Safe food is food that doesn’t make you barf; don’t like it, make your own definition

“Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”

That’s from the truly terrible movie, The Godfather III (see below), but I prefer Sil’s impersonation on the truly terrific television series, The Soprano’s (right).

Safe food is food that doesn’t make you barf.

At least that’s my definition. Food safety has come to mean all things to all people, but to me, food safety is about minimizing the chemical, physical and especially microbial risks that can be found in food. The risks that make up to 30 per cent of all people in all countries barf every year (or at least that’s the number the World Health Organization says; when are those updated U.S. numbers coming out?)

Animal welfare, genetic engineering, local/organic/natural, trans fat and fat kids, these are all bandied about under the rubric of food safety, but have little or nothing to do with safety. These issues are valid on their own but are primarily about lifestyle choices and food porn. Americans love choice.

And to talk.

Reminds me of that scene from Monty Python’s, The Meaning of Life, when death visits the dinner party:

“Shut up. Shut up you Americans. You always talk, you Americans. You always talk and you talk and you say, ‘Let me tell you something,’ and ‘I just wanna say this.’ Well you’re dead now, so shut up.”

(Python food safety note: The dinner guests all died at the same time from presumably botulism in the salmon mousse. “Darling, you didn’t use canned salmon, did you?”)

Every time I focus on core food safety issues, someone tries to pull me back in to lifestyle debates. Sure I dabbled in genetic engineering and food production systems – doesn’t everyone in college – but I got enough to do focusing on the things that make people barf.

For the past week, the Intertubes have been pneumonically spewing out messages about the risks of antimicrobials in animal husbandry since a CBS News so-called special report aired on the issue.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of those persistent ag issues where — like me crossing the border into the U.S. – every journalist or customs officer thinks she’s discovered something no one else has yet.

They’re always wrong.

Antimicrobial resistance has been on the public agenda since the Swann report of 1969. It’s a risk, it needs to be managed, just like any other risk, to maximize benefits and minimize risk.

But leave it to Whole Foods to go over-the-top, in a blog post entitled, Our meat: No antibiotics, EVER!

(The capitalization and exclamation marks are from the Whole Foods original blog post, the authors and editors who apparently think their readers have disorders and need to be bashed with punctuation and capitalization)

Theo Weening, the national meat buyer for Whole Foods Market, says he “can assure our customers that our standard is: No antibiotics, EVER! We work very hard to make sure that the people who produce our meat have raised their animals without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones* or animal byproducts in the feed.”

Meat-buyer Weening fails to distinguish between the routine use of antibiotics as growth promotants and the use of antibiotics to treat animals that are sick. Should sick animals be deprived antibiotics? Wouldn’t that go against animal welfare standards?

And note the asterick beside the no growth hormone BS. At the end of the blog post, there is an asterick with the comment, “*Federal regulations prohibit the use of growth hormones in raising pigs, veal calves, bison and poultry.”

Tyson already tried this line of labeling. Didn’t work. Whole Foods is hopeless.

What I really want to know is if the Whole Foods or any other steak has been needle tenderized or not so I can adjust my cooking temperature (as verified by a tip-sensitive digital thermometer). Those are the kinds of things that make people barf.