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Food Safety: Making Wise Choices

Wondering about salmonella in eggs? Worried about mad-cow disease? Take some time to discover how can you eat safely in an industrialized world - the key is to make informed choices.

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Salmon
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect against heart attack, stroke, cancer, and inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. However, the type of salmon you eat matters:

  • Much higher levels of toxins are in farm-raised salmon, including dioxin and PCBs - both of which can cause certain types of cancer, and can have adverse effects on the brain development of fetuses and nursing infants. Studies have shown that farmed salmon has more than 10 times the amount of these types of toxins than wild varieties.
  • Farm-raised salmon also contain residues of antibiotics and other drugs used to treat diseases that occur in the unnatural, crowded conditions of fish pens. Farmed salmon are artificially colored and generally have a higher, less favorable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in their tissue, and provide less protein than their wild counterparts. Salmon farming is ecologically disastrous, since the diseases it generates infect (and might eventually decimate) wild populations; the waste it produces pollutes coastal waters; and the feed fish it requires hastens the depletion of the ocean?s resources. (It takes several pounds of feed fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon.)
  • Since salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids - which you should include in your diet on a regular basis - eat wild salmon, preferably Alaskan. If this is not available, you can get the same omega-3 fatty acids from sardines and herring, as well as from distilled fish oil supplements.

Beef
For a variety of reasons, people would do well to eat fewer foods of animal origin in general, and less beef in particular. Some potential problems can be avoided with the following measures.

To minimize the chance of exposure to mad cow disease (also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE) follow these guidelines:

  • Humans probably contract mad-cow disease by eating meat that contains bits of brain or spinal cord tissue from infected cattle. Avoid meat products likely to contain nerve tissue (hamburger, sausage, and meat attached to the bone such as T-bone steaks).
  • Avoid any supplements - including some "anti-aging" or memory-boosting products - containing animal tissue.
  • Avoid using bone meal and blood meal fertilizers - the import of these products from countries with BSE is banned, but I still suggest avoiding them. If BSE is present, you could inhale the infectious agent from the dust these fertilizers produce.
  • If you have to eat beef, try to get organic varieties. Organically raised animals are not fed the dreadful feeds responsible for transmitting BSE.

To avoid contamination from bacteria, especially dangerous strains of E. coli, always prepare meat separately and cook meat thoroughly before consuming it. Never prepare other food items with utensils used to prepare raw meat, such as knives, before cleaning them.

Chicken and Turkey

  • To avoid the risk of campylobacter, salmonella or E. coli. infection, chicken and turkey need to be handled carefully during preparation: Cut raw meat and vegetables on separate surfaces, wash utensils carefully, and cook poultry thoroughly.
  • Buy organically grown chicken and turkey if you can, to minimize consumption of antibiotic residues and other toxins found in conventionally raised birds.

Eggs
To avoid salmonella enteritidis (SE), a common cause of food poisoning with many cases traced to eggs, do the following:

  • Keep eggs refrigerated.
  • Cook them until the yolks are firm and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
  • Be certain to clean off cutting boards and utensils thoroughly with hot water after working with raw eggs.
  • Eat organically produced eggs from free-range chickens when possible. They taste better, are more nutritious and are less likely to have residues of antibiotics and other undesirable compounds.

Fruits and Vegetables
Produce is very nutritious, providing minerals, vitamins, fiber, and protective compounds but it can also harbor toxins and contaminants.

Try to eat organic produce whenever possible. Organic produce is grown without the use of toxic agrichemicals. Inform yourself about which fruits and vegetables tend to have the most toxic residues (see the website of the Environmental Working group in Washington, D.C., at www.ewg.org).

  • Even organic produce may harbor bacteria, so be sure to peel those fruits and vegetables that can be peeled and to wash the rest before eating. Use a small amount of diluted dish detergent and a vegetable scrubber, followed by a warm water rinse to remove residues and any food-grade wax.
  • There have been a few outbreaks of infections from lettuce contaminated by E. coli. If your lettuce doesn't come out of a sealed package, it is important to wash it in cold running water. A good rule of thumb to follow is three thorough rinsings. (It's not a bad idea to do this for lettuce that comes in sealed packages as well.)
  • After working with raw meat or other animal foods, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with hot water along with all cutting surfaces and utensils to avoid transferring bacteria from one kind of food to another.
  • When eating out at a salad bar, make sure that the vegetables are well chilled (kept over ice) and that the food is properly shielded with a sneeze guard or hood. Avoid any items that look old or dried out.

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