For the love of food safety

Consumers are on the front lines of food safety

December 12, 2012

As one of life’s most basic requirements, the safety of our food should be a given, right?

Ah, that pesky word “should.”

Just one quick glance at a food safety website might send you spinning through your pantry to purge your shelves in the name of your family’s safety. At this very moment, one or a few brands of the following have recalls issued: spinach, carrots, ice cream, sausage, bagged salad, peanut butter, cheese and too many more.

These uber-common foods have been recalled for everything from undeclared allergy risks (meaning it contains peanuts but didn’t say so, for instance) to salmonella and Listeria, all of which can require anything from a Benedryl to a hospital visit or worse.

If one glance at the list of recalls doesn’t leave you adequately unappetized, you can always elect to bombard yourself with food recall updates via Facebook, Twitter, email or podcasts so you can scare the pants off yourself.

If you belong to this slightly obsessive group, you’ve probably heard of the November Bloomberg Markets article placing the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. food safety on the hot seat.

According to the article, the one in six of us who experienced a food-borne illness in 2011 can attribute our misery to lack of food processing facility oversight, contracted food inspectors who were paid (read: paid-off) by the food industry itself and the increasing proportion of imported foods whose inspection rate is a mere 2.7 percent.

Remember the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak just last year with a death toll that topped out in the 30s? That cantaloupe farm and five other tainted food-producers received “sterling marks” just before or just after the outbreaks attributed to their crops. Those six farms were responsible for sickening 2,936 people and 43 deaths.

Perhaps I’m naive, but here is my (grass-fed) beef. We live in a developed nation; we’ve landed on the moon; and we’ve invented artificial limbs that respond to thought. Why are our New England fishermen barely getting by while 88 percent of our seafood is imported, and why is there salmonella in my peanut butter?

With tainted foods making the news so frequently, even the most easygoing consumers must take notice.

We “little people” now have bigger (imported) fish to fry than jotting down grocery lists and finding time to wander the aisles of Giant Eagle.

In the afterglow of an election that has come and gone with little mention of our food safety challenges, we consumers are on the front lines of our own safety.

For some, this may mean controlling the source by growing more fruits and vegetables in the privacy of one’s own backyard. Others may elect to buy from the same retailers but take more diligent measures when it comes to cleaning their fresh foods.

There is some hope, however.

Passed in 2011 but not yet implemented, the Food Safety Modernization Act addresses some of the issues currently plaguing our food supply.

Until then, wash your fresh foods well, heed recalls and vote with your dollar.

Abigail Mackey is an obstetric registered nurse. For more quips and tips, refer to her blog, “The Written Remedy” ( Abby can be reached at or on Twitter at @AbigailMackeyRN.



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