Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dying for a Cookie

The toll house cookie dough disappeared off the store shelves in June. I had no idea what was going on. It's still gone and I now have more information. It's a little frightening.

Bill Marler is an attorney who specialize in food poisoning cases. His client is a woman who's been hospitalized for months and is probably going to die. It appears to be linked to eating raw, pre-made cookie dough.

The culprit is EColi and it's caught everyone by surprised. No one expected such a highly processed food to be contaminated with fecal matter, which is how EColi is spread. And despite a voluntary recall by Nestles and continuing investigation, Marler says no one is still certain how it happened.

But it's clear our mass produced food addiction is starting to come back to bite us. There has been contaminated spinach, contaminated peanuts, peanut butter, peppers. There's lots of proposed safety legislation on Capitol Hill and it's mostly focused on making food easier to trace when it's found to be a problem.

The issue of how the contamination happens in the first place isn't getting a lot of attention yet. Factory farms grow food on a massive scale. One bad apple can, indeed, spoil the whole bushel. Germs in one place quickly spread throughout a facility.

Factory farms raise animals in filthy, inhumane conditions that now are proving to lead to not only bacteria, but antibiotic resistant germs that have adapted to a constant low dose of preventative antibiotics. An easy solution, according to an expert I spoke to this week, is to give the animals more space, clean up the waste and let newborns spend more time with their mothers so they can naturally ingest more infection-fighting organisms.

Where did your salad ingredients come from? Was it your neighborhood farmer or a factory farm in another country? Do you know if it's safe? If you eat meat, where does it come from? What kind of conditions existed at the farm or at the processing plant?

We want our food when we want it. We have no patience with seasonal restrictions. We want it cheap, convenient and plentiful. And the indications are growing that the price we may pay is very dear indeed.

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