Another day, another food safety warning. Earlier this week it was beef, hummus and walnuts. This time, the culprit is sprouts.
In a press release issued Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised consumers not to eat Evergreen Produce brand raw clover. The release states that these sprouts are possibly linked to seven confirmed and three probable cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in Idaho and Washington. Fifty percent of the people sickened were hospitalized.
Even people with uncompromised immune systems are strongly cautioned to discard any Evergreen Produce sprouts in sealed containers so no other humans, pets or wild animals can consume them and become infected. Thoroughly cooking sprouts can reduce the chance of foodborne illness, says the FDA, but be careful – since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and, yes, lightly cooked sprouts.
But aren't sprouts supposed to be - healthy? They're the stuff of health food cafes and virtuous hummus pockets. They're supposed to add beneficial, low-calorie crunch to salads and sandwiches, not cause you to, per the CDC, "develop diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps" or possibly become severely ill and die.
In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology and issues we're attempting to do the same.
If it seems food safety issues are on the rise, that's because they are. About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At any given time the FDA is responsible for watching over some 167,000 domestic food facilities or farms, and another 421,000 facilities or farms outside the United States, according to FDA officials. But there are only about 1,100 inspectors to oversee these facilities, officials told CNN in 2012.
There is a third party audit system, where farms or facilities hire auditors to inspect their premises and provide scores. But some say the audit system is full of conflicts of interest. For instance, shortly before Jensen Farms in Colorado caused a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people, a private inspection company’s auditor gave them a “superior” grade, even after noting that they had no anti-microbial solution in place to clean their cantaloupes.
Sometimes, food slips through the cracks and makes it to the consumer marketplace, as in the recent case of the 8.7 million pounds of meat from Rancho Feeding Corporation (and their associated products like Hot Pockets) that were recalled due to "adulteration." Here's what that means.
Even in the midst of a government shutdown, crises like the current salmonella outbreak occur. But the question on many people's minds is whether the federal investigators in charge of food safety are still around to protect the public, or if they too have been furloughed.
According to a Department of Health and Human Services contingency plan, the Food and Drug Administration "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities” in the event of a government shutdown. However, that plan identifies approximately 700 FDA staff members who would remain to “inspect regulated products and manufacturers, conduct sample analysis on products and review imports offered for entry into the U.S. This number includes active investigators who will be needed to perform inspections.”
5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
Confused about what terms like "local," "green" and "sustainable" mean? You're not the only one trying to weed through it.
Luckily for us, Nate Appleman has an answer or five. He's the Culinary Manager of Chipotle Mexican Grill, a 2009 James Beard Rising Star Chef and a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef and he's here to clear things up.
"There are a lot of great things happening in food right now as it relates to local and more sustainable. And a lot of food companies that would like for you to think they are part of that," Appleman said.
"When dealing with vague words like 'local' or 'fresh' or 'natural' that have no standard definition, it's important for people to understand what claims are being made, as there are many who try to benefit from using them."
Five Food Words and What They Really Mean - Or Don't: Nate Appleman
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