We heard this week about another outbreak of food-borne illness. In this case, Chipotle, a company known for its freshly-sourced and made burritos was forced to close 43 locations due to an outbreak of e-coli.
The internet is full of memes that read, “we didn’t have food poisoning when we were kids,” claiming that as youngsters we didn’t observe food safety rules (refrigeration, safe temperatures) and still survived. This, of course, isn’t true at all. We have had bad bugs like e-coli as long as we have been eating food. The illnesses we get go by various names, frequently, “stomach flu” or a “stomach bug,” or even “bad clams.” What is missing from the claim “and it didn’t hurt us” is the truth – these can be serious and deadly diseases. Frankly, those who have died simply aren’t with us to make us silly internet photos of cross-contamination.
For most of us, a bout of food poisoning, whether e-coli, salmonella, or others, is a day or two of discomfort spent close to a bathroom. For the very old, the very young, or the immuno-compromised, the consequences are far more severe. E-coli can become hemolytic uremic syndrome, a sometimes deadly kidney ailment that strikes victims. What is an annoyance for the strong and healthy can be devastating for others.
When large companies suffer an outbreak like the one currently in the news, it usually points to a product made in a single facility and then distributed across locations. Authorities are now working to track down the source. Sometimes we see outbreaks that are associated with a single restaurant location. When that is the case, you will frequently find a failure to obey the necessary food safety rules, resulting in injury to many.
So don’t dismiss food safety as over-blown, nanny state rules. Our food supply stays safe with the implementation and enforcement of these important rules. When they aren’t followed, there can be disastrous consequences.