Wednesday, February 27, 2013


It is not necessary for any one to possess extra ordinary intelligence to discern the fact that animal derived foods, being rich in many nutrients are much more vulnerable than plant based foods to serious contamination with pathogens. Naturally the extent of vigilance needed to safeguard the safety of these foods is much more compared to that required in case of plant foods. It is very true that between 2008 and 2011 vegetables like leafy greens, tomato, melon, sprouts, spices, herbs were responsible for many food poisoning outbreaks though the sources from where they got contaminated were never properly identified. If so is it judicious for a responsible body like European Food Safety Council (EFSA) to blame these foods of plant origin as solely responsible for the outbreaks and resultant consequences?

According to the above high profile body that is supposed to oversee the food safety related tasks for the entire EU has just brought out a statistical treatise which says that "germs from non animal food origin (FoNAO) were responsible for almost half the number of deaths caused by food transmitted pathogens"! Of course these claims were made based on the "scientific opinion'" of its panel on biological hazards obviously consisting of knowledgeable experts! It further goes on to say that from 2008 to 2011 number of  outbreaks, cases, hospitalization and deaths from contaminated foods belonging to the category FoNAO showed significant increase as compared to that from foods of animal origin (FoAO). Biggest risks were from Salmonella infected leafy greens, bulbs and stem vegetables followed by Salmonella infected tomatoes and melons. E.coli was responsible for tainting fresh pods, legumes and grains while Norovirus. Shigella and Salmonella caused food poisoning in leafy greens, fresh pods. legumes and grains spices, dry powder and herbs and sprouts.

Statistically FoNAO were implicated  in 10% of all outbreaks, 26% of cases reported, 35% of hospitalization and 46% of deaths. But can these figures be considered realistic and true? A careful analysis of the available statistics does not substantiate these claims and the attempt to gloss over the fact that meat industry still has the most wretched record as far as food safety is concerned and if there is any industry which stands indicted for sheer callousness and deficient practices compromising the health of the consumer it is this particular industry encompassing meat and poultry processing. Whether rearing the animals and birds or slaughtering them or processing animal product industry has one of the worst safety records and shifting the blame to plant foods for majority of safety related episodes is not fair.

If the stand taken by EFSA is true, the populations in many developing countries, where plant foods are consumed extensively due to culture, religion and economic compulsions, should have disappeared long ago due to food poisoning! In stead of looking inward to find out the reasons for plant foods raised in those countries in Europe posing safety problems and take adequate remedial measures to improve the situation, condemning an entire class of foods is not justifiable. When the whole world is trying to reduce meat consumption due to its association with many life style disorders and shift to more fruit and vegetable in their daily diet, reports like the above can cause a set back to these healthy efforts.

Though fresh produce like leafy greens, tomatoes, melons were implicated in some of the recent episodes, these are all cases of cross contamination in the farms using contaminated water or handling facilities where meat is also processed or common distribution and storage facilities. Probably this is where organic farming is scoring over the commercial farming sector and it is rarely that organic produce is implicated in any major food poisoning episode so far.    


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