If it wasn’t for Minnesota, we’d probably still be eating peanuts and lettuce contaminated with salmonella. While I’ve written about the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to keep watch on food growers and manufacturers, it turns out the key to discovering the cause of outbreaks depends on state and county governments, reports The New York Times.
The problem? Only a handful of states take this responsibility seriously, relying on conscientious Minnesota, Florida and Washington to do the hardcore sleuthing and reporting. If you live in states like Kentucky, Nevada, Texas and Arizona, you’d wrongly think that contaminated food didn’t exist.
The key to uncovering the source of a food-borne illness? Speed. Because humans forget what they ate more than a few days ago, it’s crucial for food investigators to question victims ASAP. Many states do not.
Memories of my 20s and 30s brings up a point not covered in the Times story. You see, I used to get stomach ailments on a regular basis, but I never thought to report the problems to anyone, not even my doctor. For whatever reasons, I started to believe getting food illnesses was normal.
While I now know better, I follow some simple safety procedures learned over the years:
- I discovered that I would get sick after eating red meat from a particular grocery store. I slowly became convinced that the store was selling old meat bleached to make it seem fresh. When I switched stores and started eating less meat, I was less likely to spend time with the porcelain god. (If the meat has suspicious coloring or smells faintly of bleach, don’t eat it!)
- I’m particularly sensitive to rancid oil, which affects some people more than others. The situation got better after I started refrigerating oils – such as peanut and sesame – likely to go rancid. Some food makers are injecting Vitamin E or nitrogen gas to slow down the rancidity (oxidation) process. Rancid oil has a funny bitter aroma and acrid taste, but it’s harder to tell when strong sauces are used. Keep oil away from heat, light and air to slow down the rancidity process, which essentially starts a few minutes after it is processed. If the oil has a “best used by” date, follow it!
- Eating out is perhaps the most common way I get sick. I learned to avoid certain restaurant chains and individual establishments that repeatedly caused me trouble. (I am not going to write the names down here, for fear of lawsuits. You will have to develop your own list.)
- I also avoid food that sits out for any length of time. (Watch out for mayo and true peanut butter not kept cold!)
Of course, in a perfect world, we should needn’t need to look at food as an obstacle course. But that’s the way it is these days.