There are few things in the world that everyone would fancy. Even some of your favorite things, be it puppies, a baby’s laugh, chocolate, or a beautiful sunset, they all have their critics. When you speak of the entire population of the planet, there are very few common denominators that we all ideally seek. One of them for certain is the state of well-being. That’s right, you would face a nearly impossible task if you were to try and find someone who does not enjoy good health, someone who despises personal wellness. Since we agree that everyone desires to be healthy, we can safely assume that they also wish to prevent illness. Eating local can help you do just that, as it is one way to lower the risk of contracting foodborne illness (colloquially known as food poisoning) and keep you well. It’s true, and we have lessons to help you do so.
Surely, if you have ever experienced food poisoning, you are well aware of how unpleasant and serious an event it is. Many find it difficult to identify exactly what it was that they ate that caused their affliction. There are so many ingredients and variables to consider, it’s often difficult to pinpoint the root cause. The same difficulty goes for following the supply chain of commercial food, and logistically tracking where your food came from. When it’s not local, there are more variables and steps involved, which translates to more opportunities for food to have spoiled or become contaminated. Not only that, but it is still just as difficult to pinpoint the cause, meaning that many parts of the supply chain for an affected product are often halted by the producers themselves, recalled by FDA, or blocked by the retailers. Local produce is not a part of the commercial supply chain, and you can count the steps from farm to table on one hand.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year approximately 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) will get sick, 128,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 will die from foodborne diseases. It’s definitely a real threat, but how can that many people possibly be susceptible to foodborne illness? Perhaps you recall the outbreak during 2006, where E. coli was detected in lettuce and spinach, resulting in at least 276 reported cases of illness and five deaths. According to a study by Perishables Group, packaged spinach sales plummeted by nearly 78% in two months, or a drop of $27 million. The general mass aversion of spinach in fear of contamination is not unique; it is shared among other incidents of foodborne illness scares. The salmonella outbreak found in certain types of tomatoes during the summer of 2008 created a similar effect. The CDC stated the outbreak caused at least 1329 cases of illness, while claiming that “it is likely many more illnesses have occurred than those reported.” Several supermarket and restaurant chains pulled suspect tomatoes completely. Many people felt that it was too big a risk and avoided tomatoes entirely. The FDA had considerable difficulty determining the source(s) of the outbreak, as jalapeños and serrano peppers from Mexico later became prime suspects, as well as raw tomatoes. Regardless, the salmonella scare demonstrated that foodborne illness from a product as versatile and widely consumed as tomatoes can have an incredibly massive impact on the food system.
As an individual, you might not have the immediate power to completely eliminate all possibility of foodborne illness, but you can greatly reduce your own risk to it. Think of it this way: when you are shopping at a grocery store, looking over the various tomatoes, what can you do when you have some questions? Perhaps you would like to know how the tomatoes are grown, what farm they came from, and what steps were taken to prevent contamination? Well, take a shot in the dark, as those answers are lost to you many steps back along the chain, well before arriving at a supermarket. Alternatively, if you are shopping at a local farmers’ market, you can ask the farmer for yourself (sure beats guessing). You can discover the exactpath those tomatoes have taken from the vine to your shopping bag, and you can leave with the peace of mind knowing you uncovered the answers you sought. That’s another thing everyone can appreciate. The fact is you can actually mitigate your own risk to problems such as foodborne illness by simply shopping local. Just remember the lessons that help to aid your health: Know your risk, know your farmer, know the truth.