Peanuts, Salmonella, Organics, and TRUST

I just read some articles about the salmonella outbreak that has been linked to a peanut processing plant in Georgia.  FDA inspectors claim this is one of the largest food recalls in history.  There have been 500+ confirmed cases of salmonella linked to this one small peanut plant, and at least 8 people have died.  Initially word was that the contaminated food was a peanut paste used in crackers and other highly processed foods served in hospitals and nursing homes (gasp!).  But now the plant has halted all production and is recalling foods produced as long ago as 2007.  The list of recalled foods includes a variety of processed peanut products (peanut paste, peanut meal, granulated products, etc) as well as the actual roasted peanuts themselves.  Affected retailers and companies span the nation, in addition to all consumers – junk foodies and health-conscious consumers alike.  Yes, that’s right.  While lots of cookie and ice cream products are affected, so are  items found only at your local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

 

The story is nothing new.  It probably happens at processing plants everywhere, yet this one just happened to get caught.  According to FOXNews reports, the plant’s routine testing revealed salmonella at least 12 times in the past yet the production lines were never cleaned.  When the company re-tested and got a negative result they continued to ship out products.  (Inspectors state that in products such as peanut butter you can have pockets of contamination allowing a contaminated food to test both positive and negative, therefore one positive test should result in destroying the entire batch.)  Once people began to get sick and the plant was identified as the source of the outbreak, the plant was inspected and found to have “mold, roaches, a leaky roof, and other sanitary problems.”  Delicious.

 

What is frustrating about this story is that it wasn’t just “junk brands” that had to be recalled, as the initial reports suggested.  You can read the recall list for yourself here:   http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/PeanutButterProducts2009.pdf

On it you will find items from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; respected brands such as Health Valley, Arbonne, Keebler, Sam’s Choice, Little Debbie, Nestle, and Famous Amos; and other familiar brands like Hy-Vee, Naturally Preferred, Private Selection, and WalMart’s bakery.  And, it pains me to say it, Larabars made the list.  We love Larabars and consider them to be a good choice for whole, raw foods.   Some of these names are brands that we not only trust to provide clean, safe food, but they are brands that are supposed to be on a level above all others because they are closely associated with “all natural” and “organic.”  Yet we now see that the ingredients on highly processed “health foods” come from the same nasty places as all that other junk we Food Snobs are too good to eat.

 

Years ago I was sitting at a Shoney’s restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, waiting to meet a social services client.  The restaurant appeared clean and well-kept.  While waiting I observed one of the largest roaches I’d ever seen crawling around the food bar.  At the same time, the restaurant was having its health inspection.  I watched the inspector carefully examine the food bar and surrounding areas.  Eventually the roach crawled up under the food bar and never came out.  When I left the restaurant, the new health score was in the upper 90’s (I can’t remember specifically but 98 or 99) yet this roach had been crawling all around and inside the cabinets of the food bar right in front of the inspector.

 

It is tragic that innocent people were sickened and even killed because of someone else’s carelessness at the peanut plant.  Many of these people had no choice over what they ate as they were invalids in nursing homes and patients in hospitals.  Possibly a mom just like you purchased some chocolately peanut butter cookies for her child’s birthday party, and a child became seriously ill.  We can all agree that we would never ever knowingly purchase and eat food from a place where we knew there were unsanitary conditions such as mold and roaches, and especially the risk of salmonella.  That’s just the point.  When we choose to buy processed foods, whether they are conventional or organic, we relinquish control over what goes into our bodies.  We put our trust in food safety regulations and inspectors. We pass the torch to a total stranger, someone we have never met or seen and whom we know nothing about and who doesn’t know us… someone who has profits in mind above all else. This is false trust and it is foolish.

 

Even organics are not immune when referring to processed foods.  While researching this article I learned that Larabars are owned by General Mills.  Just another big company trying to tap into the “all natural” market.  The result is more money for the rich execs but less quality for you and me.  If you want to be in control of what your family eats, then you must quit buying processed foods.  Instead buy whole foods that you have to prepare yourself, and get as much as possible from a local farmer who knows you and your family by name.  This is how you form a real, trusting relationship with real people, and it is wise.

 

Coming soon … a peek inside my kitchen to show you just what I’m talking about.

 

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