Contaminated cantaloupe

North American "cantaloupes"

Image via Wikipedia

You probably heard about the listeria outbreak from contaminated cantaloupe that sickened dozens and killed, last I read, 21 people. Some rose-colored-glasses-wearing folks actually suggest we take this news as a positive sign that the food safety system works. Uh, maybe not. If you’ve seen Food, Inc., read Fast Food Nation, or spent a little time digging online, you know we have good reason to worry about the safety of the food supply. As reported by Slate, “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that food poisoning outbreaks can be blamed for 76 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths annually.”

So with potentially contaminated cantaloupes having been shipped to more than a score of states, how has such a relatively small number of people been affected? As NPR described in this story yesterday, younger healthy people were probably infected but managed to defeat listeria with stomach acid and white blood cells. I take a bit of comfort in that, but I’d really rather not count on my own body as the primary defense against food-borne illness, and it’s little comfort for people on stomach-acid-reducing drugs or with compromised immune systems. Unfortunately, recent baby steps toward improving the inspection system are likely to be underfunded in these tight economic times. Grrrr…

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