Sunday, August 21, 2011

The sad truth: Healthy eating can be dangerous

I'm not just disappointed or even sad about the latest outbreak of Salmonella poisoning from ground turkey.

I'm angry, and I think every American should be.

You've read the news reports: more than 75 people in 26 states were sickened, and at least one died. Turkey sold under various brands was recalled after being traced to one infected processor. Consumers were urged to discard any of the affected products. (You can get the details by clicking on the USDA site here.)

But you had to read deeper to get to the really disturbing part: There's always plenty of potentially deadly bacteria in ground turkey, and that's perfectly legal.
According to Consumers Union, the folks who publish Consumer Reports, the federal government's safety standards are frighteningly lax.
"The current USDA ground turkey standard, which allows 49.9 percent of 
samples in a test run to be positive for Salmonella, is unacceptable and clearly ineffective as a tool for food safety," said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union.

Food safety and nutrition experts point to industry practices that put the priority on production rather than protection: turkeys raised for slaughter are handled carelessly and routinely treated with antibiotics, encouraging the spread of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

The irony is that the race to produce more ground turkey was spurred by its increasing popularity as a leaner, healthier alternative to red meat.
We're huge fans of ground turkey and find it works great in a whole range of Armenian and Middle Eastern recipes because it lends itself so well to seasoning. 
Luckily, we're already wary of bacteria dangers. When handling turkey, as with all meat, it's important to scrub before and after and avoid cross-contamination with other foods.
That's the good news: experts say proper handling and cooking can keep us safe from Salmonella. But the more bacteria present, the greater the risk that some will survive if you don't scrub like a surgeon at every step. It only takes a tiny bit to cause great harm.

We're not giving up on ground turkey, though -- not only because of its benefits, but because there's no better alternative. Just read up on the dangers of ground chicken, or ground beef.
I'd like to believe we've made real progress in food safety, but it's clear we have a long way to go.

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