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Safe Food At Home

Eating Dangerously discusses the risks, the politics, and the practices that keep meals safe.

Eating DangerouslyYour friendly, health conscious Planet Natural Blogger frequently champions one course to guarantee you’re putting the safest, organically grown food on your family’s table: grow your own. And almost immediately after making that declaration, I provide the caveat: it’s near impossible for us to grow anywhere close to the quantity and variety of food we need for our modern diets.

I’ll admit that this position is something of a cop-out. It leaves unaddressed all the issues connected with the food we buy. It leaves off at discussing just how bad highly processed foods can be for us, how destructive and careless the industry of big agriculture and corporate food is. What exactly does that leave us with? How do we find the healthy foods we want to serve our families and how do we handle it once we have it?

Eating Dangerously: How the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe…and How You Can by Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown not only charts the dangers out there on supermarket shelves (and in our school lunchrooms), but suggests science based methods to deal with whatever impurities the food you buy might contain. Booth and Brown, both Denver Post reporters who’ve been honored with the Pulitzer Prize for their work with health and medicine, focus on certain food contamination events — remember the deadly cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011? — even as they explore the full spectrum of food safety.

Booth and Brown not only outline how very real the threat has been from commercial food, they seem to suggest that the situation is really rather hopeless. They consistently show that more oversight of the industry, more testing of food supplies, is needed. But they also suggest that the laws currently in place are poor, badly funded enforcement tools. They tie lack of inspection, be it burger, chicken, or spinach to most of the outbreaks. Remember those cantaloupes? The Colorado farm that produced them had never been swabbed by an inspector to check for Listeria, even though it shipped melons as well as carrots, onions, and watermelon across the country, even though it had just replaced a melon washer with one used on dirty potatoes.

Despite their call for more inspection, they also cast doubt on the government’s role. The food industry is so powerful in this country that there’s little chance that legislators will pass and fund strict inspection regimens even for the most frequently contaminated products. Signs of the Food and Drug Administration’s lax approach to its duties? “Federal officials give an official pass to poultry packers,” the authors write, “people should expect that raw chicken parts in shrink-wrapped grocery packages are floating in a bath of Salmonella.”

The second part of the book, “How To Feed Your Family Safely and Sanely,” is the most valuable. They call their technique “defensive eating,” and provide information — from safe selection of produce to its care and cleaning once home — that will keep you from illness caused by contaminated food. Eating sprouts from fast food chains or restaurants is a no-no. Sprouting your own at home is easy and safe when you’re in control of conditions. Be sure to use untreated, organic seed.

We don’t agree with every position Booth and Brown take. They’re willing to overlook the dangers of genetically modified crops until more studies come in. They make the common mistake of declaring absolutely that no studies exist showing GMOs are a danger. They completely avoid issues of what GMOs are doing to our environment, how their use threatens small and organic farmers, and their dangers to seed stock. They suggest that radiating food helps protect us from pathogens.

For the most part, Eating Dangerously is well researched and foot-noted. The dangers that exist in our food supply are real and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to them. Eating Dangerously doesn’t suggest growing your own food as a solution to the dangers of commercial food. But the horror stories of contamination and outbreaks will certainly give you pause. And be sure to read the chapter that describes the various food-borne illnesses, symptoms and all. What a nightmare.