Tuesday, January 3, 2012


What have we learned from the food-related outbreaks and recalls of 2011? Here are five of my thoughts.

Our food is not getting any safer:
In fact, it might be getting less so. Improved legislation (such as the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in late 2010) will have no positive impact unless there is also money and will to make improvements.

Food related outbreaks can be very large:
Food poisoning is no longer just a few people getting sick at the church picnic. Outbreaks can be huge. This was best illustrated by the enormous 2011 E.coli 0104 outbreak centered in Northern Germany, which made over 4,000 people seriously ill, and caused some 50 deaths. All this caused by some tiny sprouted fenugreek seeds that not many people eat.

The cause of an outbreak is quite difficult to trace and can take a long time:
As we saw in the above case, finding the culprit food is far from easy, particularly when political and economic factors interfere. It is not unusual for wrong foods to be initially suspected as occurred in Germany (The Safe Food Handbook also illustrates several such cases). Many food recalls also expand or have spinoffs, which is why I often warn readers to draw a large circle around a recalled product until the investigators have time to do their jobs.

Ready-to-eat foods and raw foods continue to be risky:
The Safe Food Handbook discusses the special risks in "raw, ready and remote" food. The food recalls of 2011 in the U.S. certainly confirm this. Look back on the recalls, and you'll see that a large proportion were foods that were ready to eat or "convenience" foods, many of them raw (such as bagged produce), and yes, we also had a lot of problems with imported products (I'll blog this separately).

Organic is no guarantee of safety:
Many of the contaminated foods of 2011 have unfortunately been organic - the organic celery seeds, organic grape tomatoes, organic bagged spinach, organic strawberries, organic milk and cheese, and more. True, organic foods are likely to have less pesticide, and some of them carry less hormones or antibiotic residues, but organic foods can be as likely, and perhaps even more likely, to carry bacteria and viruses.

To your good health,

1 comment:

W. Home said...

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