Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tainted Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe tainted with Listeria is at the top of the news right now.  It's bad news for Jensen Farms, much worse news for those who are sick, have died, and have yet to show symptoms.  And keep in mind all the people indirectly affected by this Listeria outbreak.  The family and friends of those who are/will be sick and those who have died are going through terrible times, as well. 
     If you have any cantaloupe from Jensen Farms or don't know where the cantaloupe you have came from you should toss it out.  From the news I've read the tainted cantaloupe is coming to the end of its shelf life, so the outbreak is at its end.  Having an outbreak of a deadly bacteria due to contamination at the farm/processing level brought to mind local food.
     If you're buying your produce from local growers outbreaks such as this are nothing to worry about.  There is still a risk of some contamination, but because the grower is producing a smaller crop they usually have more quality control of their crops.  If there is contamination and ensuing sickness, it's localized.  That isn't much comfort to those who are sick, of course.  But localized sickness is easier to track than sickness across 18 states.  And one small local grower selling a contaminated crop has a much smaller impact than a commercial sized farm due to the significantly smaller amount of produce that is sold by a local grower.  This event doesn't just bring to mind buying local.  I'm reminded of the benefit of home gardening for food.  Yeah, you'd need a whole heck of a lot of space to supply yourself with all the food you'd need, but even cultivating a small home garden decreases your need to buy from a commercial farm.
     Buying local does have its downfalls.  Local produce is usually more expensive, for one.  It's hard to compete with the giant commercial farms out there.  And buying local often means eating what's in season.  Most regions don't have the ability to produce certain crops year round.  So your diet would have to fit around what's available at any given time of the year.  If you're not too picky this isn't an issue.
     While the number of people who have gotten sick or have died in this outbreak may sound like a lot compared to outbreaks in the past, in reality the numbers are minuscule.  Less than 100 people getting infected in a nation whose population is over 300 million is next to nothing.  My point is that you are unlikely to ever be one of the people infected during an outbreak caused by food contamination.  But it doesn't hurt to consider the benefits of local food.  How small the number is compared to the total population of the nation does nothing to comfort those who have been affected, though.  I hope the number of those affected doesn't grow much over the next few weeks and that it's awhile before another of these outbreaks occur.

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