Friday, February 16, 2007

Would You Like Peanut Butter With your Spinach?

I recall my mom preparing lightly steamed spinach salad cooked with a small dollop of chunky peanut butter. I find it ironic that the two most recent reports of food-borne illness refer to ingredients from the same fond culinary memory.

But seriously, what's the deal with these outbreaks?

How is it that a peanut plant in Georgia causes illness in Washington state, spinach from California gets recalled in Massachusetts and the lucrative carrot juice market takes a hit everywhere?

A Centers for Disease Control spokesman (Robert Tauxe, chief of the CDC's Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch) recently said, "Nature's been throwing us curve balls. We've had seven major product outbreaks in the last five months, and three have been in brand-new foods — botulism in carrot juice, E. coli in spinach, and now this."

Excuse me: NATURE's been throwing us curve balls?

Each of these contaminations were in food processed at large manufacturing centers or distribution points. Perhaps if we relied less on the global industrial complex for our food and more on in-season produce and local meat, we really would be more healthy! You won't catch me in the aisles of Whole Foods quite yet, though. I have to make more than a graduate student's salary to be found there doing anything more than collecting some delicious free samples on the way to work.

In case any of you have Peter Pan or Wal-Mart 'Great Value' brand peanut butter with the numbers 2111 on the lid, you can avoid an interaction with the CDC's Diarrheal Diseases Branch by throwing that container away. If you need other reasons to avoid Wal-Mart, I could connect you with more resources on that front.


golob said...

Choosing organic food -- food literally grown in shit -- is no great help here.

Have you read some of the scary reports of multiple-resistant campylobacter?

Food moves around more than ever before, mixing in so many unfortunate ways. Changing the selective environment changes the population. We're getting the pathogens we deserve.

Jeff said...

Is it unusual to have this number of food-recalls in a given time period? I must admit that I don't know. Also, I'm not so sure that Whole Foods solves the large-scale agro problem--aren't they a national chain, that distributes (organic) products largely grown on a few large farms?

thomas said...

I do not know how Whole Foods gets its produce. If it is as you suggest, Jeff, using the local and seasonal produce from the farmers' markets might be the best way to avoid such large epidemics. What are the chances of local agricultural commerce becoming routine for the American consumer base?

I also wonder if the recalls have increased in frequency and whether anyone has correlated them to the mixing that Mr. Golob points out.