Monday, August 29, 2011

Dirty Food

A friend recently brought this article by Bill Phillips of Men’s Health to my attention about dirty foods and I found it so interesting I had to share it here. It’s no surprise to most locavores that chicken, ground beef and turkey can have high levels of bacteria; reports of less than appetizing conditions in slaughterhouses are certainly nothing new.  But what about eggs and lettuce - those should be pretty clean, right? And cantaloupe certainly shouldn’t be on the list of dirtiest food we eat because it has its own jacket to keep out bacteria. Not so, unfortunately.

Recent tests by the FDA show that the following are the ten dirtiest foods we eat on a regular basis when bought from a grocery store or restaurant:
  1. Chicken
  2. Ground beef
  3. Ground Turkey
  4. Oysters
  5. Eggs
  6. Cantaloupe
  7. Peaches
  8. Lettuce
  9. Cold cut meats
  10. Scallions
The good news is that the article does suggest some ways to avoid bacteria. Carefully selecting your meat at the grocery store by looking for free range and other indicators is their top tip but what about fruits and vegetables that are grown and harvested the same way by the majority of producers? The authors suggest using a dedicated fruit and veggie scrubber, warm water and soap before cutting into your produce.
As always, I thought of this article in the light of local food advantages and, of course, there are some. A lot of local farmers do their own processing for their animals meaning that your chicken breasts and ground beef didn’t go through a large industrial slaughterhouse (Michael Pollan talks about this advantage extensively in The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Similarly, most produce is touched by far fewer hands than what you find in the grocery store which means it has potentially much less bacteria. 

The endgame is this: always be careful to wash carefully and cook fully what you buy regardless of where you get it and common sense (and food authors) suggests that local food could be yet another way to avoid harmful bacteria.

One fun tip: Phillips recounts in the article that exposing deli meats to mustard actually killed off a significant source of bacteria. As if you needed another reason to buy some Lusty Monk Mustard from Simply Local!

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