Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shit ain't good for your gut ;)

This past December, when visiting with the people in the old country, I told my mother that I would not have her tasty fresh vegetable salads because I was worried about pathogens in uncooked vegetables after those catastrophic rains and floods.

It is not that I am a paranoid hypochondriac worried about my health like some of the famous nutcases of the past.  I am just being practical.  Which is why after Chipotle became E-Coli headquarters, it will take quite some time before I swing by that place again.

Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do a fantastic job of tracking food-borne illnesses.  However, such monitoring is about the big food corporations and restaurants.  What about those friendly farmers markets that every town in the US seem to have on Saturdays?  Are the food stuff sold there pathogen-free?
As we will report in an updated version of an unpublished working paper released last summer, we found correlations that, in statistical parlance, are too robust to ignore. First, we found a positive correlation between the number of farmers markets per capita in a given state and in a given year and the number of reported outbreaks, regardless of type, of food-borne illness per capita in that state that year. Then, we found a similar positive correlation between farmers markets per capita and reported individual cases of food-borne illness per capita.
More interestingly, we found similar positive correlations between farmers markets per capita and outbreaks per capita of norovirus, a common cause of gastroenteritis. Likewise, we found a similar positive correlation between farmers markets per capita and outbreaks per capita of Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium typically found in animal feces that is also a common cause of gastroenteritis.
Not that I frequent the local Saturday market; but, you think I will want to go there after reading something like that? ;)
Many consumers frequent these markets because they believe that the foods they purchase there are healthier and safer than the same items sold at supermarkets, posing less risk of food-borne illness.
The authors do underline the point that they have merely found robust correlations.  
it would be a critical mistake to conclude that the foods sold at farmers markets are themselves to blame. That is because most cases of illness are caused by consumers who undercook or fail to wash their food. Indeed, our results may suggest that many people erroneously believe that food bought at farmers markets needn’t be washed because it is “natural.”
In other words, just because it is from a local farmer, it does not mean it will always be healthy.  Just because it is "natural" it does not mean that we can be lax in our food preparation routines.  Shit can happen anywhere.  Oh, sorry, it is the shit that is the reason for most of those pathogens ;)


Anne in Salem said...

Most commercial handlers of produce require significant certification of good agricultural practices (an onerous and expensive necessity) from their farm suppliers, but all the certifications in the world are useless if an animal uses your field as a toilet and no one notices. Yes, wash all your produce and cook all your food properly. I thought everyone knew that. Also, the cook should wash his/her hands well.

Sriram Khé said...

It is an ideological belief that "corporations" are bad and those are farmers markets are good ... as you know well from your work experience, it ain't so ... but, it is not easy to displace blind faith ;)

For the record, I manically wash my hands in the kitchen--just so you know ;)

Ramesh said...

Isn't there a way to nuke these horrible thingies that cause so much trouble ? I am starting to get scared and hyper like you, while earlier I wouldn't give it a second thought.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, interesting how the older we get the more we seem to watch out for such things ... gone are my young days when I had "pani puri" practically every evening when in Calcutta, by the corner of a noisy and smoky intersection and the guy handing me the food was far from hygienic, I am sure ;)

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