Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Bell Tolls for Taco Lovers Everywhere

Not that Taco Bell's tacos actually resemble anything close to real food, but its "food" is consumed as a food item by millions of people year. The recent outbreak of E. coli emanating from area Taco Bells has spread from New York and New Jersey to Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut. The most likely culprit seems to now be the dreaded green onion packed by Ready Pac Foods in Irwindale, CA. Preliminary tests show contamination with E. coli strain 0157 on three batches. Ready Pac has pulled these from distribution, but there is still no clear evidence where the point of contamination was and whether this is the only item involved it he outbreak. Not so long ago green onions were implicated in an outbreak of Hepatitis A in western PA.

So the issue at hand once again is how consumers can be assured of a safe food supply in this day and age when so much of our food supply is produced a long way away from where it is consumed and so much of its highly processed. (In my estimation, the more steps it takes to turn raw produce into "food," the easier it is to not only contaminate, but to also obfuscate any contamination sources.) Even something as simple as bagged spinach was difficult to trace accurately when the recent E. coli scare sickened hundreds of people.

This is not the last food safety situation we'll face. I encourage everyone this winter to find a local farm and begin a dialogue with the grower so you can begin to understand what it takes to get food from their farm to your plate. Understand why if consumers don't more forthrightly support local farms that they will simply fade away. These kinds of outbreaks can't be prevented by simply buying and eating locally. However, by knowing your roots (e.g., your farmer), eating lower on the food chain (fewer processing steps), and understanding why the global, corporatized food system is really only interested in itself, everyone that cares about what they eat can take steps to avoid being in situations like the one consumers of Taco Bell "food" have faced the past week.

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