A New Year's Resolution: Protect Your Family From Foodborne Bacteria
Please note: We posted this article originally with an error. Instead of indicating that three people had died we had erroneously typed twenty people had died.
Here’s a New Year’s Resolution to add to your list: “I resolve to protect my family more effectively from dangerous bacteria in their food.
Hundreds of people were recently sickened, and three died, from eating bacteria-contaminated spinach and precut lettuce. Bacteria have always been with us but the growing popularity of time-saving precut salad mixtures offers more cut surfaces and therefore more opportunity for the bacteria.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that Americans suffer 76 million cases of foodborne illness per year—and more than 5,000 deaths. The CDC says a large proportion of these are caused by such bacteria as E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella and listeria that lurk in our food. When these bacteria get into our kitchens, they often contaminate counter-tops, refrigerators, and cutting boards, thereby spreading the bugs to other foods. Often the bacteria hide in kitchen sponges, which then contaminate everything the sponges touch.
The “consumer advocates” on TV say we’re helpless—unless every farm is inspected by government agents and bacteria sources are destroyed. But bacteria are everywhere and they have countless natural opportunities to attack our food. Federal officials linked a recent outbreak of deadly E coli: O157 to wild pigs, which may have carried the bacteria half a mile from a free-range cattle farm to a spinach field. Can we expect farmers to put night-vision cameras around their fields—and shoot every wild creature that digs under their fences?
Here are four ways you can protect your family more effectively from bacteria than government farm inspectors ever could:
First and foremost, refrigerate your foods. We all get exposed to a few bacteria, but they don’t multiply in near-freezing temperatures. If they can’t multiply, they’ll represent much less danger to you and your kids.
Second, run kitchen sponges through the dishwasher after use. The hot water and detergent will kill most of the bacteria. Substitute paper towels for sponges whenever you can.
Third, write to the Food and Drug Administration and demand federal approval for irradiation of fruits and vegetables. This low-dose “cold pasteurization” kills 99.999 percent of the bacteria, and causes no significant changes in the foods. There is no other sure way to safely use pre-cut greens. There is no other known way to kill bacteria in and on fruits and vegetables without destroying their freshness. Irradiation, instead, actually extends the fresh taste and shelf life of the produce!
So far, a few self-appointed “consumer watchdogs” have prevented irradiated foods from reaching the consumer. They rant publicly about “radioactivity,” and claim that the farmers should eliminate all the bacteria on their farms instead. How?
Irradiation has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the FDA, and dozens more food safety authorities. It’s already approved for meats, and the meat industry is readying major facilities to “cold-pasteurize” hamburger. Now, however, we’re finding that we need irradiation of our fruits and vegetables as well. The FDA needs to go one step further.
Irradiation won’t even raise your food prices because it will sharply reduce spoilage losses, in the marketing chain and in your home. Who’s not in favor of reducing spoilage?
Fourth, write your supermarket manager a note, telling him/her you want this safety service. Otherwise, the supermarkets will be afraid to stock irradiated products, and the “consumer advocates” will keep getting on TV to fret uselessly over more ineffective farm inspections—instead of eliminating the problem.
Americans enjoy the safest food delivery system in history, and a many of the remaining dangers can by eliminated by using common sense practices in our own kitchens and insisting on food irradiation.
Dennis T. Avery is a senior fellow for Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and the Director for Global Food Issues. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. Readers may write him at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.