Beware: The vegetables are out to kill you!

How many times do we have to go through foodborne illnesses, with vegetables blamed as the cause rather than carrier, before someone with a national forum finally speaks the truth and tells people to stop being stupid? Once again a vegetable is tainted with harmful bacteria – this time, tomatoes and salmonella, respectively – and the reaction is to blame the vegetable and act stupid. For example:

Restaurants are removing tomato slices from sandwiches and grocery stores are plucking red plum tomatoes from their produce aisles following a nationwide alert that raw tomatoes may have infected scores of people with a rare form of salmonella.

Of course that’s a reasonable response because tomato slices are served raw, which allows the bacteria to survive. But how does that then lead to this?

Salmonella is more frequently associated with poultry, which carry the bacteria. But produce is increasingly a vehicle for salmonella infection as well. Scientists and public-health experts don’t completely understand how pathogens contaminate produce. …

Don’t completely understand? Fine, but are they aware of the link? Let’s see how the paragraph continues:

… The bacteria can be found in animal feces, which can spread through contaminated water, manure or improper handling. It can enter tomatoes through the roots or flowers, or through cracks in the skin of the fruit or the stem scar. Once inside, the microbe is hard to kill without cooking. Tomatoes have been linked to 13 outbreaks of salmonella since 1990, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy group.

Holy smokes! Who would’ve guessed that? Too bad we don’t have any prior evidence to suggest that animal agriculture is the cause. Blame the vegetables! Except, that’s irrational. We have prior evidence of salmonella contamination, as well as evidence involving E. coli that suggests this exact link:

The likely source of an E. coli outbreak in spinach that killed three people and sickened more than 200 was a small cattle ranch about 50 kilometres from California’s central coastline, state and federal officials said Friday as they concluded their investigation.

They found E. coli “indistinguishable from the outbreak strain” in river water, cattle feces, and wild pig feces on the ranch about a kilometre from the spinach fields, the California Department of Health Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a joint report.

Let’s continue burying that in the story, though. Meat is fine because it should be cooked. I, dirty hippie that I am, with my “natural” foods, I need to be careful because that will kill me. And, anyway, I’m not getting enough protein, so who am I to tell anyone else what is and is not the cause of anything to do with food?

Thankfully, with our main course of ignorance, we’ll get a heaping side dish consisting of rent-seeking regulation:

Consumer advocates and produce trade groups say fresh produce needs mandatory safety standards. Currently, growers follow voluntary guidelines issued by the FDA.

Lovely. Our existing animal agriculture safety regulations are followed so closely that vegetables regularly become contaminated. But, if we just regulate the vegetables enough, we’ll all be safe. That’s a brilliant line of thinking.

Or I could just mutter “barriers to entry” and end this entry.