Food recalls seem to be all over the news lately: eggs, peanut butter, beef, leafy greens. Food borne illnesses can be very dangerous. Annually, 76 million illnesses are caused by food agents (according to the Center for Disease Control). While most of us will just experience the “24 hour flu,” some causes can be severe and even cause hospitalization or death. In 2007 (the most recent finalized data), there were 21, 244 cases of foodborne illnesses and 18 deaths. The top three causes are: Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157:H7. These causes are all bacterial. Other causes of illness include viral etiologies and chemical (mushroom toxin). Read the full CDC 2007 review report here.
Most illnesses can be prevented. Washing your hands, cooking food to proper temperatures and not contaminating cooked food with raw food are the easiest ways to stay healthy. For more information on food safety check out this publication from Washington State University, Oregon State University, and University of Idaho: You Can Prevent Food Borne Illness.
If you eat organic food are you less likely to get sick? Maybe, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to not follow food safety recommendations. Some contamination of food happens after it leaves the farm. Poultry, beef (ground) and leafy greens are the most common single commodity outbreaks. It is no surprise because these foods get handled a lot. Poultry, mainly chicken breast, have to be handle an extra step to get the bone out (no chickens are no boneless); same with ground beef. Leafy greens are picked, transported, washed, packed and transported again. The more times a food is handled the more likely it can become contaminated. Humans do most of this work. Even with the most elaborate sanitation plan, humans will be humans and germs will be germs.
There has been a study by Cornell University by changing the diet of beef or dairy animals several days before slaughter, the amount of e-coli found in the stomach was decreased. This study has been quoted correctly and incorrectly since 1998. It has mainly been a talking point for the grass-fed beef industry. I cannot seem to find any studies that show organic foods are more or less likely to be contaminated with a food borne agent.
Over the past week or two I have heard people say (in regards to the egg recall), “that is why I eat organic.” While I love when people switch to supporting organic farmers, I don’t want anyone do it under false pretenses. Salmonella can happen on any farm of any size or of any management practice. Salmonella may be brought in by other animals (birds, mice, etc).
Do I feel safe eating food? Of course, but I also cook my food to proper temps, don’t eat raw eggs (except for a few tastes of cookie dough) and have separate cutting boards for raw meats, veggies and fruit. I follow basic USDA food safety guidelines.
This post is not made to scare you or to bash organics (why would we do that), but rather to make you aware that food safety guidelines must be followed for ALL foods, no matter the method of production.
Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We are proud Organic Valley farmers members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com