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Scared of Green Leafy Things

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I don't think it was e. coli, but can you blame a pregnant woman for worrying? Last Thursday night I went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant with some friends. Not long after I left the restaurant, I started feeling nauseous.

I was up much of the night and uncomfortable most of the next day. Normally this wouldn't have fazed me. However, the recent news of an e. coli outbreak connected to green onions served at Taco Bell, not to mention the one not long ago connected to bagged spinach from California, and another related to tomatoes served in restaurants, makes me more wary. Combine that with knowing how dangerous it can be for a pregnant woman to come down with food poisoning, and I was most nervous.

I'm obviously not the only one. The most recent e. coli outbreak has spurred a flurry of media coverage and opining. Food writers such as Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan are pointing out that bacterial infections in fresh vegetables are the inevitable result of the concentration of agriculture. Consumer advocates, such as Center for Science in the Public Interest and Consumers Union, are calling for strengthening food safety regulations.

With the changeover of power in Congress, prospects are notably brighter for legislation introduced last year by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Safe Food Act, which would create a new food safety agency that has authority to test for pathogens, require recalls of tainted food, and impose penalties when laws aren't followed. Such a system certainly makes a lot more sense than the current one, in which regulation of food safety is split between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a severely underfunded U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, consumer advocates say that the food lobby-backed legislation--the National Uniformity for Food Act--that would have weakened food safety laws by preempting state laws that are stronger than federal laws that made headway in the last Congressional session is now dead in the water.

While all of this is encouraging none of this makes me feel more comfortable as a pregnant woman deciding what to eat for dinner. First of all, the new consumer-friendly legislation is hardly certain to pass. Agribusiness sunk nearly $33 million in campaign contributions into the recent federal elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While 69 percent of that money went to Republicans, expect that more money will be flowing the way of Democrats now that they are in power. The food lobby will certainly work to weaken the consumer friendly legislation.

And of course even if tougher food safety laws are passed, that won't help me with this pregnancy. I've been scared enough that I've been sticking for the most part to cooked vegetables. It helps a bit that it's cold outside and stews and soups are especially appealing. But how awful that I feel like I can't trust raw vegetables while I'm pregnant.

Luckily, I don't think my illness the other day was food poisoning. The only non-cooked vegetables I had that night were in the salsa, which all three of my friends also ate--and none of them got sick. And my symptoms disappeared in about 24 hours. Sounds more like a virus than a bout with food poisoning. But that didn't stop me from worrying--and it reconfirms for me that I'm going to stay away from salads, for now.

Nancy Watzman blogs at Muckraking Mom.

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