Health Alert: Fast-food wraps and salads have sickened hundreds

More than 400 people have fallen ill from salad, food wrap and other items containing fresh (uncooked) vegetables at various fast-food restaurants since May 1, 2018. Others have recently become ill after eating prepared salads or using vegetables packaged in bags as salad ingredients they had brought home from grocery chains. Some people who like to lick the spoon after mixing homemade or prepackaged cookie or cake batter have also gotten sick because of the flour (already recalled) or eggs (salmonella) in the mix. Why have things like fresh vegetables and flour suddenly become a potential health hazard?

Nobody will like the answer, but it’s the truth. I’ve been writing about this for over twenty years. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s many people began to get seriously ill and some died after eating fresh vegetables or processed foods containing them such as salads, tacos, wraps and so on. Others got sick from raw dough and some fruits. Please note that this wasn’t just your average case of food poisoning caused by stale or undercooked food. These cases involved potential killers such as Campylobacter, E. coli and Listeria. Why so many cases and how did they get into our food?

You might think this has to do with home cooks and restaurant workers not washing fresh vegetables before using them in salads, sandwiches, or wraps. Unfortunately that wasn’t the problem. Dirt and external contaminants such as pesticides can be washed off the vegetables. Washing will not help vegetables infected with Campylobacter, E. coli and Listeria. There are now more cases of vegetables infected with these pollutants than ever before.

For many years, the same groups of migrant workers and their children have been picking produce grown in the United States. They tended to move around the country because they had jobs most of the year. When there was no produce to harvest, they got jobs in food processing plants. However, as fast food franchises and chain restaurants became extremely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, growers grew and there was a need for a greater number of people to pick and help their crops. This resulted in a huge influx of new faces from Mexico and the South American nations.

The old joke (and even a movie title) says, “Don’t drink the water south of the border.” Why? Because the water supply in many of these poor countries is dangerously contaminated with all kinds of bacteria. That’s because raw sewage is diverted into the available water for removal from populated areas in places without sewage treatment plants. This fact is evidenced by the regular pollution of the seawater on San Diego’s beaches, which is sometimes so polluted with Mexican sewage that it is unsafe to swim.

In many cases, the same fresh water, heavily polluted with sewage, is used to drink and wash clothes. Because this has taken so long, people in these places have built up immunities to most pollutants. However, they remain in her body. Sometimes producers do not provide any or suitable portable toilets for pickers or workers. Impurities in their bodies end up in the ground. Even food processing plants that don’t enforce hand washing or other food safety procedures face the same problem when their employees come into physical contact with food through touch or perspiration.

Dangerous bacteria are taken into the plants through the water they absorb from the soil. Such impurities cannot be washed out? it’s in the food. The same applies if bacteria get into processed food through carelessness. Testing helps with processing plants, but it’s usually too late to catch all spoiled food in time to ensure everyone’s safety. Uncooked vegetables and some fresh fruit made one in six people sick in the United States and Canada last year. Far more than getting sick from undercooked or spoiled beef, chicken, pork, or seafood. We don’t have the immunity that the pickers and food workers have to ward off dangerous contaminants. So what can you do?

There are some things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from these dangers. First, identify the problem foods that people tend to eat uncooked. These include lettuce, celery, cabbage, leafy greens, sprouts, cucumber, jalapeno pepper, and other seeded vegetables. I recommend microwaving uncooked veggies on high power for 1-2 minutes. Scientists disagree on the benefits of the microwave, but it’s worked for me and my family for years.

Fruit, well all I can suggest is that you buy US grown fruits and vegetables. Be especially careful when it comes to strawberries, melons and grapes. There are also many ways to cook fruit while preserving its flavor and health benefits. Then there is always fruit cake (delicious). Cook meat and eggs thoroughly and avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese. Beware of meat or seafood produced and processed in other countries. Not long ago, people got sick from shrimp raised in heavily contaminated farm tanks outside of the United States. Visit us for health warnings under Health and Food.

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