Cantaloupe? Lettuce? Sprouts? Ground beef? Is anything safe? The answer is: It depends.
If I buy it locally, or from my farmers market or community-supported agriculture, will it be safe? Not necessarily. Can foods from my own garden be a danger? Yes.
Rocky Ford cantaloupe were grown in-state, Colorado proud and 375 miles away. Deaths and numbers sickened continue to increase. Could this have happened if the foods had been grown in Southwest Colorado? Could it have happened on an organic or grass-fed farm? You bet for any items listed above.
One in six of us will have some level of food poisoning annually. Sometimes we are violently ill and sometimes hardly at all. Potentially fatal bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, E. coli and Norwalk are found in our water and soils as well as our digestive system and our animals intestines. Over long periods of time, harmless bacteria mutate as part of their lifes evolution. If those mutations are not removed or are transferred to another host agent and then ingested, toxins make people sick.
Sickness can vary from person to person (even with same amount ingested, same food source, same time and even same meal). It can result in several days of abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and fever as toxins multiply. It takes a small amount to end up with hospitalization or death. On the other hand, it could manifest itself as a slightly turbulent stomach or perhaps a headache.
Bacteria multiply quickly in the proper environment. One friend recently said bacteria are immoral they dont even take time to get to know each other but rather copulate and multiply all within 15 minutes or less. Well, it does create a memory.
Sprouts (all sprouts) are always a risky food item. Honestly, I know of no food-safety specialist who eats sprouts home-grown or store-purchased. Bacteria such as E. Coli or salmonella can deposit on the plant or live inside the seed. It then grows in a moist, warm environment ideal for bacterial growth. Once it grows, it is virtually impossible to remove unless the sprouts are cooked (this is a U.S. Department of Agriculture requirement in child care facilities).
Typically, an outbreak is identified quickly, but the source of the offending food takes a lot more detective work to identify. There is a reason not everyone who comes in contact with the bacteria gets sick. It is all about ones overall health and the everyday things we do like rinsing, cleaning and cooking.
Shop strategically: Keep produce separate from protein foods in store cart, bag separately and store separately.
Clean all good-quality fruits and vegetables, including prebagged greens, with running water and a brush.
Clean kitchen surfaces before, during and after preparing foods and avoid cross-contamination.
After use, sanitize cutting boards and tools in a dishwasher or with a solution of ¼ teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 cup tepid water applied to surfaces after they are cleaned.
Cook produce and meats to an adequate temperature (try using a thermometer). Looking at meat color is not sufficient. Minimum temperatures: 145 F for steak, fish and roasts; 160 F for pork or ground beef; and 165 F for poultry.
Refrigerate foods and leftovers within a two-hour time span.
email@example.com or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.