American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
September 19, 2006
ANOTHER BITE FROM A POISONED APPLE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Food poisoning in one form or another has posed a danger all through my life; however, early on, it was the food itself, mistakenly consumed or imbibed, that brought on illness or death. Although it wasn't a common incidence it did happen with enough regularity for us all to be deathly afraid of mushrooms.
As I recall, an entire family died after a roast chicken dinner richly stuffed with luscious mushrooms. The huge domed caps had sprung up overnight in the moist little patch of land under the trees in the far corner of their yard. In the 1930's, being able to afford anything beyond the occasional chicken, bread and potatoes was a rarity; finding big mushrooms in your backyard was a rare happening indeed.
Mushrooms are not the fare for the uninformed, but this neighbor was among the few who could claim he knew the difference between poisonous mushrooms and harmless ones. He even claimed there are some toadstools that are not poisonous, even though we all avoided them. The neighbors didn't doubt him - he was from Europe and probably knew - but they didn't eat with him either. No, we didn't throw caution to the wind at our house. The sadness we all felt was all the more so since the tragedy was avoidable. In those days, trichinosis was a huge threat. Any pork had to be cooked so well is was like the heel of your shoe. As I recall, trichinosis was from worms in the pork that, if allowed to live, would inhabit those dining. I could probably research that but even my scant knowledge scares me to death so, inasmuch as the threat has been gone for over 40 years, I'll stick with what I know and continue to cook my pork until the meat is white.
The next outbreak I recall was happening salmonella. I discovered the hard way that the deadly bacteria can enter an egg through an almost invisible crack in the shell. If you use that in egg nog, you're in trouble. If you use it in cake batter and let your children lick the spoon, you're in trouble.
When salmonella takes hold, the health department takes action. Their requirements are one week's worth of daily stool samples until they release the family. I don't have to advise of that procedure; just don't eat a raw egg - ever!
In subsequent years, food poisoning arose mostly over refrigeration or maintaining buffet food at a high enough temperature for the duration of the party. Spaghetti sauce cools rapidly and spoils as it lowers to room temperature. We are all very aware these days, so most of the poisoning is no longer comes from the kitchen and spreads to the family and neighborhood.
It would seem most poisoning lies among the sowers, the insecticides, the reapers and the packagers. Also, careless handling, poor inspection, inadequate machinery, poor refrigeration in shipping, and human error leading to contamination.
With all those possibilities, it's a wonder we haven't more outbreaks like the E. coli virus that has killed one and made 109 ill by this writing. The common denominator among the victims is that they all do use pre-washed, fresh packaged, spinach. The victims are all across the country with the greatest concentration in Wisconsin and the possible source in California.
That's quite a span, quite different from a patch of soil that sprouted mushrooms, killed a family and the possibility of spreading remained in the small circle of families near the victims.
There's a popular restaurant with branches in almost every city in the country. Last night, their popular appetizer was not being offered. We asked why. "Well, there's a grower in Seattle who was using an illegal insecticide, so we decided to take all our uses of onion off the menu - not only here but in all the restaurants under our [regional] headquarters."
That was both interesting and reassuring. We are being looked after by some watchdog with an eye for our safety as the food goes from plant to plate. I wonder if the Seattle information came from an inspector or a whistleblower? Either way, I'm grateful.