Thursday, April 28, 2011


I am just back from a neighborhood social event. One of the people there (a retired psychologist by the way) asked me what I thought was the biggest safety threat in the U.S. food supply. Trust a psychologist to ask a difficult question like that.

Really, I am not trying to evade the question, but the only answer I can give is "It depends." It depends on the specific food involved, on who you are (some kinds of people are more vulnerable to one kind of contaminant, some to another), and on whether we are talking about short term risks or longer term ones.

Mostly, what we hear about in the news, and what we tend to think about as food contaminants, are those microbes such as E.coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Staphylococcus and Listeria monocytogenes which can give us a violent bout of illness (usually diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, weakness). Very nasty, but in the majority of cases, this kind of "food poisoning" will be over in a few days. Unless, of course, you are unlucky enough to be among the 2% or so of people who end up with a chronic health condition as a result.

Then there are those hazards in food which can threaten our long-term health and happiness - increasing our chances of certain cancers, damage our body organs, or give us milder, but still irritating problems such as skin rashes or degenerative conditions.

So which are the biggest threats? It depends on your point of view. If you are a professional performer or an athlete, who needs to be at their peak tomorrow, or the next day, you will naturally be more concerned about bacteria and viruses. If you are thinking long-term health, you may want to think more about drug residues and chemicals in your food.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It also is a matter of age. If you are young you need to be worried about the long term risks, problems that build up over time. Young bodies are more able to fight off the short term risks too. When you are older the dye has been cast with the long term risks so there's not much point in over-worrying about them. And you are less able to fight off the short term risks, so they should be your main concern.