By Jason Lindsay - Staff Writer
Food safety issues are increasing at an alarming rate throughout the United States. In the last week, health advisories have been issued concerning “Ready to Eat Ham.” A company in CA produced these hams. Products processed just at the end of September were found with a bacteria called Listeria. This parasite moves through the cells of mammals permitting flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, and more. This ham contamination wasn’t a total recall due to either the meat already being sold or it had passed its inspection deadline. Listeria can take up to seventy days before symptoms start, so, long story short, we won’t know how many people were infected by this contamination until another month and a half.
Food Safety is something we entrust legislation to contain. Since we have been regulating food safety measures in this country since the 1600s, you’d think we would have gotten it right by now. Yet, over the last decade, food contamination percentages are increasing, not just in America but worldwide.
Last week, Canada had its third company declare a recall on cantaloupe. All companies, including the most recent, “Fresh Start Foods,” face a salmonella outbreak. Unlike Listeria, salmonella symptoms can begin within 6 hours and usually are seen within the week of consuming this bacteria. Salmonella infection consists of fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. This bacterium was initially found in raw meats, including poultry, eggs, and unpasteurized milk. Yet, salmonella has been found in vegetables over the last twenty years.
In 2009, the “Peanut Company of America” (PCA) made national news with contamination outbreaks in their factories. PCA knew of the attack, but instead of cleaning it up, they covered it up. As a large corporation, PCA holds a customer base that returns sales to the general public, both foreign and domestic. A few of these companies were held under testing stipulations for all supported items. Multiple times, this test came to be positive for salmonella. The company would simply repeatedly test until they received a negative batch. But that was short-lived because, eventually, every test returned positive.
It was at this point PCA began to forge test results. This outbreak was arguably the most lethal from food-born pathogens in the United States, sickening over 700 people across forty-six states and killing nine. With it being the twenty-first century, you would think these things wouldn’t happen. Yet, regulators like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) still hold a standard that deems salmonella an expected toxic for meat like chicken. How can we ever make it suitable when salmonella infection can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening sickness that attacks the immune system after affecting your organs and tissues?
Truth be told, these outbreaks, much like the PCA outbreak, are preventable, which deems this increase in foodborne illnesses not only nasty but unnecessary. The blame for these outbreaks lies in the lap of “corporate agriculture,” big ag. and big ag. growing system and those that protect and support them, the juridical system.
Look at the chicken industry in America. TWO companies almost wholly control it. These companies own our “Tyson” pre-battered chicken strips, the chicken breast from “Perdue,” or leg and thigh from “Pilgrims” or “Sanderson Farms.” This is the essence of factory farms; every week, the United States produces 12 million chickens. This is another way our system makes us sick while slaughtering over 300,000 chickens daily.
Although Listeria and salmonella are horrible foodborne pathogens, they do not stand alone. Just last month, over 29 tons of ground beef was recalled. The “America Food Group, LLC,” distributed the contaminated meat to Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio and feared that many would still be in the freezers of grocery stores, homes, and restaurants throughout these states. On August 14, 2023, eighty-pound cases were packaged and sold, totaling 58,281 pounds of ground beef. E. Coli outbreaks have been found in Iceland and, for the last fifteen years, have been increasing in Switzerland. It is estimated that at its current rate, E. Coli is present on one of every four pieces of chicken (*real sign with these chickens y’all). One expert said, “… when you bring raw poultry into your home, you’ve just created a biohazard.”
E.coli is not only in the meats but also in vegetables; organics is no exception. Organic salads have recently (2022) issued recalls. But why? Again, farm practices. Factory farming creates an environment that is bad for the land and disease infective for animals and people. The organic salad E.coli outbreak in 2022 was in Arizona and California, producing over a third of the nation’s vegetables, not including that outsourced to other countries. Again, these outbreaks are rooted in farm practices.
Bill Marler, known as the E. Coli lawyer for his victory over the fast food chain “Jack in the Box” also featured on the Netflix film “Poisoned,” directed our attention to corporate cattle farms that sit adjacent to the fields of “leafy greens,” like lettuce and spinach. The proximity of factory-farmed cattle is prone to runoff, affecting soil and water with extreme amounts of tainted manure. This pollution is then sprayed on the greens, and that’s how we have salad with E. coli. dressing. When E. coli is present in meat, it is cooked off, but no one cooks their salads, making salad green even more dangerous.
There are over 700 different types of E. coli. E. coli naturally exists within your stomach, just not the kind that makes us sick. It would take a week and a half before the symptoms of the negatively impacting E coli., like E. coli 0157, to take root. E. coli 0157 gets into your blood and begins to kill blood cells, eventually leading to organ failure, which can be fatal. E. Coli contamination in meat starts at the slaughterhouse from improper handling methods. The pathogen usually exists on the surface of the meat, yet once the meat is ground, it now serves as a toxic seasoning. The sad part is that this could all be a thing of the past if it was properly regulated and factory agriculture was brought to a minimum.
These outbreaks have not fallen entirely on deaf ears, though. Since January of this year, over 233 “food safety” bills have passed through state legislation. Sixty-seven are addressing retail food in states like AZ, CT, CA, FL, GA, HI, IL, IA, MD, MI, NB, NV, NH, NJ, NC, OK, OR, PA, PR, RI, SC, TX, VA, WA, WV, WY. Fifty-five directly deal with food safety in over twenty states, including North Carolina. Nine-teen are addressing food deserts, including North Carolina, yet only sixty-three have enacted, adopted, or passed legislation.
Since 2010, there have been around 5 million egg recalls alone. 1.35 million are made sick from foodborne illnesses, 26,500 are hospitalized, and 450 die yearly. These contaminations started with meat like chicken or ground beef and have now graduated to the vegetables with the worst being cantaloupe, sprouts, and bagged lettuce. For me, a small farmer, this is a testament to how important it is to hyper-localize our food system and never again make the mistake of entrusting a food system that’s not good for the people or the land. We must first dare to dream of a better system that protects our family and sustains our land, and then we must join hands to complete our food system built for and by the people. For more accessible info on the growing alarms of foodborne illnesses, see: “Poisoned,” a Netflix original documentary.