned parts. First thing when I got home I went into the kitchen to save the perishables. After last summer's heat wave, when the wine in my house turned to vinegar, I learned my lesson and stored nut butters, oils and wines in the fridge or basement. Yesterday I did the same, shortly after returning home from observing a cooking class at Lifelong AIDS Alliance, where food safety is a major concern for the those with vulnerable immune systems. Then came the news: 228 million eggs were recalled today due to a salmonella scare.

I've been meaning to write about food safety for a while now. Monday mornings my inbox is regularly flooded with FDA food safety emails. An alarming number of these emails consist are food safety alerts and recalls. Mexican food lovers should beware - apparently salsa and guacamole are linked to many cases of foodborne illness. If you too want to know about the latest recalls, undeclared allergens and foodborne illness, there's an app for that.

Until you suffer through your first bout of food poisoning it's hard to take food safety too seriously. I'd been warned about raw eggs my whole life but never heeded cautions against licking the bowl. Then I watched friends get sick with salmonella after tasting bad brownie batter. Raw fish didn't phase me until one fateful night when it did, leaving me bedridden for three days. And even though I started to take food safety a bit more seriously, I would still only think about it in the context of raw animal products. Then the news reports began: contaminated spinach, peanuts and tomatoes, causing people to eliminate these from their diets entirely. As though vegetables needed any more bad press.

I started to understand a bit better when, earlier in the spring, I was working on a project about broccoli sprouts for my Bioactive Compounds class and encountered all forms of warnings about the safety of eating sprouts. Why sprouts? Not because there's anything inherently unsafe about them - in fact, they pack an especially strong nutritional punch - the seeds, grains and legume have to be cared for when they are soaked, rinsed, sprouted for the couple of days it takes to grow them and they can become moldy. The real issue is seed contamination, so that if you have a reliable seed source and sprout your own seeds, and take the necessary precautions, there should be minimal risk.

Food safety is a huge issue. If you've seen Food, Inc. you know there are so many deaths linked to foodborne illness. The infamous incident featured in the documentary took place right in my neighborhood. Four people and died and hundreds were sick after eating tainted food at a Seattle Jack in the Box, a fact that makes me cringe every time I drive by any of the fast food chain's locations.

Last week, this CDC Report was released, focusing on the instances of foodborne illness outbreaks from 2007. So how does this help me in 2010? It may not, but it may increase your awareness about the risks that are out there. Sure, you've heard it before - it's ideal to know where food is coming from. This is not just because this will connect you to the land, to your grower, to the natural world in some spiritual way, but because in a very practical way it means that when press releases announce a tainted crop of tomatoes, spinach or peanuts, you will know whether or not it will impact you. I would also guess that when you know exactly where your food comes from, you know who is accountable and how the food is produced, you're less likely to have to worry.

Here's a link to the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's tips for food safety at the farmer's market.

Eat safe!

1 comment:

  1. Send this to Tamar, food safety is her fav topic