In the new issue of Lucky Peach, a food magazine, Patricia Kludt, head of the Epidemiology Program for Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is interviewed and explains why all of us should be afraid of the food we eat.
Epidemiology is the branch of medical science dealing with the transmission and control of disease, so Kludt is a well qualified voice of the subject of food safety.
Kludt insists vegetables are as dangerous as meat, and stresses the importance of vigilant hand washing.
In an excerpt from the “Apocalypse” issue of Lucky Peach magazine, Kludt warns that anything can spread widely in our present way of distributing food, and explains that when our food is produced for mass distribution in one concentrated area, there is an inherent danger.
“If a single field is contaminated, then you have a whole lot of things contaminated and that spreads across the country. We see it more and more now. In the past we were never able to put cases together, but now we can look at the DNA of the organism and we get together and find the common thread.”
One simple precaution we can all take to prevent becoming sick from the food we eat is to rinse all the produce we purchase.
“Think about a watermelon. You get a whole watermelon, and you just bring it home from the store, and you slice into it. But you’ve now sliced whatever was on the outside of the watermelon into the inside.”
Kludt explains that since the blackberries we buy come from Ecuador or Guatemala, they should be rinsed, just as you would try to sanitize them in some way if you were actually in Guatemala or Ecuador.
Slaughtering cattle is a very unsanitary process and meat can become contaminated from the intestines. Kludt recommends cooking hamburger all the way through, especially for kids because they are the most at risk for deadly complications.
“With a steak, theoretically since it’s a slice of meat, any organisms from the intestines or outside of the meat won’t reach the inside of the steak. You can broil the top and the bottom, and you’ll be okay. But when you grind up meat for hamburger, it’s all mixed up—any contamination from the slaughter is going to be on the inside of the hamburger and on the outside.”
Kludt says the danger of under cooked food is often the result of people who are confused about the wattage of their microwaves. Microwaves vary from model to model, and can range from about 300 watts to 1000 watts or more.
“People blindly following instructions may not realize they have microwaves with a wattage lower than the instructions specify. These people may not cook things long enough, to a safe internal temperature.”
And when drinking raw milk, buy from a trusted source. “If you’re going to drink raw milk, go to the farm, talk to the people, trust them. Not that they can always know that their cows don’t have salmonella or E. coli, but at least you can feel comfortable that if they do know they have an unhealthy animal, they won’t give you that milk.”
The System is Reactive not Proactive
Kludt believes people should be willing to pay more for food since it costs more to operate a cleaner environment.
“It costs more to regulate the food industry to make sure safe practices are being followed. The federal government needs to be more efficient when it comes to overseeing the food supply. Right now, the USDA oversees some things, the FDA others, and the interaction between the two does not always go smoothly.”
In most cases, the only reason salmonella, Listeria and E. coli are discovered in our food supply is because there was an outbreak, and people became sick. The system is reactive not proactive.
“I am worried where the next outbreak is going to come from. It’s already showing up where we never expected: snack foods, peanut butter, leafy greens, cookie dough, tomatoes, peppers, cheese, apple cider, orange juice, berries, oysters. We can make a lot of people sick from just being stupid, careless, cheap, and greedy.”