Three bacteria that turn up frequently in food recalls, from cantaloupes to packaged salads, cold cuts and many other common foods, are Listeria, E coli and Salmonella. Buying “organic” produce is unfortunately not the answer, as organic food products have been recalled as well. These organisms in our food can be fatal to children (see Kevin's Law - named after two-year-old Kevin Kowalcyk who died after eating a hamburger contaminated with E coli), the elderly see this article (link expired see LINKs below) regarding a woman who died from E coli poisoning in her seniors complex) and those with weakened immune systems.
E coli & Other bacterial Outbreaks
These incidences seem to becoming a more regular occurrence. What are they and how do these toxins get into our food? And how do we protect ourselves and our families? The annual statistics on deaths from food poisonings appears to be increasing and, although the information contained here is basic, I feel it is a good reminder for all.
E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks have become more frequent in America,
whether from spinach or jalapenos. In 2007, there were 73,000
people sickened from the E. coli virus.
Quote from Food Inc (the documentary)
Salmonella is a bacteria (of which there are many) that causes many illnesses to humans. It is carried by animals and is contracted by humans through ingestion. Common sources are poor hygiene, polluted water, and animal excrement. Contamination can be found in products such as poultry, cattle, eggs, milk, cheese, and other meat. To protect against Salmonella poisoning :
- Heat food for ten minutes. Recommended safe cooking temperatures for food from the USDA
- Cooking and careful food hygiene practiced at all times and any food discoloured or with an odour should be discarded
- Wash hands frequently especially when preparing raw meat such as chicken (See below)
- Avoid unpasteurized products such as milk or cider
is another frequently-occurring food poisoning agent. Listeria is a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil and animals, similar to Salmonella.
Besides the above mentioned recommendations (for Salmonella), it is important to wash and peel fruits and vegetables. Often Listeria is not detectable by discolour or odour, so safe hygiene food practices are a must. Canada Food Inspection Agency goes as far as stating “Adults 60 years and older, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid food commonly associated with Listeria, including hot dogs, deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products.”
The third common food poisoning today is from E coli which affects the kidney and there appear to be larger numbers of deaths from people who have contracted this bacteria. Instead of more data, which is provided in the links below ad nauseam, perhaps an example of an E coli death will have a more profound affect.
As I am writing this article, today's headlines include the death of an 80-year-old woman, who was one of three struck with E. coli poisoning in a senior housing complex in November 2011. Her family is asking for answers and accountability from management, the housing society and /or the health authority; none of which has been forthcoming. One statement in the news article bears repeating : "the authority determined that the three seniors were likely infected with E coli because of the facility's food preparation, inadequate cooking or improper cleaning of food surfaces." Also it cites that in the past (October 2011), this facility has had three violations including "food premises not maintained in a sanitary condition." There were two more previous violations (April 2010 and April 2011) for unsanitary food premises, equipment not in good working order, lack of accurate thermometers in cooking equipment, pests, and not maintained in a sanitary condition." The facility was given a "low hazard" rating in both instances. The final statement is : "because of BC's wrongful death laws..no one can be held accountable."
During times of universal deceit,
telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
What to do
It is almost impossible to avoid food contamination 100% of the time. Even growing your own vegetables, caution has to be exercised, with washing vegetables, and maintaining regular hygiene. The idea is to reduce the possibility of food poisoning as much as possible
Here are a few simple actions you can take :
- Know where your food comes from and how it was grown, prepared, how old it is, etc.
- Try to grow some of your own vegetables especially leafy greens, bean sprouts, etc.
- Buy local, so that produce does not have to be shipped long distances which may help in the spread of bacterial outbreaks
- Defrost food in refrigerator
- Buy meat which has been grown without hormones and antibiotics
- Sanitation is important from ground to plate which includes washing your hands often
- Always wash your food before eating
- Do not prepare food, especially meat products, which have gone past its “use by” date
- Ensure meat especially chicken is kept refrigerated and then cooked well
- Practicing good food handling and personal hygiene practices are of utmost importance as contaminated food does not necessarily have an odour and may not taste tainted
Food Poisoning Symptoms
A deceptive side to food poisoning is that it may happen soon after consuming contaminated food or may take days or even weeks before symptoms arise. Symptoms associated with food poisoning can include any of the following: stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, constipation, continual fever, vertigo and even convulsions. It goes without saying that if you suspect food poisoning, seek medical assistance immediately.
We never think something like this will happen to us, but recently a young, healthy member of our family who is extremely food aware, and a vegetarian, was poisoned by Campylobacter bacteria. This particular strain of food poisoning was eventually traced to a kitchen surface where raw chicken had been prepared. Campylobacter has painful and distressing symptoms, and the official diagnosis took several days. Living through this experience is one of the reasons for publishing this article.
My closing question is : When did "death by food" become acceptable in our society?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Bob Dylan ~ “Blowin' in the Wind”
Links & References
- Canadian Food inspection agency on Listeria
- Wikipedia Listeria information
- Centre for Diseases on Listeria
- US FDA Listeria - Recall January 2012
- Canadian Food inspection agency on Salmonella
- Wikipedia Salmonella information
- Centre for Diseases on Salmonella poisoning
- Freezing does not kill Salmonella bacteria
- Canadian Food inspection agency on E. coli
- E. coli information
- E. coli deaths in Germany in 2011
- Death from E. coli in strawberries from FDA
- E. coli death in Surrey, B.C.Province newspaper
- Information on Campylobacter coli
- Information on common food bacteria known as Campylobacteriosis
- Caution: fresh chicken (and other animal) "poop" should be composted for 60 - 90 days before using on vegetable garden especially (eaten raw) greens due to possible E Coli and Salmonella contamination
- Food Inc – the documentary
- Kevin's Law from Wikipedia
- US FDA recalls January to October 1, 2011 - Listeria 30 recalls , Salmonella 46 food recalls, E. coli one / two recalls
- Listeria article CTV Edmonton
- Information on foodborne diseases
- Settlement on Maple Leaf listeriosis regarding 23 deaths
- Increase in food product recalls in Canada
- An article on MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) - a food bacteria in pork allegedly from industrialized raised, antibiotic fed pigs. Check out the annual infections and deaths from MRSA in 2005 in this article.
- FDA link updated June 1, 2016. Following statistics from Foodborne Disease Outbreak
When to wash your hands ?
~ Before preparing food
~ Before eating
~ Between handling raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food
~ After going to the toilet or changing nappies
~ After smoking
~ After using a tissue or handkerchief
~ After handling rubbish or working in the garden
~ After handling animals
Consumer Report (June 2013) stating 90% of turkey burger meat contaminated with bacteria such as E coli and Salmonella. Probable cause is turkey (chickens and pigs) are fed antibiotics when being raised. Problem is that this is leading to ineffective treatment when antibiotics are used on humans who have food poisoning. If you are able ~ eat only organically fed, antibiotic and hormone free raised meat.
Be concerned and ask :
- Where does your food come from?
- How is it raised and slaughtered?
- What is it fed?
January, 2022 update:
- "Food Inc" The documentary 2008 1 hr 33 min (link expired). Some scenes may not be suitable for children. Parental guidance recommended.
- Eric Schlosser "Fast Food Nation" - a classic read