The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) periodically raises alarm bells about pathogens in America’s generally very safe food supply. Now CSPI has released what it is calling a “risky meat” report, based on what meats have been tied to illness outbreaks over the past 12 years. The presentation is the usual CSPI hyperbole (think pasta alfredo as a “heart attack on a plate”), complete with a “food pyramid” of meats that will supposedly give you a bad case of the runs or worse.
The lesson of the pyramid is one that home kitchens and restaurant line cooks have heard for years: Handle food correctly and cook to the proper temperatures. (You don’t have to become a militant vegetarian to avoid food poisoning, and recent outbreak evidence suggests that going veg might not even help avoid foodborne illness.) The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides guidance on proper handling of food that can reduce the risk of food poisoning. Either way, the U.S. food system is still very safe: Since the CDC began monitoring food poisoning infections in the mid-1990s, infections caused by the six key pathogens are down over 20 percent.
What’s more interesting is what’s at the base of the pyramid (the lowest risk): Sausages, ham, and chicken nuggets. What do these humble meats have in common? Processing, which has been the bane of the foodie’s existence since foodies first appeared.
Indeed, food safety and preservation (safer food generally keeps longer) is a key reason to process, which is why every meat-eating culture since time immemorial has developed sausages and why companies tried to make ground beef (which CSPI lists as “Highest Risk”) safer. One processor used a misting process with an ammonium hydroxide solution generally recognized as safe for food use by Food and Drug Administration regulations to effectively kill pathogens before the ground beef left the factory. It was a clever idea that freaked out the foodies, who ginned up a scare and a gross-sounding name to de facto ban it, much to the delight of Aussie and Uruguayan beef exporters. (So much for “eating local.”)
So, did CSPI defend beef processors for reducing risk against anti-science snobs? Nah. Instead, CSPI looked on the foodies’ sloganeering with envy. It—and the rest of CSPI’s record—is enough to make someone think that CSPI has an anti-food-pleasure agenda.