What's up with all the organic food recalls?

Organic food’s supposed to be safer than produce, meat, and dairy raised by conventional methods… right? Organic growers and ranchers are no doubt dealing with that question regularly over the past couple of weeks: between recalls of salmonella-contaminated sprouts and ground beef possibly laced with E. coli, it’s likely many are questioning the value of organics.

Some scrutiny’s almost never a bad thing, though… and a little digging on the nature of these food products and the microbes they’re carrying demonstrates that organic practices likely aren’t the culprit here.

In the case of sprouts, the FDA notes that they carry some risk for foodborne illness, period:

Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts carry a risk of foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.

With ground beef, the risk of contamination exists during processing: “E. coli O157:H7 can colonize in the intestines of animals, which could contaminate muscle meat at slaughter.” And the act of grinding the meat spreads the bacteria.

Does that mean organic practices are off the hook? Not completely… manure’s a common soil amendment with organic agriculture, and if it’s not properly composted, it can spread disease-causing bacteria.

The lesson here isn’t that organic is unsafe (as, no doubt, some are going to try to argue), but, rather, that it’s not a cure-all. It’s definitely going to keep you from being exposed to various artificial chemical compounds, and create a much less lighter footprint in terms of broader environmental impact… but it’s also got to be handled, processed, and cooked properly.

This is just a brief overview of some of the issues at play… if you’ve got more knowledge to share, do so…


Image credit: Dottie Mae at Flickr under a Creative Commons license