Beating the Beef Scare…Buy Local…Handle Food Safely

E. coli infestation of beef products is making headline news. The health crisis is not so much about the presence of E. coli but more about the widespread impact on the food supply. Buying local product and handling food safely are probably your best protection against bacteria in food.

Isolation of Salmonella and E. coli on medium ...
Isolation of Salmonella and E. coli on medium Rambach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

E. coli was first detected at the Alberta processing plant of XL Foods on Sept. 4. Over 12 days an expanding series of public alerts were issued that led to the plant’s licence being suspended on Sept. 27. Meanwhile 11 people from four provinces fell ill.

What is frightening is the huge impact range this processing plant failure had. The XL plant exported to over 20 countries. The U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service estimates at least 1.1 million kilograms of beef from XL Foods entered their country. More products were added to the list of recalls, including raw beef and ready-to-eat products.

Despite the federal government claiming that  it has actually increased the number of food inspectors it has come under fire for its handling of the E. coli scare. Questions abound about whether the food safety system is working and whether there are enough inspectors after government funding cuts.

The truth of the matter is that there can never be enough inspectors or a perfect system. With the massive scale that food is processed, any small failure becomes a gigantic one and fast. You just need to look at the Canada Food Inspection Agency website to see the list of public alerts for mushrooms, fruit blends, mangoes, sausage… containing Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli.

As individual consumers, we can protect ourselves as much as possible from these outbreaks by buying local and following safe food handling practices.

When you are buying from a local farmer, you know what you are getting. It is not a mass produced item that has systems that fail. Every year I purchase my half a side of beef from a local Ottawa farmer. It tastes great and I know he gets the income. Farmer’s markets that support local farmers are fabulous to source your fruits and veggies. You’ll get the maximum nutrition because they are fresh – not transported across the country.

Proper food handling is the absolutely best way to protect yourself. There are four basic rules to follow:

  • Cook: Always cook food to the safe internal temperatures. You can check this by using a digital food thermometer.
  • Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often with warm, soapy water. Some wash their fruits and veggies with soapy water too.
  • Chill: Always refrigerate food and leftovers promptly at 4°C or below.
  • Separate: Make sure to always separate your raw foods, such as meat and eggs, from cooked foods and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.

Check out for more information on food handling.

With so many people and intermediaries in the large commercial food supply, we can’t be absolutely sure that our food is safe from contamination. Cutting down on the number of intermediaries by buying local and using safe food handling rules can offer some assurances.

This post also appeared in Dadditudes

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