Thursday, November 22, 2018

Foodborne illnesses affect vegetarians too

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued yet another E. Coli warning for romaine lettuce. This also affects us in Canada, of course, because of our reliance on the US for out-of-season fruit and veg.
If this sounds familiar, it should - 2018 is shaping up to be the worst ever year for food contamination and recalls. The most common culprits include Salmonella, E. Coli, Listeria and Cyclospora. Now, whether this is due to better investigation and reporting procedures or worse farming practices is not clear.
The current romaine lettuce warnings come after 32 reported cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli O157:H7 covering 11 states, and includes one more serious case of Hemolyic Uremic Syndrome. General E. Coli infection can result in stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, and can start up to a week after ingestion of the suspect produce. The source of the problem has still not been narrowed down (the previous lettuce contamination event, in June of this year, was traced to farms in the Yuma area of New Mexico). At any rate, romaine lettuce is being taken off supermarket shelves, and consumers are being exhorted to throw away any that happens to already be in their fridges (washing it, even in vinegar, baking soda or a bleach solution, will still not kill E. Coli).
I used to think that, as a vegetarian, I was safe from these kinds of scares. But, although most of the outbreaks do tend to involve meat (chicken, beef, ham, eggs, crab meat, etc), many of them affect veggies (lettuce, vegetable trays, cut melon, coconut, bean sprouts, etc).
I'd like to think that the increase is due to better reporting and not modern agriculture and deteriorating food storage practices but, either way, foodborne illness outbreaks are probably here to stay. Perhaps a compelling reason to eat more organic food? (Actually, that won't help you much, E. Coli grows very well on organic food). Or perhaps a reason to avoid lettuce completely, given that it is not particularly nutritious (95% water), resource-heavy and often slathered in unhealthy dressings to make it taste good?

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