Food is Poisoning Us – Part 1

Companies are continually recalling food and drinks products due to mis-labelling or contamination. For example over the past 4 weeks:

A wine company recalled their products due to incorrect allergen labelling information. Allergen: Sulphites

A food company recalled soft dried apricots due to incorrect allergen labelling information. Allergen: Sulphites

A supermarket chain recalled a green Thai style stir fry sauce due to incorrect allergen labelling information. Allergen: Fish

A supermarket chain recalled its Indian cooking sauces because the acidity levels are too low. As the acidity levels are too low, this means micro-organisms may grow and the sauces will be past their best before the ‘best before’ date that appears on the jar.

A drinks company has withdrawn batches of soft drinks because of high levels of benzoic acid (a permitted preservative)

A supermarket chain has withdrawn two batches of its own-brand wholegrain brown rice because they might be contaminated with insects.

I’ve looked at diet and nutrition in previous articles and the role of food in that diet. What about the food itself? Apart from the nutrients it provides, what other undesirable elements are included in food?

Safe food is defined as food which is free from contaminants and will not cause illness or harm.

Food poisoning is an acute illness (quick onset) caused by the consumption of contaminated or poisonous food.

There are four classes of contaminants: Microbial, Chemical,Physical and Allergenic. All have been implicated in making people ill and causing death. russian store

Food hygiene is defined as all practices and procedures that food handlers adopt to ensure the safety of food. Poor food hygiene practices are a major cause of food poisoning, not just in the commercial world of cafes, restaurants, take-outs and pre-prepared TV dinners, but also in our homes.

It has been conservatively estimated by food safety scientists that there are at least 6 million cases of food poisoning in the UK and 30 million cases in the USA every year; approximately 10% of their respective populations. These figures refer to the reported, and more substantially to the unreported cases of food poisoning. The latter constituting the biggest part of the cases. So why the increase, rather than decrease over the past 15 or more years?

1. Increase in the purchase of cheap, intensively farmed poultry. Poultry farmed in closed buildings. 14 birds reared in an area of 1 square metre. Each bird pecking at each other, at each others urine and faeces, causing infection. That is not to say that free range, organically raised poultry are free from disease, far from it. Free range states that chickens have access to the outside, not necessarily that they take that option! Even if they reach outside, they peck at soil and faeces, again causing infection.

2. Intensive feeding of farm animals was responsible for starting BSE in the 1980s. Farmers feeding dead, scrapie infected sheep’s’ carcasses to cattle was the probable cause. If farmers leave their sheep and cattle to graze naturally, it takes longer for them to reach maturity than if they are fed supplements. Farmers have to get their animals to market as quickly as possible. It makes good business sense, this way they will make a profit more quickly and cash flows. However,in order to bring their produce to market sooner they use supplemental feeds based on high protein, usually meat or fish derivatives. From an ethical point of view they are feeding vegetarians animal based protein? From a business point of view it also makes good sense to use the cheapest animal food they can source. Unfortunately a lot of the cheap food is not sterilised to kill microbial contaminants. This is transferred to the animals and to us.