From salmonella in jalepeños to E. coli in spinach, foodborne-illness outbreaks have made big headlines. Despite the media blitz, however, the situation is not improving. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that rates of reported illness are the same today as they were four years ago. Joe Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, believes not enough is being done to improve the industrial food system, which allows one megafarm's contamination to affect thousands of people countrywide. Some experts believe the solution is irradiation — briefly exposing food to high-energy radiation that kills pathogens and insects. One USDA study found that irradiation killed pathogens inside spinach leaves, whereas water rinses and chemical baths eradicated only surface bacteria. But many critics argue that irradiation alters nutrients and lessens the overall quality of food.
Prevention starts at home, says nutritionist and culinary consultant Meg Woodard. “Consumers are the last link in the food-safety chain from farm to fork.” Proper sanitation, food handling, and cooking temperatures at home are the most crucial steps in cutting your risk of foodborne illness, she says. Or you can avoid large distribution and irradiation risks altogether by purchasing food from local and organic producers, says Mendelson. For more information on healthy produce choices read: Is your produce packing pesticides?