Food Manufacturers Won’t Guarantee Your Foods’ Safety
© 2012 Health Realizations, Inc.
First it was spinach, then eggs and a rash of other tainted food outbreaks: tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, beef, peanut butter, alfalfa sprouts. It seems nearly every day there’s a new warning about potentially contaminated foods; food you depend on to nourish yourself and your family.
Some food manufacturers say food safety is your responsibility -- not theirs.
So it’s no wonder, then, that nearly half (48 percent) of those polled by Consumer Reports National Research Center said their confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply had decreased. Nor is it surprising that almost all of the respondents (83 percent) reported they were concerned about harmful bacteria or chemicals in food, while 81 percent were concerned with the safety of imported food. What you might find surprising is that this survey was done over four years ago. So no, these outbreaks are not just recent new issues and yes there is continued reason to be concerned.
Amidst Americans’ increasing concern, food manufacturers have maintained that they’re acting with your health and safety in mind, doing all they can to keep food safe. Yet, an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illness happen every year, a majority of which are unreported or never tracked back to the source.
Providing this type of trackable failsafe has been called “not practical,” “not reasonably needed,” and often not “possible” by food industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association. And really, while being able to track foods back to their source certainly sounds like a reasonable expectation, perhaps the real onus should be on keeping food safe in the first place.
Well, it might surprise you to learn that no one is vouching for your food safety, not even the manufacturers themselves. As the New York Times reported:
“In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like Nestlé and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items -- from frozen vegetables to pizzas -- and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer.”
Buyer Beware: No One’s Vouching for the Safety of Your Food
In any given processed food, there is a vast mixture of ingredients, from flavorings to flour and fruits and veggies, that could potentially span the globe. But there’s something you should know.
Food companies do not always know who is supplying all of their ingredients, or whether they have been screened for bacteria and other potentially dangerous microbes. Further, not all of them do thorough testing of their own.
Eat REAL Food: Search for and Try Raw Food Recipes
When you are dining out, ask if their raw foods are organic from local farms? Or shipped from abroad? Whole Foods Stores source proved that there is no control or assurance of organic food when shipped from overseas.
Now, tired of having the finger pointed at them when their foods turn up tainted, they are placing the burden on you, especially in the case of frozen foods.
Those recommendations on your frozen pizza or pot pie box indicating what temperature to cook it? Not a suggestion. These numbers actually represent the only temperature at which the food, including the veggies, becomes safe to eat.
So if you’re not taking out a food thermometer and literally testing the temperature, you could get sick. Unfortunately, most people do not use a thermometer to check their frozen foods before eating. Many do not even own such a thermometer.
Further, even if you DID check it, tests done by the New York Times found the directions to be confusing and misleading.
“ … Attempts by The New York Times to follow the directions on several brands of frozen meals, including ConAgra’s Banquet pot pies, failed to achieve the required 165-degree temperature. Some spots in the pies heated to only 140 degrees even as parts of the crust were burnt.”
In an effort to ensure that every potential microbe has been killed, some food manufacturers even take a “kill step,” which is essentially heating the food to high temperatures to wipe everything out. Unfortunately, aside from often making the food unpalatable, this step may wipe out valuable and fragile nutrients in foods like fruits and vegetables.
Further adding to food safety concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only inspects domestic food production facilities once every five to 10 years, while foreign facilities get inspected even less often, according to the Consumers Union.
This is not enough to secure Americans' peace of mind, as two-thirds of those surveyed felt the FDA should inspect domestic and foreign food-processing facilities at least once a month.
Also weighing heavy on some Americans' minds are also concerns of diminishing food quality due to:
Pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other additives used in the growing process
Factory farms and other unsanitary and inhumane agricultural practices
Taking Food Safety Into Your Own Hands
The absolute best way to know what's in the food you're eating (and therefore whether or not it's safe) is to get to know the farmer who is growing it. If you have the time and space for a garden, you can grow much of your fresh produce yourself. If not, farmer's markets and food coops are becoming increasingly available across the United States.
LocalHarvest.org is an excellent Web site to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of safe and sustainably grown food in your area.
This also means altering your diet to be mainly fresh, whole foods, rather than processed varieties. When switching over to more fresh foods, prepared with locally grown ingredients from a source you trust, many of your existing recipes are among some of the safest meals you can eat.
Fortunately, when you get your food from a high-quality source, there’s no need to heat it excessively to make sure it’s safe to eat. And if the only way a food is safe to eat is if it’s been through a “kill step,” you may want to reconsider if you really want to eat that food.
If you do eat processed foods, though, the best way to ensure the food you eat is as safe as possible is to educate yourself about potential contaminants -- and avoid those foods. You should also take the package preparation instructions seriously, and follow them well. If you eat a lot of frozen foods, it’s a good idea to invest in a food thermometer and cook foods at the required temperatures. Also, using your conventional oven instead of your microwave may help ensure your food is cooked thoroughly and evenly.
Finally, eating organic produce, meats and other foods will also go a long way toward reducing your exposure to toxins and other contaminants.