The Food Lottery

Are you an average adult American? If so, then you consume 70 pounds of beef, 60 pounds of pork, and 550 pounds of dairy (love that ice cream). Americans feel safe eating because they know the foods they eat have been monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But, how safe is our food industry, really? Do the USDA and FDA really monitor our food for quality and safety? Is there anything to fear?

When I was contracted to write an article about foodborne illnesses (illnesses that come directly from eating food), I discovered that illness directly related to food come in all shapes and sizes. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there are more than 200 foodborne illnesses, from allergies to “stomach flu” to vomiting; the CDC have identified 30 pathogens associated with these foodborne illnesses, classified as bacteria, virus, chemical, parasitic, prions, antibiotic residues, genetic modifications, or unknown. In fact, the CDC estimated the average adult American consumes 10 pounds of additives each year, pathogens included!

And any one of these pathogens could cause or lead to illness, disability or death.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest stated “Consumers play a lottery every day they eat.” But it isn’t just E. coli and Salmonella that cause illnesses to occur. Sure, they cause the classical signs of stomach and digestive distress, but what about those illnesses that occur down the road from eating foods? What about antibiotic resistance or allergies? These too are now being considered foodborne illnesses.

The CDC stated that foodborne illnesses cause 9,000 American deaths annually, 81 million are sickened, and 325,000 require hospitalization. The long-term effects of some food-borne contaminants are still being studied by the CDC; these effects are cancer, paralysis, and disability.

As many illnesses are now being considered “food-borne” because they began with food, this article looks at the “traditional” foodborne illnesses (i.e. parasites, bacteria, viruses), genetically modified foods, hormones and irradiation. Each needs to be examined for its impact on health, as the building blocks to health begin with what we put in our mouths. russian store

Food Poisoning (previously considered as “Foodborne Illnesses”)

Foodborne illnesses used to be considered as illnesses caused by eating food contaminated with a bacteria, virus or parasite. The majority of the time the symptoms are digestive: diarrhea and vomiting are the two main symptoms. Each year, hundreds of millions become sickened worldwide.

The two most common pathogens (illness-causing substances) are E. coli and Salmonella, with Salmonella being the leader in causing deaths from foodborne illness. E. coli in itself is considered harmless because it exists in human and animal digestive tracts; however, when too much E. coli enters the body through ingesting it, illnesses can occur. Most cases of E. coli do not harm a person long-term; however there is one E. coli that can lead to disability and death: E. coli O157:H7. Approximately 3% of the deaths from foodborne illnesses occur from having this deadly form of E. coli.

Most cases of foodborne illnesses are mild, so people attribute the symptoms to being the “stomach flu.” Plus, people rarely make the connection between their symptoms and food from two days prior. Most cases of foodborne illness do not occur shortly after eating.

The USDA states that foodborne illnesses are primarily caused by improper food handling, storage, and preparation. However, Robert A. Robinson, associate director of food and agricultural issues at the Resources, Community & Economic Development Division of the USDA, in a statement to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Human Resources & Intergovernmental Relations on May 23rd, 1996, stated that experts agree that, in many cases, the pathogens were present at the processing stage, i.e. before the food reached the cook’s hands. Despite the new methods of destroying bacteria, viruses and parasites, the incidences of foodborne illnesses have increased over the past 20 years, and the pathogens have become more deadly, as incidences of hospitalizations and deaths have also increased.

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