Wednesday, December 12

Food safety and a new entry to Pundita's blogroll

There are so many food recalls here in the USA that it's gotten to the point where checking on recalls before going to the grocery store is like checking the weather report before heading out. So I'm adding a website named Food Recalls to my blogroll.    

The large number of recalls is actually good news in that both the food companies and the government have gotten quicker at spotting problematical food. And the news media quickly pass along the information to the public -- at least about the big recalls and ones directly connected to an outbreak of illness or a death(s).

Paying attention to the recalls can also alert consumers to types of food products that for whatever reason or another are recalled more than once. A salmonella-contaminated tahini spread (imported from Israel) and listeria-contaminated kale salad (from a U.S. company exporting to Canada) are two examples just from this month. I've developed an "Again?" rule: if I remember a recall of the same type of product from earlier years, I ask myself whether I can live without it. 

Romaine lettuce recalls have happened twice this year alone, and the second time, in October, the FDA issued a blanket nationwide alert in response to an outbreak of E. coli associated with romaine:  Just don't eat the stuff and don't sell it. For weeks you couldn't  buy romaine lettuce in Washington, DC grocery stores. From this report today it seems it's just being returned to store shelves but with the warning that romaine from certain counties in California should be avoided. 

And I see from the report that the FDA has finally grown a brain and ordered that retailers label all romaine lettuce with the place where it's grown and the harvest date. Yes that will make romaine more expensive but E. coli is no joking matter.

As to how to know from the label which regions are producing suspect romaine [laughing] I think we're on our own unless the retailer is especially watchful. Another reason to start paying attention to the Food Recalls website.
But in this age of megapopulations, in which such huge volumes of food are produced and often from imported sources, it's impossible for food inspectors to keep up with every single imported food, and that's not counting inspections of in-country food produce. So I figure I bear some responsibility for being watchful and cautious about the food I buy.

This said, much bacterial food contamination can be avoided by better handling and preparation on the consumer end. I think it was the French tradition and maybe other parts of Europe to serve the salad course last. This meant the vinegar, which science eventually discovered is a powerful antibacterial agent, had time to soak into the salad greens and decontaminate them of "gram-negative" bacteria such as E. Coli, a process which takes about 20 minutes. (I don't know whether lemon works the same way but it might well.)

I don't know whether the tradition is still in effect, and today many raw greens are used in sandwiches where they can't be decontaminated in such manner. But the tradition is something to think about, if you eat raw greens, especially in this era when greens can be shipped far from the sale point.

And of course thoroughly cooking foods at the right temperature can kill bacteria but you have to watch out for the survivalists:
Boiling does kill any bacteria active at the time, including E. coli and salmonella. But a number of survivalist species of bacteria are able to form inactive seed-like spores. ... After a food is cooked and its temperature drops below 130 degrees, these spores germinate and begin to grow, multiply and produce toxins. Aug 23, 2011
Bending the Rules on Bacteria and Food Safety - The New York Times
Modern life. So interesting lol. 


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