Friday, October 9, 2009

Center for Misleading Lists in the Public Food Hysteria.

About 40 years ago, a couple things happened. First, people were convinced that end times were near as people were predicting major food shortages and famine. Second, people were becoming concerned with the environment.

Both things weren't at all baseless. India had a booming population as was Africa's. It was the work of Norman Borlaug and the green revolution that saved the day, and an estimated 1 - 2 billion people. Since the industrial revolution just 70 years prior, smog and industrial pollutants were also a genuine concern.

About this time, many watchdog groups were formed, as was the EPA. While the intent of most of these groups was to curb environmental abuses and encourage responsible regulation, most have now become institutions full of people that must justify their own existence. It was a perfect storm of junk science, political power, and a generally undereducated public that lead to groups such as The Center for Science in the Public Interest to take hold and grow.

In car sales, there is a saying; 'The person that talks the most, wins'. This could be their strategy as well.

'You don't know about this? Well, let me tell you all about it.'

By the time they are done pumping you full of 'information', they have one more voice in a grossly misinformed game of telephone.

'We don't know enough about irradiated meat, more studies are needed.'
'Did you hear about the studies done on irradiated meat?'
'Studies show irradiated meat to be bad.'
'Everyone knows that irradiated meat is bad.'

They make lists that I hate using very narrow criteria or flawed logic. They condemn certain foods that are high in calories as being bad for you, yet they never list the vitamin and mineral content or protein, just calories and sodium. Of course, nobody is going to publicly say that more calories and more sodium are good for you, so they get a pass. It takes too long to explain that calories and sodium aren't intrinsically bad or good. Both things are necessary, too much can lead to long term health issues, and one or two meals a week that are high in either aren't going to kill you. What looks better on Yahoo's front page? Of course, we now get flooded with these web stories of the worst foods, all based on calories alone. It's nonsense.

Here is
The Center for Science in the Public Interest's latest list, based on food illness:
The 10 most dangerous foods.
1. Leafy Greens
2. Eggs
3. Tuna
4. Oysters
5. Potatoes
6. Cheese
7. Ice Cream
8. Tomatoes
9. Sprouts
10. Berries

These numbers are based on CDC reporting data from people believed to have been victims of food poisoning. There are several problems here that you'll hear nobody else address.

1. The data.
Did they only pull CDC's numbers that were a result of major outbreaks, or was this also when someone thought they had bad fish? Witness testimony isn't exactly reliable, either. Most people get what my animal science instructor called 'the 24 hour Montezuma's' and blame the last thing they ate. It seems logical until you realize that our digestive tracts take 8 - 12 hours or more to completely digest and excrete food. Diarrhea can't be caused by something you just ate. Also, people can be biased against certain foods or even certain restaurants where they may have gotten bad service.

2. Specific ingredients.
Only data from major outbreaks can be traced back to a specific food. An individual with the help of a whole team of doctors couldn't derive the poison food culprit unless they had a sample of every food they ate in the previous 2 days. For instance, I had chicken(no meat on this list...interesting), cheese, potatoes, and ranch dressing(contains eggs) today. According to this list, I died 4 hours ago.

3. An unloaded gun never killed anyone.
Preparation is a critical control point in safe food preparation. I'll use spinach as an example. Yes, deer, rabbits, and migrant farm workers without access to toilets have probably peed on at least some of the spinach. That spinach is not doomed to be contaminated when you pick it up at the store, however. The spinach is washed and rinsed in at least 2 steps, sealed in airtight packaging, stored in a temperature controlled warehouse, shipped in refrigerated trucks, shelved in a cold environment, and brought home for you to cross contaminate with the raw chicken you were just cutting. Good job. Even if the spinach was contaminated in the field, the wash/rinse steps should eliminate any pathogens. Dole cannot be responsible for your food prep techniques or your temperature abuse.

A fair list:
Instead of looking at food that went wrong, it is probably better to look at food that have the highest concentrations of micro organisms to begin with. Then we can build a list based on the worst case scenario of food safety and sanitation.

1. Sprouts.
Sorry hippies, but at around 7 - 9 log Colony forming units(cfu)/g(gram)/cc(cubic centimeter), sprouts are the most germ riddled produce out there. What makes this the most dangerous is the fact that there isn't much processing that can be done due to their fragility.
2. Greens

3. Berries

4. Onions

5. Potatoes

- a note about eggs. In the stories I read about this list, eggs are placed in there rather nonchalantly, as if we can all agree that eggs are nasty.

'What about salmonella?'

Assuming you eat cooked eggs, this shouldn't be an issue. Now, let's assume you are making a dressing or a meringue, now what? Salmonella occurs in eggs at a rate of about 1 in 20,000. Chances are, you'll be fine.

A final note about calories/sodium.

Sodium works opposite potassium to regulate inter and extracellular fluids. Too much sodium is as bad as no sodium. Yes, pay attention, but do not shoot for zero.

Calories should be looked at as a currency of the foods we eat. The amount of calories in our banks depends on the weight, musculature, and physical activity we are trying to support. If you weight train, run for distance, or have a high metabolism, then you will need more calories. For instance, Michael Phelps consumed 12,000 calories a day while at the height of his olympic training. On the other hand, a 185 lb man with normal musculature, living an inactive lifestyle, need only consume 2,220 calories per day.

Use calories like money. Go ahead pend 2,000 on those cheese fries(Outback's are fantastic), just short yourself some calories for the next couple days or so to stay within budget. Too many calories consumed - you blew your budget and you'll gain. Too few calories consumed - you are a tight wad and you'll lose weight.

Do not, I repeat, do not try to get to zero with calories. That will lead to eating disorders, body dimorphic disorder, and eventually organ failure.

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