Over 400 people have been sickened by eating salad, food wraps and other items that contain fresh (uncooked) vegetables at various fast food chain restaurants since May 1, 2018. Others recently became ill after eating prepared salads or using vegetables bagged as salad ingredients brought home from food store chains. Some people who like to lick the spoon after mixing homemade or prepackaged cookie or cake dough also got sick due to the flour (already recalled) or eggs (salmonella) in the mix. Why have things like fresh vegetables and flour suddenly become a possible health threat?
No one will like the answer, but it’s the truth. I have been writing about this for over twenty years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a lot of people started to become seriously ill and some died after eating fresh vegetables or prepared foods that contain them like salads, tacos, wraps and so on. Others got sick from raw batter and some fruits. Please note that this wasn’t just your average case of food poisoning caused by stale or undercooked food. These cases involved potential killers like campylobacter, e coli and listeria. Why so many cases and how did they get into our food?
You might be thinking that this has to do with home cooks and restaurant employees not washing fresh veggies before using them in something like a salad, sandwich or wrap. Sadly, that has not been the problem. Dirt and outside contaminates like pesticides can be washed off vegetables. Washing will do nothing for vegetables infected with campylobacter, e coli and listeria. There are more cases of vegetables infected with these contaminants today than ever before.
For many years the same groups of migrant workers and their children picked U.S. grown produce. They tended to move around the country because they had work most of the year. When there was no produce to harvest, they got jobs in food processing plants. However, as fast food franchises and chain restaurants became extremely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, growers grew more and there was a need for larger numbers of people to pick and help harvest their crops. This caused a huge influx of new faces from Mexico and South American Nations.
The old joke (and even a movie title) says, “Don’t drink the water south of the border.” Why? Because the water supply in many of these poor countries is dangerously contaminated with all sorts of bacteria. That’s because raw sewage is dumped into whatever water is available to move it away from populated areas in places lacking treatment facilities. This fact is proven by the regular pollution of seawater off San Diego beaches which is sometimes so contaminated with Mexican sewage that swimming is unsafe.
In many cases the same freshwater that is badly contaminated with sewage is used for drinking and washing clothes. Because this has gone on for so long, the people in these places have built up immunities to most of the contaminates. However, they remain in their bodies. Sometimes growers do not provide any or proper portable restroom facilities for pickers or workers. Contaminates in their bodies end up in the ground. Likewise, food processing plants that do not enforce handwashing or other food safety procedures end up with the same problem if their employees make physical contact with food through touch or sweat.
Dangerous bacteria are sucked up into crops through the water they absorb from the ground. That type of contamination cannot be washed out; it’s in the food. The same is true if bacteria gets into processed food through carelessness. Testing helps with processing facilities, but it’s usually too late to catch all the tainted food products in time to keep everyone safe. Last year uncooked vegetables and some fresh fruit made one in six people in the USA and Canada sick. Far more than became ill because of undercooked or tainted beef, chicken, pork or seafood. We do not have the immunities that the pickers and food workers have to fight off dangerous contaminants. So what can be done?
There are some things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from these dangers. First, identify the problem foods that people tend to eat uncooked. These would include lettuce, celery, cabbage, any leafy veggies, sprouts, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers and other seeded veggies. I recommend microwaving uncooked veggies for 1-2 minutes on high power. Scientists disagree with one another on the benefit of microwaving, but it’s worked for me and my family for years.
Fruits, well I can only suggest that you purchase fruit and veggies grown in the USA. Be especially careful when it comes to strawberries, cantalopes and grapes. There are also many ways to cook fruit and still retain its taste and health benefits. Then, there are always fruit pies (yum). Cook meats and eggs thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized milk and cheeses. Beware of meats or seafood produced and processed in other countries. Not long ago people were sickened by shrimp raised in severely contaminated breeding pools outside the USA.. Visit http://jsi4.tripod.com for health alerts under Health and Foods.