Rick's Space: If cooks could kill

We Are What We Eat




You reach a certain age and you turn over a new leaf. “I’m going to eat good, healthy food! I’m going to lose this extra weight! I’m going to be lean and mean and svelte. People are going to look at me and say, ‘What a lean and mean, healthy guy!’”

So, I change my diet. Out goes bacon, sausage, and ice cream. In comes oatmeal, dried fruits, plenty of salad, fresh veggies, soymilk, and the like. What’s wrong with this picture? You guessed it — all of these foods were on a recent USDA list of recalled items. Eating them could, in the worst cases, kill you. In the best of cases, you’re going to be . . . shall we say . . . out of commission.

One bright note: You’re certain to lose a lot of weight, like it or not. Point to ponder: The quality of our food is getting worse, not better.

Salmonella is the name of a group of bacteria that occurs in raw poultry, eggs, beef, and sometimes on unwashed fruit and vegetables. The bacteria can attach to the cells lining the intestines where they produce toxins and attack the intestinal cells. No, you don’t get it from eating salmon. You can, however, get infected after handling pets, especially reptiles like snakes, turtles, and lizards.

Think of going out on a first date in this brave new world:

(Couple sipping smoothies at a health bar)

Her: So, basically, I’ve been spending a lot of time just eating healthy and working out.

Him: You’ve got to be careful what you eat nowadays.

Her: Tell me about it! I’ve got bacteria eating away at my intestine walls. Want to come over to my place and play with my snake?

Him: Hey! That’s my line!

There’s a recall on Two Brothers Pork Skins. What’s next, Two Brothers foreskins? Are there more at home?

There is a recall on Brutus and Barnaby Pig Ears. Are they brothers? (Are we sure those are pig ears?) How many packages are sold per year, three? Are there pockets of pig ear freaks all over the globe that are hooked on these things?

Tofu sugar cookies and baby spinach are on the list. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, if you wanted to eat tofu, couldn’t you find a better thing to pair it with than sugar cookies? And why just baby spinach? Because grown-up spinach takes more showers?

The worst outbreak I can recall was back in 2007, when Taco Bell shut down for a while. The company line was that a bad batch of green onions was getting people sick, but I suspect the two-for-one Fecalattas were the real culprits.

Even now, Heinz has a Taco Bell cheese dip that was recalled, and I would have guessed you could smear that stuff on anything and it would kill what ails ya. Kraft Taco Bell salsa has shown up with botulism in it, and what cheery news that must be to corn chip enthusiasts.

The botulinum toxin causes paralysis. Paralysis starts in the face and spreads to the limbs. If it reaches the breathing muscles, respiratory failure can result. The toxin is produced by Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a type of bacterium. They create eight types of neurotoxins that are so deadly, even microscopic amounts can kill.

I love this, from CNN: Early and classic signs of the illness are drooping eyelids and blurred or double vision, dry mouth, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing.

In other words, me on Sunday morning.

Botulism can be found on the surface of most any food. It can cause constipation, which basically is impossible for anyone who eats Taco Bell cheese dip to have. As I mentioned, it also causes paralysis. Imagine spending the rest of your life with the constipated look frozen on your face?

One of the largest recent outbreaks occurred in April 2015, after a church potluck meal in Ohio. Twenty-nine people were infected with botulism, likely after eating potato salad made with home-canned potatoes. It could have been the potatoes, but I prefer to think it was Jesus sending them a message: You play with snakes, you’re gonna get burnt.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com