I just went to Safeway after reading Eating Dangerously, by Denver journalists Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown.
I have to admit, the produce aisle was scary. The cantaloupes brought flashbacks from the book's detailed recounting of the deaths of 33 people who ate Colorado cantaloupe in 2011. The shiny apples didn't look clean. The bagged greens, which I love, bothered me. But I found a deceptively clean-looking bag and tossed in in my cart.
I moved on, just trying to implement some of the book's ideas to protect myself.
Over in the fruit area, I decided to put my apples, oranges, limes and bananas in one of my reusable bags, instead of just dropping them loose in my shopping cart, like I used to do to avoid putting them in wasteful plastic bags.
As Eating Dangerously explains, you don't want your apples rolling around a shopping cart that's been slimed with raw chicken and who knows what. It suggests wrapping them in plastic bags. I was glad I read the book for this advice alone.
I skipped the fresh raspberries. I'd been buying them lately for my daughter's smoothie, even though I know they're imported from somewhere really really far away with virtually no inspection. But the book helped me recommit to not buying raspberries in April. (I buy plenty of other foods from faraway places, but the raspberries got cut.)
I used to feel good about the organic/local section, but I was deflated because the book points out that organic food can carry deadly bacteria just like conventional food. Still, there are benefits to organic/local food, and I loaded some stuff in my buggy.
I didn't want to buy meat at all, especially salmonella-laced chicken, but it's so easy to toss a chicken in the oven. I reminded myself that I'd cook the shit of the it, and I'd be safe.
I put the bagged bird under the rest of my food, on the platform under my buggy, to separate it from the produce, which will be eaten raw. Good advice from the book, which is subtitled, "Why the Government Can't Keep Your Food Safe... and How You Can."
I strolled around a while longer, and at one point, I saw my buggy with the chicken dangling by the wheels of the cart. I realized, crap, the book recommended selecting stuff like chicken LAST, at the end of my shopping experience, not at the beginning, to limit its time out of the fridge.
I ran to my buggy, loaded up on a few more things, and headed to the check-out line.
Everything was going well until the checker dumped my apples, limes, oranges, and other fruit on the conveyer belt after he'd taken them out of my cloth bag and weighed them. If you read the book, you know the conveyer belt at the checkout-line in a grocery store has major potential to contaminate your food, especially stuff you're not going to cook.
I was doing the bagging, and I lunged for the apples as they hit the moving belt, limiting the exposure to the contaminated area to just seconds.
I didn't have the guts to tell the checker that he was exposing me, possibly, to deadly contamination by tossing my lemons on his moving black rubber pad.
Eating Dangerously recommends bathing certain foods in a bleach bath, but this is not practical for me. I'll wash my food, especially the fruits that hit the conveyer belt today, more carefully than I would have before reading the book, and maybe my daughter won't die, as a result. It could happen, as the book proves with reasoned and credible analysis, carefully cited.
And the sad part is, if someone were to die because their apples got contaminated at the check-out line, it's likely his or her death would have been completely preventable, if our government could afford to implement simple common-sense regulations that, surely, most everyone would want, given the life-and-death stakes.
Booth, who just left The Denver Post, and Brown, who's departurestill there, make an irrefutable case that the gaping holes in our food-protection system, carefully documented in their book, reflect a gross failure of government. And, bottom-line, we could be eating more safely if more tax money were available for the food fight. Instead, budget cuts make us eat more dangerously every day.
You can argue about whether improving food safety should be the highest priority of our broke government, given the magnitude of death and destruction in our world at home and abroad. But one in six Americans will get sick from something they ate this year. Three thousand will die.
Correction: a previous version of this post inaccurately stated that contaminated cantaloupe were grown in Rocky Ford, Colorado. In fact, they were grown 90 miles from Rocky Ford.