Your Food May Be About To Get Safer

Yesterday, I said that I don’t talk much about mad cow disease because, though it is a common topic of discussion among organic enthusiasts, I think it’s a minor issue in the broader scheme of things.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a terrible disease to contract, and is currently incurable.  It’s even an irritant for people who haven’t contracted it: because I once lived in the U.K., I was prohibited for a long time from donating blood after I moved back to the U.S.  While it may seem that the U.S. was being overly careful, this is not a disease you want to spread.  Still, only a few hundred cases have ever been reported.  Think of how many more contract the equally serious disease of diabetes: by Centers for Disease Control estimates, one in three Americans will suffer this dread disease by 2050.  Mad cow disease simply can’t compare in scope and breadth.

I view food safety in a similar light.  5,000 people died of food-borne illness last year, a mere fraction of the estimated 100,000,000-plus who are projected to have diabetes within 40 years.  So I tend to try to focus more on the diet-related illnesses that afflict far greater numbers, including not only diabetes but heart disease, cancer and obesity.  This is where our country faces a much larger problem.

But I admit that the food safety issue goes farther than 5,000 annual deaths.  (And 5,000 annual deaths in and of themselves certainly justify taking serious action to prevent them.)  75 million people are sickened by food-borne illness each year, and over 300,000 are hospitalized.  While I’d rather get run-of-the-mill food poisoning (that is, the non-Salmonella, non-fatal type) than diabetes, I’d prefer not to get either.

So, what can we do?

Well, the Senate may take a major step tonight.  For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the safety of the large majority of food products consumed in the U.S., may be given significant power to test and recall food products it believes may be unsafe.  Previously, the FDA could recommend that tainted food products be recalled, but it could not require a recall.  This seems silly, and it’s good that we’re on the cusp of ending this practice.


A New, More Powerful FDA May Finally Be on the Horizon.

How?  Through the Food Safety Modernization Act, which should be coming up for a vote tonight (Monday night).  The bill passed in the House a year ago, and following this summer’s egg scare and building national concern over the safety of our food, it appears finally to have the political momentum to clear the Senate.

More details to come when (if) the Act passes.  Do you feel safe buying eggs, spinach or peanut butter following recent scares concerning these food items?

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10 Responses to Your Food May Be About To Get Safer

  1. Well, I buy my eggs from a co-op, they are locally raised and get to run around like real chickens should, so I suspect my eggs are fine. Same for spinach — I am in a co-op and get much of my produce from the co-op. Most of it is organic or at least local, and the woman who founded and runs the co-op is in close contact with most of her sources and is a rabid food quality freak, so I think spinach is clear for me, too.

    As to peanut butter, not so much. I tend to buy it in grocery stores. May have to rethink that. Organic or fresh ground is tastier, but oh so much more expensive. Still, hate to get Salmonella since it’s avoidable.

    I read your entry on Mad Cow Disease and it’s not something I’d been afraid of contracting because, as you mentioned, the likelihood is pretty low. But it would be dreadful to die like that. Ugh. I wanted to say feeding cows offal is a bad (and for me, disgusting) idea, but perhaps eating beef is not the best idea, either. Unless you’re eating free-range, grass fed beef. Then I think you’d be a whole lot safer.

    • Doug says:


      You put me to shame, with your food buying habits. Good for you! You may indeed have little to worry about when it comes to food safety. Food safety lapses are not unheard of with small producers, but they are certainly less common, and, due to our knowledge of where the product comes from, they are easier to contain. So, maybe you don’t even need the Food Safety Modernization Act. For those of us who do (which is the vast vast majority) it should be welcome news.

      I am not sure how to help you, regarding peanut butter. I think everyone was surprised when tainted peanut butter became a problem, because it’s not generally thought to be a “high risk” product. It may still not be high risk, in spite of there having been incidents. But this may also suggest that other foods we don’t believe to be high risk will cause problems at some point too. Let’s see if the bill clears the House and whether it makes a difference in the coming years.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

      • I joined the co-op mainly to eat more healthily. I’ve been interested in organic foods and a vegetarian diet for many years, but had gotten away from that and was not eating particularly well. I only joined last Feb., so have been learning a lot since I joined. I also help divide the produce on pick-up day, so I see it and hande it and have gotten a lot more familiar with it through doing that.

        Also, our “pod leader” used to live on a working farm, and she has had an organic garden for 17 years, so I’ve learned a tremendous amount from her. I got lucky by joining this particular group and have become more aware of food issues (through the founder and her emails, as well as through my pod leader).

        Here’s some information about the Food Safety Act you might find interesting (from one of the aforementioned emails). By the way, it passed in the Senate. Still has to go through the House:

        At the top of the page under “Food Safety” click on Action Alert — S5.10

        Also, there are Purple Dragon food co-ops in NYC. That’s the co-op I belong to. If you want info, let me know. It’s about $49 every 2 weeks (might be higher in NYC, I don’t know — I’m in Jersey) and you get a lot of produce. I could mail you a list of what we got this week if you are interested.

        Also, I have the information for the raw milk group I belonged to, and you might be able to hook up with one in NYC through the info I have.

        If you’d like any of that info, let me know.


        • Doug says:


          I would love to join a food co-op, and have some friends who do a CSA here in the city. I took a look at Purple Dragon online, and they appear currently to operate solely in NJ, but it looks like they are up for expanding for anyone who’s willing to set up shop in their own neighborhood. I will probably hold off on doing a co-op or CSA until my wife and I reach a point where we cook more often than we do; as much as I love good food we end up eating food straight from the shelves these days more often than we actually prepare anything. A shame, but one that we’ll rectify someday, probably as soon as we start having kids.

          I will keep raw milk in mind as well; I cut back significantly on my meat consumption some time back just because most of what’s in the supermarkets is not the same meat we’ve been eating for centuries (as you know). I assume your raw milk group drinks organic milk, though I still at this point have gotten a little more used to drinking soy milk and am hesitant to jump right back into the more hardcore animal products. (I still eat a lot of cheese but red meat and milk I’ve almost entirely eliminated at for the time being.)

          I will let you know if we come around on cooking and milk =) Thanks for sharing information about your own groups!

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  3. Dr Al Sears says:

    The food at major grocery stores travels an average of 1,500 miles to get there. A typical carrot is transported 1,838 miles1. And a lot of produce even comes Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America and other countries.

    By the time it lands at your supermarket, it just isn’t the same as when it was fresh the ground or picked off the tree. Produce loses nutrients during transport. And it loses more while it sits on the shelves at the store, and more nutrients are lost in your refrigerator.- Dr Al Sears MD

    • Doug says:

      Dr. Sears,

      What you say sounds correct, and is a major driving force behind the “eat local” movement. Of course, that produce loses nutrients over time is a good sign that it contains nutrients to begin with (whereas many processed foods do not lose nutrients over time because bacteria and insects simply do not want to eat them).

      I would be curious to hear your thoughts on my recent posts regarding obesity (seeing as you have authored books on the subject of weight loss) and saturated fat versus refined carbohydrates.


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