There has been an unprecedented explosion in food-borne illnesses lately, and these outbreaks are coming from multiple sources that are putting consumers across the country at risk. Recalls from about a dozen food producers have been initiated in the past couple of months, a handful of grocery chains have pulled their own products they make in-house, and consumers are getting sick after handling a variety of foods in their own kitchens as well. What has been baffling officials is why so many unrelated problems are cropping up at once, and what they discovered is surprisingly straightforward.
We’re Eating Healthier
Unfortunately, the vast majority of outbreaks have been linked to fruits, vegetables or home or store-made products that contain produce. As more and more people are making healthy food choices, and restaurants and grocery stores are offering products to meet demand, more of us are exposing ourselves to problems that have already existed. However, since these problems only impacted a small percentage of the healthy eating population until recently, they never had the chance to spill over into the mainstream, until now.
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
Healthy eating has proven to be a double-edged sword as we get prepared foods with healthy ingredients from various sources. Many of the fresh or all-natural products we buy, such as prepared salads, cut up fruits or ready-to-serve vegetable trays are being made by people who are paid minimum wage, hate their jobs, and place a very low-premium on following good sanitary practices. Additionally, many products are being put together in industrial food processing plants, as well as commercial kitchens, that have been inadequately re-tooled to meet this new demand as well.
By the time we buy these products, the majority have been handled by multiple people, and days pass by between the time they’re transported or put up for display or for sale. Additionally, chances are that multiple consumers have handled or interacted with the product before you grabbed and bought it as well. All of this opens the door for all kinds of harmful microorganisms to get transferred into products, and the end result is widespread outbreaks that make hundreds of thousands of people sick every year.
Make Your Own Food
The best way to minimize your risk of being exposed to food-borne contaminants is to avoid pre-cut or pre-mixed fruit and vegetable products, and avoid self-serve salad bars at grocery stores. This is a convenience that comes with serious health risks, and food poisoning is not worth the potential rewards. Buy whole foods, wash and prepare them properly, and make sure that you minimize the chances of cross contamination.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that healthy foods aren’t necessarily the culprit, rather most problems stem from how they’re handled. Don’t think twice about incorporating better food choices into your diet, but make sure that you’re the one who is in control of how meals are prepared. While this involves a little bit of effort, it will dramatically reduce the chances of experiencing problems, and you’ll get fresher, better tasting and more-nutritious foods as a result as well.