Food contamination – another argument for local

Here we go again – another outbreak of food contamination. This time the culprit is listeria, which begins with fever, aches, and digestive upsets, and can spread to the nervous system and become serious, even life-threatening. The media are naming cantaloupe as the vector this time – but keep in mind that according to the Mayo Clinic,

  •  “Raw vegetables that have been contaminated from the soil or from contaminated manure used as fertilizer
  • Infected meat
  • Unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk
  • Certain processed foods — such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing.”

That means that in many cases of human infection with listeria, animal products are ultimately the source. Leafy greens are often blamed, when the cause may be the animal waste runoff from the ranch next door.

Anyway, journalist Mary Clare Jalonick, writing for the Associated Press, points out that there’s another cause: the long and winding road that takes any industrialized food product from the farm or ranch to your mouth. The establishments and processes of Middlemen, packagers, wholesalers all are potential sources of contamination. Jalonick quotes an FDA expert: “The food chain is very complex,” says Sherri McGarry, a senior adviser in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Foods. “There are many steps, and the more steps there are the harder it can be to link up each step to identify what the common source.”

Fortunately, last year Congress passed a food safety law, giving the FDA more authority to trace food supplies. One way you can personally respond to this market complexity is to buy more locally grown foods. I know that local doesn’t solve all our food problems, but it addresses some of them, including this one.

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