Mad Banana Disease

In Commonweal’s editorial, "Taxing Rhetoric" (February 9), we suggested that the new Bush administration think twice before drastically cutting taxes. Apparently they are not listening to our ideas about what needs doing by the government.

Maintaining "a secure food supply," we suggested, was one area in need of more money. What we had in mind was preventing "mad cow" disease in the United States (the American Cattlemen’s Association agrees with us) and monitoring genetically altered plants as they enter the nation’s food supply. But as far as food dangers go, those turn out to be high-end, hypothetical problems. At the low end, things are real and far worse than even we imagined.

Jane Brody, the New York Times’s health writer, set us straight with a series of articles on the danger that globalization, food variety, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption are bringing to our digestive systems (January 30 and February 6). Chicken, lettuce, bananas-you name it-can be dangerous to your health. Salmonella, once a major cause of food poisoning, is now a minor culprit compared with a dozen newly identified pathogens, some of them fatal to infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Over the past decade, the Food and Drug Administration has warned that systems to ensure the safety of imported foods are inadequate to the volume, and that domestic food products aren’t always properly inspected.

In light of this onslaught, Brody (lovingly referred to as Calamity Jane by her faithful readers) goes into great detail about precautions needed in the kitchen, including washing your hands at least as often as Lady Macbeth; segregating meat, raw and cooked, with Jim Crow stringency; and washing, washing, washing-even items already "triple washed," by the producer. Brody even advises washing bananas: "The skin could be contaminated and when the fruit is cut, food-poisoning organisms could spread to the flesh"-even if we peel instead of cut them. So Mr. Bush, more banana inspectors, please.

Published in the 2001-02-23 issue: 
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