There are far too many reports of contaminated foods. Lettuce is the most recent example. But spinach, peanut butter, baby formula, and several other foods have been recalled over the past couple of years alone.
The main culprit is the lack of a comprehensive food safety system in the U.S. That said, there are some simple things we can all do when we're preparing food to help ensure that we're eating the safest food possible.
Food expert Marion Nestle (a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and author of several books including What to Eat and Safe Food) dispenses helpful tips in her informative answers to the following questions:
Are we seeing more cases of food contamination, and if so, why?
I'm not sure we are seeing more contamination; it's just that the incidents affect more people in more places. This is a consequence of our increasingly centralized food production system. A food contaminated in one location gets distributed throughout the country.
What can consumers do to protect themselves from food contamination?
Fortunately, cooking solves a lot of food safety problems.
Following standard food safety rules at home makes good sense for everyone. These are:
* Keep hot foods hot.
* Refrigerate foods.
* Separate raw from cooked foods.
* Keep food preparation surfaces and utensils clean.
* Wash anything that will be eaten raw.
* Cook everything else long enough to kill potentially harmful microbes. (The higher the temperature, the faster bugs get killed.)
The basic principles are simple: Microbes proliferate at warm temperatures, refrigeration slows down proliferation, and cooking kills everything.
What are high-risk foods, and what can consumers do to protect themselves when dealing with these foods?
These days anything uncooked is high risk.
The problems with the contaminated spinach would have been solved easily by blanching the spinach for a minute in boiling water.
Can buying local and/or organic foods offer protection againt foodborne illness?
It is perfectly possible for locally grown food to be contaminated, but if it is, it will affect far fewer people. There is no reason to think that organic produce should have fewer or more contaminants than industrial produce, and studies have shown them to be much the same.