WWJD? Chipotle’s organic food

It’s a question I never ask myself: what would jesus do?

But the Christian Post wants to know, should Christians eat Chipotle’s organic food?

dogma.buddy.christDr. James A. Wanliss, professor of physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC. writes in  this opinion piece that even though Chipotle is not 100 percent organic, the organic label is an important piece of their growth strategy. It’s great for business. Organic food sales in America — Chipotle is part of this — have risen by about twenty percent annually, making this the fastest growing slice of the food market.

Chipotle advertising before and since the crisis promises “Food with Integrity.” This is an interesting choice for a marketing slogan. Would anyone in their right mind want to eat food at a restaurant without integrity?

Chipotle frames the consumer choice as a moral one and uses a form of virtue signaling to draw customers. “We’re good and moral and if you buy our food you’re good too.”

It’s a smart marketing strategy. It recognizes that a culture obsessed with outward appearance of virtue will purchase more of a product they believe demonstrates virtue.

In short, customers buy more Chipotle when they identify with trigger words like organic, natural, locally sourced, sustainable, non-GMO, and so on.

Whatever the future holds for Chipotle the case raises interesting cultural questions.

In developed nations organic food seems largely a fad of the wealthy. By contrast in poor nations there is frequently no choice — everyone eats organic because cow dung, with its E. coli, is often all there is to fertilize crops. Nearly all of Africa’s farms live the slow food dream and are de facto “organic.”

Whatever the pros and cons, there is nothing inherently wrong with a preference to eat food fertilized with cow manure rather than with a nonbiological fertilizer.

Why, in wealthy nations, is this food market growing so fast? Organic food is typically 50 percent more expensive than alternatives. It is clearly not an economic decision. Something greater enters into decision making, something moral, even spiritual.

Perhaps it is because organic is associated with “natural.” Who wants to eat something labeled chemical, modified, synthetic, or unnatural?

wwjd.clerks.IIWhether the visceral reaction is correct or not is beside the point. Organic food gets the benefit of the doubt and is generally considered pure, good, just the way God made it, because it is unsullied by the “improvements” of humans.

But in fact, all things being equal organic food is not necessarily more health giving. Organic produce contains natural pesticides, usually more than in produce grown using conventional pest management. At least, with conventional produce, one can wash off synthetic pesticide residues.

Try questioning the rationale of organic food at your local raw, whole, or organic market (or your church) and discover, as one reporter did, that some find this “not just akin to doubting the virtues of motherhood, but to reveal indifference to the poisoning of the nation and the fate of the planet.”

The assumption that Mother Nature always knows best is an important factor in the explosive growth in the organic market. For many it’s no longer just about food but about a sense of moral satisfaction, even a kind of righteousness.

Flu-like Illness hits Illinois church

I lost my passport. God hasn’t found it yet. I’m stuck in Dallas.

I blame the Catholics.

While flying from Manhattan to Dallas last night, on my way to Brisbane, my passport was misplaced. Thirty years of international travel and I do the one thing you should never do – lose a passport. I was having a pleasant enough chat with a fella who was telling me why Catholicism was the best of all religions; I was trying to be polite, and said I primarily viewed religion as a spectator sport – at least for me.

Most food safety is faith-based, and the lord wasn’t shining so bright on about 40 parishioners at Spring Lake Missionary Church who were sickened over the past two weeks.

The Pekin Times reports the Tazewell County Health Department is investigating the outbreak.

Kim Gudzinskas, the department’s weekend on-call nurse, said she only knew that no final determination has been made on the possible source and exact nature of the virus. Further information may be available today, she said.

Lacey said the illness was first noticed about two weeks ago. While he knew of no one hospitalized, the illness’s symptoms were strong.

Health department investigators told church members the illness possibly spread through both contact with a germ-laden surface or person and through the air.

I was having enough trouble learning Australian; now I’m gonna have to learn Texan.

Show me the data: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says reusable bags ‘can easily contaminate your foods.’

Today I spent a couple of hours with some new family and consumer science extension agents talking about the history of food safety, how risk is calculated and how messages should be based on data – not conjecture. We talked about why the FDA model food code provides guidance on a specific water temperature for handwashing (100F/38C). It’s mainly because folks might be more likely to wash hands when water is warm (except no one can point to that in the literature), that fat is more soluble and soap lathers better. But some research has shown that temperature isn’t a factor in pathogen removal at all (which is the desired outcome of the action).

One of the agents asked me how something like that gets into and stays in a regulatory document and I responded by saying "It probably seemed like a good idea to someone, and it stuck."

I feel the same way about the discussion about the safety of reusable bags.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has put out a press release saying that reusable bags need to be washed regularly by users as pathogens grow well and cross-contamination is likely.

From the release:

Reusable grocery totes are a popular, eco-friendly choice to transport groceries, but only 15 percent of Americans regularly wash their bags, creating a breeding zone for harmful bacteria, according to a survey by the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and ConAgra Foods.

“Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce,” says registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman. “Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods.”

Sort of.

Williams and colleagues (2011) have published the only peer-reviewed study on the microbial safety of reusable bags and tested growth of Salmonella in 2 batches. They spiked the bags with 10^6 cfu and let them sit in the trunk of a car for 2 hours. One of the batches, where the temperature reached 47C/117F, showed a one-log increase in the Salmonella. The other batch, where the temperature reached 53C/124F, there was a one-log reduction. That data doesn’t show just a breeding zone – it shows they can be a killing zone too (and I’m not sure how realistic a 10^6 contamination really is).

The part of the press releases that is the least rooted in science is that pathogen-containing bags "easily contaminate your foods." The same Williams study showed generic E. coli is floating around in bags, recoverable in 12 % (n=58) of those tested but can it be (or is it likely) to be transferred to any ready-to-eat foods, or somehow to food contact surfaces in the home?

Just because the bacteria might be there, doesn’t mean it can contaminate a ready-to-eat food. No one has presented data to support that. Maybe the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – if so, they should share it.

In a cross-contamination event there is a dilution effect when it comes to transfer. 1000 cfus of Campylobacter on the outside of the package of raw chicken might become 100 cfus when transferred to the bag, and then only 10 cfus when transferred to ready-to-eat apples.

Washing bags frequently (as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests) is probably a good idea (like washing hands in warm water) and probably won’t increase risk, but I wonder how much it decreases the probability of cross-contamination when compared to doing nothing.

Dogma over data is dumb: food safety myths strong in Canada

Canada has the best health care system in the world.

And really clean water.

And really safe food.

And a lot of delusional people who apparently think repetition rather than data makes something true.

This week was particularly strong for some food safety nosestretchers in the wake of comments make by supermarket mogul Galen Weston Jr. that food at farmer’s markets were going to kill someone someday.

First up, Sylvain Charlebois, acting dean and professor at the University of Guelph’s College of Management and Economics, who wrote in a widely circulated op-ed that,

“The 2003 mad cow crisis in Canada was really the first major food safety-related event our country had experienced.”

In 1998, 805 Canadians, primarily children between 6- and 10-years-old, were sickened with Salmonella Enteriditis linked to Schneiders Lunchmates. That really was a major food safety event. So was E. coli O157:H7 in the water supply of Walkerton, Ontario in 2000, which killed 7 and sickened 2,500 in a town of 5,000.

Maybe not enough dead people?

In 1985, 19 of 55 affected people at a London, Ontario nursing home (that’s in Canada) died after eating sandwiches apparently infected with E. coli O157. A subsequent inquest into the outbreak yielded numerous stories about the “obscure but deadly bacterium, E. coli O157.” On Oct. 12, 1985, in response to the on-going inquest, the Ontario government announced a training program for food-handlers in health-care institutions, “stressing cleaning and sanitizing procedures and hygienic practices in food preparation.”

The 648 sickened from salmonella in sprouts in Ontario in 2005 would also count as a major outbreak.

Next, Roger George, a retired farmer, a former provincial and national farm leader and the author of the 2002 Agricultural Odyssey Report, writes in the North Bay Nipissing that,

“The Canadian food supply at all levels is among the safest and the most regulated in the world.”

Or as Rick Holley of the University of Manitoba says, “The food safety system in Canada is on the upper end of being mediocre."??

Back to AD Charlebois.

“We also need to celebrate our successes in food safety. The mere fact that the 2008 Maple Leaf listeria outbreak was discovered early is an achievement in itself.”

Government and industry types said much of the same during the outbreak. It’s nonsense. As revealed in numerous journalistic and government inquiries, the feds were slow and silent in releasing information about the pending listeria death-storm. Nursing homes were ordered to stop serving the cold-cuts five days before Canadians were told the same thing.

Rob Cribb of the Toronto star wrote, “at virtually every stage of the outbreak, it seems things could have – should have – gone differently in a food safety system repeatedly hailed by government officials as ‘one of the safest in the world."?’?

Roger George:

“What has to be avoided in the food industry is scenarios like the over reaction after Walkerton which seems to have no boundaries around public cost and regulation. Human negligence was the root cause of that tragedy, and human error is a daily risk in every processing plant, restaurant, supermarket and farm. Oh yes, the greatest risk of all, in your kitchen and mine.”

When seven people die and 2,500 are sickened by a preventable bug, I’m not sure when something would be classified as an over-reaction. But repeating dogma like the home kitchen is the greatest food safety risk is just more repetition in the absence of data – and ignorance of the causes and complexities of food- or waterborne outbreaks.


“And the Maple Leaf affair allowed us to educate ourselves on what was then considered a relatively unknown pathogen.”

Beginning August 2, 1998, over 80 Americans fell ill, 15 were killed, and at least six women miscarried due to listerosis linked to Listeria monocytogenes bacteria with a unique genetic code. On Dec. 19, 1998, the outbreak strain was found in an open package of hot dogs partially consumed by a victim. The manufacturer of the hot dogs, Sara Lee subsidiary Bil Mar Foods, Inc., quickly issued a recall of what would become 35 million pounds of hot dogs and other packaged meats produced at the company’s only plant in Michigan. By Christmas, testing of unopened packages of hot dogs from Bil Mar detected the same genetically unique L. monocytegenes bacteria, and production at the plant was halted.

The dangers of listeria have been known for decades. Charlebois shares the same delusion repeatedly projected by Michael McCain that listeria was an unknown risk in refrigerated ready-to-eat foods like deli meats.

The real danger is Canadian acquiescence to dogma in the absence of data.