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Food Contamination Scares

Remember the tomato salmonella scare? The outbreak began in April. 1,423 people were sickened and
the produce industry lost more than $200 million. I heard the warning about tomatoes from all sides. I had tomatoes in my fridge. I took them out and washed them a second time, and put them back. I ate them, too. I didn't get sick. Then a few days later the FDA suddenly decides that it's not tomatoes, it's peppers from Mexico that are contaminated. OK. So grocery stores toss all their produce and people get all freaked out about whatever they just ate....and the FDA tells us to avoid this and that kind of produce.

Here's what you should freak out about next: jalapenos, basil and cilantro. On Friday the FDA rep (Acheson) said that the agency has increased testing of Mexican produce and found more salmonella contamination, and different strains, on these three foods.

Now the AP is reporting that the peppers from Mexico had been contaminated for a while. In fact the AP says "Federal inspectors at U.S. border crossings repeatedly turned back filthy, disease-ridden shipments of peppers from Mexico in the months before a salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,400 people was finally traced to Mexican chilies." But FDA officials insist that they didn't know about it. I guess they were busy lining their pockets with pharmaceutical money, because FDA records show that peppers and chilies were the top crop rejected by border inspectors for the last year. Since January 88 shipments were turned back, some 10% being contaminated. In the previous year 8% were contaminated. The USDA says 84% of all fresh peppers eaten in the US come from Mexico. Guess where most of our garlic comes from? China. Scared yet?

Bottom line is this: it's not safe to eat uncooked foods unless you wash them. How do you wash them? Some way that will kill most bacteria. Just rinsing with cold water doesn't do it. Soap helps get wax and dirt off, but it doesn't kill anything. My method is to fill the sink and soak all my produce in plain cold water for a few minutes first. That allows the veggies to absorb pure water instead of veggie wash chemicals. After the initial water soak I add a few shots of cheap vinegar and let it soak for a good while afterward. I pull apart the heads of lettuce and celery to make sure I rinse out the bases.

I read a study somewhere that compared several different ways of cleaning food, and vinegar works as well or better than expensive veggie wash products, so I adopted that practice. Bleach works better for killing things, but it tastes worse and damages the produce, and can damage you too if you ingest it. When I wash my veggies with vinegar, and rinse them again in cold water, they keep longer.

The scoop on the FDA came from here:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92934299

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Aug. 19th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)
Soaking Fresh Veggies
Soaking fresh tomatoes in water is exactly what you do not want to do. Tomatoes, warmer than the water they're washed in, will absorb the water. Anything on the surface can be then absorbed by the tomato. That's one of the risks that the tomato industry has been trying to communicate for years now, especially to processors of fresh salsa.

Careful with the use of non-science solutions.
liveonearth
Aug. 20th, 2008 05:56 am (UTC)
Re: Soaking Fresh Veggies
All veggies absorb water when they've been sitting on a shelf and drying for a while, and the more beat up they are the more junk they will absorb. Strawberries are far worse than tomatoes for this, and that is why it is worth the extra dollar to always buy organic strawberries. If your system is weak, it won't take as many microbes to infect you as it would if you were strong. No single post can contain every variable. Good thing you're up there on your high science horse to try to keep me in line though. =-]
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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