My long-time coworker, Shari Hrdina, doesn’t eat onions or garlic. I once shared this sad reality with an Italian friend, who responded with great animation, saying, “What! No onions or garlic! What’s the point in eating?”
Normally, I’d concur. But this month, unless you grow your own onions or have confidence in your local farmer or grocer, you might want to avoid onions sold at many big-box and chain stores. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a Salmonella outbreak has infected close to 900 people in 43 states. Oregon has the highest number of cases at 85, while Iowa ranks ninth with 20 cases. At least 85 victims have been hospitalized. (Note: Each year in the US, Salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths.)
Who’s responsible for these toxic alliums? One big “farm” in Bakersfield, California — Thomson International, Inc. Last week, Thomson recalled all onions shipped after May 1, indicating in a statement that the onions “have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.”
Potential? Tell that to the 900 victims. And why did Thomson wait three months to alert the public?
According to attorney Bill Marler of the Marler Clark Law Firm, “This is one of the largest Salmonella outbreaks we have seen in a decade. Unfortunately, it can be expected that the number of ill will continue to rise along with the number of those hospitalized.” As of August 11, twelve people have filed suit against Thomson.
Thomson’s onions were sold not at your neighborhood farmers market or locally owned grocery store. Big chains — including Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Giant Eagle, Food Lion, and Hy-Vee — are the vendors who sell them.
Processed foods that contain Thomson onions may also be contaminated. That includes chicken salad, macaroni salad, fajita stir-fry, pizza — a long list. How long? Just one grocery chain, Giant Eagle, recalled more than 50 products.
Of course, this is only one of many Salmonella outbreaks in recent years associated with the industrial food system. Remember AJ and Peter DeCoster? Half a billion DeCoster eggs were contaminated and the CDC reported as many as 56,000 Salmonella illnesses. Unlike most corporate criminals, who get off scott-free, the DeCosters each landed slap-on-the-wrist, three-month prison sentences for their astounding negligence.
“Astounding negligence” is an understatement. The court’s report said that investigators discovered “live and dead rodents (mice) and frogs found in the laying areas, feed areas, conveyer belts, and outside of the buildings; skeletal remains of a chicken on a conveyer belt; numerous holes in walls and baseboards in the feed and laying buildings; missing vent covers; rodent traps were broken, did not have bait in them, and some traps still had dead rodents in them; manure piled to the rafters in one building, which was below the laying hens; a room was so filled with manure that it pushed the screen out of the door, allowing rodents access to the building; and live and dead beetles and flies throughout the chicken barns.” (Check out the story by Joe Fassler.)
It’s not just a problem of corporate disregard for public health and the environment. It’s also government inaction. Writes Fassler, “Who would violate food safety protocols so brazenly? And how could our regulatory system allow for that level of disarray? A report issued later by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) paints a bleak picture: Prior to 2010, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) couldn’t even agree on which entity was responsible for inspecting egg plants and enforcing standards. USDA admits that, before the recall, the agency had ‘critical’ information suggesting the DeCosters’ Iowa facilities had a salmonella problem. But no one could agree whose job it was to follow up. And so, nothing happened.”
If that doesn’t make you want to carefully consider where you source your food, I’m not sure what else I can tell you.
Here are four ways to minimize the risk of Salmonella poisoning and assure the healthiest possible diet:
(1) Don’t eat pre-packaged, highly-processed foods. One simple test is to look at the product label, and if it’s more than a couple lines long, you probably don’t want to ingest it.
(2) Buy from local grocers who source as much food as possible from nearby farmers and producers.
(3) Buy directly from local farmers you know and trust.
(4) Grow your own! Not everyone has the available land and time to do this, and even those who do will find that growing food isn’t as simple as Michael Bloomberg would have you believe.
Ok, so the Bloomberg quip from February 16, 2020, is too good not to share. According to Snopes, Bloomberg said he “could teach anybody to be a farmer” but information technology required “a lot more gray matter. … I could teach anybody — even people in this room, no offense intended — to be a farmer. It’s a [process]: you dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”
Here’s the line-up:
1. Another Salmonella scare underscores the importance of local food security, with Zachary Couture, Land and Production Specialist at Lutheran Services in Iowa;
2. The long, bumpy, and only partially accomplished road to restoring felons’ right to vote, with Charles Goldman;
3. The many ways Donald Trump could “win” re-election even if he loses, with Charles Goldman;
4. The hidden violence in a veggie diet, with Kathy Byrnes, Birds & Bees Urban Farm.
(Click here for Facebook video of our fourth segment)
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