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The Safety of Food

May 30, 2014

Doesn’t everyone want safe food? I don’t personally know of anyone who says “no put a little more salmonella on that and top with some listeria.” Of course we want safe food!

Panic and overwhelm can happen when recalls of food happen, and it happens often. Consider these:

Cloverdale Foods Co. of Mandan, ND, is recalling approximately 2,664 pounds of beef franks due to misbranding and an undeclared allergen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Wednesday. The products were formulated with non-fat dry milk, a known allergen, which is not declared on the product label. (January 2014)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 19, 2014 – Hickory Farms, Inc., the specialty food and holiday gift retailer today announced a voluntary recall of its Chipotle Ranch Sauce due to an undeclared allergen on its label. The Chipotle Ranch Sauce is formulated with buttermilk powder, a known allergen. However, the product was mistakenly released with a label that does not declare the presence of this milk allergen.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 26, 2014 – The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) said today it has recalled Private Selection Chocolate Hazelnut Mascarpone Ice Cream and Private Selection Caramel Hazelnut Fudge Truffle Ice Cream sold at the Kroger family of stores in 31 states because the products may contain egg not listed on the label.

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2014 – Knockum Hill Bar-B-Que, a Herndon, Ky. establishment, is recalling approximately 350 pounds of hickory smoked, pit cooked barbecue pork product due to misbranding and an undeclared allergen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today. The products are formulated with a basting sauce containing margarine formulated with soy, a known allergen that is not declared on the label of the pork products. The soy in the margarine is in the form of soy lecithin, a liquid soybean oil, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

In a statement released on Saturday, May 17, 2014, Kraft Foods Group issued a recall of certain cottage cheese products produced in their Tulare, California plant. According to their statement, some of the ingredients used to produce their cottage cheese were not stored to reflect the company’s temperature standards. Though there have been no illnesses reported, the company is recalling certain affected products.

One might look down the list and say the food system is horribly broken. Recalls happen for many reasons. Better testing, better tracking can also mean that in most cases the system works. The above cases weren’t because someone got sick, but because of labeling issues that *could* result in illness.

Food bacteria is another safety issue:

Escherichia coli is a large group of bacteria; most are harmless, while some can cause serious illness. The strain involved in the sprout-linked outbreak is Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121.

E. coli infection can lead to severe diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Most people recover within seven days, but some have severe complications, the CDC said. A type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome may result; the elderly and children under 5 are most at risk.

Most listeria infections may not be noticed because the symptoms are mild, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Symptoms of a listeria infection in an otherwise healthy person include fever, muscle aches, stiff neck, headache, loss of balance and convulsions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems may occur before these symptoms.

Pregnant women infected with listeria may suffer miscarriages, premature delivery or stillbirths. The newborn may have a serious infection if the mother has been sick with it.

Food is not sterile. For over 100 years food has been an issue. Maureen Ogle notes, in her book “In Meat We Trust”:

In early 1917, just weeks before the United States officially entered World War I, food riots erupted in several cities. “We shall have in this country a political revolution, if not something worse,” warned one government official, “unless the question of the furnishing of foods to the people at the lowest possible price is taken up.”

Food concerns aren’t new. The balance of price, cost, safety and availability is fragile. Unlike so many bolts, screws or snaps it takes months to grow food and many links in the chain to get it, as safely as possible, to your table. The decisions made, and the evolution of food production and processing, didn’t just happen. It’s evolved on demand of those living in cities for over 150 years.

Get in touch with the food chain beyond being the end link. Most of the time the plentiful food supply seems taken for granted. Many recalls are label/misbranding issues (which could increase considerably as label requirements increase) which are still safe to eat unless you are allergic to the ingredient that isn’t labeled.

Make your food choices. Learn how it gets to your plate. It’s so much more important than the latest celebrity gossip! It’s in your home. Whether that’s from one of our farm shares or from the local grocery store, all strive to efficiently provide safe food.

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