E. Coli in Your Salad? Just Nuke It!

For three years now my family has been enjoying fresh produce from theCommunity Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at Arnold’s HighlanderFarm in Augusta, WV. This has taken a bit of adjustment in my cookinghabits, because every Friday, May through October, I receive a bushelof fresh vegetables. I usually have some idea of what will be coming,but the crop is weather-dependent, and there is usually a greatabundance of it. I have honed my freezing and canning skills over theyears, and although I work full-time, it’s not as time-consuming asit sounds. Having lots of quart jars of tomato sauce flavored witheither basil or hot peppers all winter long is a great incentive.

There is also the seasonal nature of things. I enjoy the first greens andasparagus in May, the summer vegetables for ratatouille and tomatosandwiches from July through September, and greens again with wintersquash in October. Then there are the strawberries in June: small,but so much sweeter than the ones in the grocery store.

As of late, this country has been having some serious problems withfresh produce in fast-food restaurants and grocery stores. Salmonellaand E. coli have sickened hundreds of people this fall. Despite this,I was disturbed to read an article in the New England Journal ofMedicine supporting irradiation of fresh produce as a remedy to theoutbreaks (content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/355/19/1952).The author grew up in a rural area and knows something of the healthyproducts that a strong local agricultural base can yield, yet insteadof advocating for more local food production, he embraces theoverlaying of even more technology. Irradiation would not necessarilykill the hepatitis A virus that sickened people eating green onionsat Chi-Chi’s in 2003. Bacteria may also become resistant toirradiation just as they have become resistant to antibiotics.

Right now we have a centralized food production system which greatlyincreases the probability of multi-state and even multi-countrycontamination of food. This occurred first with beef and poultry.Irradiation seems to have only partially solved that problem, but nowit is happening with produce. Where will it end? Worse, what ifsomeday it is illegal to sell produce that hasn’t been irradiated?This happened with the pasteurization of milk. For both good and badreasons, raw milk is no longer legal or readily available for sale inmost states – even right off the farm.

The adverse human health aspects of our food production model are justnow coming to light. The environmental and social downsides have beenevident for some time. Think of migrant workers, manure lagoons andthe recent Swift meatpacking plant debacle. My suggestion for whatit’s worth is to look around, find local food, and embrace it. Or,just grow some of your own.

Start small, stay local, eat seasonally. To find a CSA program or farmers’market near you, go to localharvest.org.

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