My op-ed on Salmonella and lettuce got published this morning by the Brisbane Courier-Mail so here it is again.
I prefer a cut-up variety of fibre-rich vegetables.
A few years ago I toured my local Coles supermarket with the two heads of food safety – both now gone.
We spent about 2 hours going through the store and I pointed out labeling problems, lack of hygiene, and asked, how were consumers supposed to know what food was safe?
Now there is a problem with bagged lettuce packaged up and served at Coles, Woolies, and elsewhere, with 28 people sick.
This is nothing new.
But it’s tragic that people continue to get sick from the food that should nourish them.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet.
Because they are fresh, anything that comes in contact has the potential to contaminate.
That means food safety starts on the farm.
Washing produce may make you feel better, and government agencies advocate washing, but with fresh produce, washing does little.
It may remove some of the snot that a 3-year-old sneezed on it, but microbiologically, not much else.
The key is to have programs in place to reduce contamination.
Twenty years ago, my lab started working with Canadian farmers to limit contamination on fresh produce farms.
Of particular importance: quality of irrigation water, manure, and employee handwashing.
You see a bird, I see a Salmonella factory. We can’t kill all the birds, but we can take appropriate steps to reduce risk.
Fresh produce has been the leading cause of foodborne illness in North America for two decades.
Right now there is an outbreak of Listeria on Dole packaged salads in Canada and the U.S. that has killed two and sickened 20.
Are packaged salads the villain?
Yes and no.
There has been much debate in the food safety community over whether pre-packaged salads are a good thing or a bad thing.
I agree with a scientific advisory committee in the U.S. that said pre-packaged salads are safer because your sink is a pool of germs.
But only if the companies producing the stuff – and making the profit – can prove it.
During one of my many trips to Coles, I asked the store manager if he washes pre-packaged greens.
He replied, “Of course, why wouldn’t I, my wife does it.”
There are no labels with recommendations on pre-packaged salads in Australia.
There are no guidelines.
There is no public disclosure.
If 28 people got sick, there’s a lot more for it to bubble up to Australian media.
Retailers should be clear about practices and sourcing.
And they should market food safety.
Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety in Canada and the U.S. who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia. And coaches ice hockey.