Nutritious, Delicious Contaminants

Giodona Campbell, Staff Writer

If you have ever had food poisoning, you know the suffering that comes along with it. When one suffers from this, they wonder why it happened. Was it bad preparation? Perhaps it was the trip from farm or factory to table.

The truth is, food poisoning comes from a variety of factors, including poor preparation or contaminated product. One area of any food’s journey is its trip from the farm or factory to the stores or markets, and then to your table. This crucial and intensive step doesn’t have time for any sanitary slip ups that can result in the loss of millions of dollars if there is an outbreak of contamination. There are many types of food poisoning, but the most common are E. coli and Salmonella. How food is grown, processed, and shipped is all part of the chain that brings food to your table, and this process has a lot of moving parts to make it work.

For vegetables, the process involves a number of factors including the timing and temperature for harvesting, because if it becomes too hot, the leaves become too soft to pick. When trucks pick up the freshly picked leaves from the field, a quality assurance expert inspects them. When approved, the produce is sent to a processing facility where the vegetables are washed.

David Madden’s blog “From Farm to Table – The Food Shipping Process” explains the process that occurs as food leaves the farm. He writes that employees rid the produce of any unwanted parts and impurities such as roots and leaf clumps, and then “the fresh produce is sent into to be washed in chlorinated water, cleaning them of impurities to help extend the shelf life.” Afterwards, the vegetables are put into plastic bags that have different permeability levels, and then they are shipped off to grocery stores.

The sanitary process is slightly different for meats, with more steps taken to ensure safe consumption. First, it’s important to know if your meat has been humanely-raised; it’s better for you and the environment. Humane places usually stun the animals so they can remain calm during the slaughtering process. Distressed animals create tougher meat, and bruised meat can’t be on the market.

One aspect that is not often thought of by people is the preparation of animal meat. After slaughtering, the pelt or feathers, and the innards are removed from the animal. Workers have to be careful removing the innards because they can rupture, and then the meat becomes contaminated. Next, a grade is given to the meat depending on the animal’s size, and muscle and fat mass. “The USDA certifies certain beef cuts as ‘prime,’ ‘select,’ or ‘choice’ based on the marbling and tenderness. Poultry is graded on a letter scale from A to C based on bruising and other defects,” notes the article “Farm to Table: The 6 Stages of Getting Meat Onto Your Plate.”

The final step of the process in meat production is the meat being cut up or deboned. Large animals, such as cows and pigs, are usually cut into three large sections first, then cut into specific pieces like ribs, bacon, or brisket. They’re put into a plastic bag that is vacuum sealed. It then gets boxed, and sent out to stores and restaurants.

Most strains of E. coli are not harmful, but some can lead to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and other illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a non-profit organization centered on the health and wellness of people, states that “Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.”

According to The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. federal executive department responsible for developing and executing laws related to farming, forestry, and food, “E. coli that is present in feathers, or environmental contaminants, like dust, can also contaminate a poultry carcass. As part of poultry inspection procedures, FSIS [Food Safety and Inspection Service] enforces a ‘zero tolerance’ standard for visible fecal material on poultry carcasses. Animal meats may become contaminated with this bacterium during the slaughter process.”

To continue the steps to keep you and your loved ones safe at home from food-borne illnesses, make sure to wash down your vegetables, especially lettuce, with salt water to remove any possible contaminants. Rinse fruits with water before consuming. Use vinegar, lime, or lemon with water to wash your meat every time before seasoning it and/or putting it on the stove. Food safety is a major matter, and you have to do your part by properly cleaning your foods.