It’s good to be a vegetarian

I had no idea that there was another epidemic here in the US: a food safety problem, the spread of a strain of multi-drug resistant salmonella through domestic poultry. I thought the combination of CDC and USDA oversight was effective in keeping our food safe, but I guess not.

With a public health threat unfolding across the country, you might have expected federal regulators to act swiftly and decisively to warn the public, recall the contaminated poultry and compel changes at chicken plants. Or that federal investigators would pursue the root cause of the outbreak wherever the evidence led.

None of that happened.

Instead, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closed the outbreak investigation nine months later even though people were continuing to get sick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry, was not only powerless to act but said nothing to consumers about the growing threat. So supermarkets and restaurants continued selling chicken tainted with drug-resistant infantis.

And they continue to do so today.

An eight-month ProPublica investigation into this once rare, but now pervasive form of salmonella found that its unchecked spread through the U.S. food supply was all but inevitable, the byproduct of a baffling and largely toothless food safety system that is ill-equipped to protect consumers or rebuff industry influence.

It’s a good if rather distressing article, but I have to warn you that even without thinking about salmonella, the graphics of commercial chicken processing are…well, um, graphic. Where I live, I’m surrounded by chicken and turkey farms that look rather innocuous as we drive by — long low sheds packed full of birds hidden from sight where, apparently horrors take place. It will definitely put you off chicken.

The other night I fixed chicken tikka masala, without the chicken. We used tofu instead. I think it was a wise choice.

We vegetarians are just totally safe, except for the lettuce and Listeria and E. coli. Yeah. No worries at all.


  1. Artor says

    My father used to be in charge of meat grading for the USDA until he retired. Things have gone downhill without his supervision.

  2. says

    Whle we have greatly reduced our consumption of ‘animal flesh’, we do eat some chicken. I looked into this and the CDC (muddled and disorganized as it is) confirms that if you cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165deg. F (as we always do) it is should kill salmonella.
    Frighteningly, ‘our’ government seems to give us waffling, baffling, everchanging and often self-contradictory info and mostly says ‘good luck, suckers. You’re on your own’.

    Stay safe everone!

  3. wzrd1 says

    Yep, veggies are totally safe – if you ignore the handful of hepatitis A outbreaks recently.

    A lot of our inspection problems began with libertarians mindlessly ignoring history and hijacking the GOP, then undermining every oversight and inspection that they could. Then, proclaiming success, as nothing was detected by the no longer present inspectors, proving that they weren’t needed.

  4. vucodlak says

    Oh, hey, I’ve had salmonellosis. Days of severe nausea, gastrointestinal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. It was so bad that I had to sit on the toilet holding a bucket… which I could barely manage after the first couple of days, because I got so weak. I couldn’t keep anything down but iced mint tea, and that only if I sipped it very slowly. I lost about 17 pounds in a week.

    I got it from spinach. That was about 15 years ago, and to this day I still flinch a bit if I inadvertently get a bite of spinach in a salad or on a sandwich. That’s not an experience I wish to repeat.

  5. kingoftown says

    I’m sure the EU’s ban on using antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock is one of the bits of bureaucratic red tape Farage and the far right of the Tory party want rid of.

  6. numerobis says

    Paneer tikka masala is on menus around me (not tofu).

    Paneer is easy to make: take milk, bring it to about 80 C (steaming but not scalding), add acid e.g. lemon juice. Once it’s all clotted, strain it through cheesecloth. Hang it up for a bit to get it to clump.

    What’s left behind can be used for soup stock (lemony and sweet from the lactose) or discarded.

    Or you can buy it, though it seems to be quite expensive.

  7. says

    I couldn’t keep anything down but iced mint tea

    If I may: PSA – applesauce if you are puking. It is way gentler than dry heaves and it tastes about the same coming up as it does going down. Also buffers acid in throat.

  8. ajbjasus says

    I’m pretty much vegetarian, but the biggest recent food poisoning incident in Europe of late came from bean sprouts.

    Processed/supermarket food.

  9. invivoMark says

    I had the opportunity to work with Sandy Eskin briefly (the USDA undersecretary for food safety quoted in the article). She’s a sharp one, and I know she’ll do whatever she can from within USDA to improve things.

    But yeah, it’s a bit scary – there are ZERO limits on salmonella contamination in raw meats. Government surveillance and monitoring systems have been helplessly watching Salmonella infantis take over the US poultry industry, and now it’s everywhere and a lot of it (not all) is MDR. And the government is practically not allowed on the farms at all because the industry lobbyists are so powerful.

  10. flange says

    After Trump and Republicans getting Big Government off their backs, I’m surprised there is a CDC and USDA.
    With the chains of restriction and regulation thrown off, the economy (of big-money business) can now mature and flourish, and the sediment trickle down.

  11. Walter Solomon says

    Factory farmed chicken is so bland it can easily be replaced with tofu without notice. This is particularly true with the white meat portions. If I’m to become a vegetarian, I’ll need to find an adequate replacement for lamb. Vindaloo just isn’t the same without lamb.

    As for food safety, there are so many ways to sterilize food (pascalization, irradiation, etc) not to mention cooking it to an adequate temperature, I don’t fear eating even the factory farmed stuff yet.

  12. brightmoon says

    This is why I always order meat well done . I’ll put up with a little dryness and toughness rather than food poisoning.

  13. rockwhisperer says

    Disconcerting, especially since we eat a lot of chicken in my household.

    I greatly admire anyone who can go vegetarian. I tried it for a couple of years, and might have made it work permanently except for a diseased colon. I spent 2.5 months in an excellent regional hospital, while a fleet of docs tried to figure out what the heck was wrong with my gut (unstoppable diarrhea and abdominal pain). They never figured out the cause. Repeated sigmoidoscopies showed a severely ulcerated lower colon that even fierce steroids couldn’t heal, and so they finally took out half of that section of intestine. The half that’s left, doesn’t tolerate most plant-based foods graciously. I eat small portions of some of them–as my nutritionist points out, dosage is the key to poison–but get most of my protein from dairy and critter. Too much plant material, and the shortened colon doesn’t cope well; insoluble fiber speeds up material moving through the gut, and the short colon can’t do its job if the stuff is running through it too fast.

    I envy you vegetarians. Before anyone offers followup comments pointing out that if I only did this or that, consider that the hospitalization was in 2018, and my nutritionist and I have worked at various approaches since then. What I’m managing now, works. Critter is part of it. Lo siento.

  14. llyris says

    @16 rockwhisperer
    I know what you mean. I have ulcerative colitis, but luckily it responds to prednisolone. I’m also on a large handful of daily medications and 8 weekly infusions.
    I still have all my colon but it moves fast and fibre can be a real downer. I generally have to avoid beans, peas, pulses, etc. I’m allergic to soy. I have to eat meat.
    Also luckily I live in Australia, I think our last food scandal was needles in strawberries. Sure, that’s a bit weird.

  15. rockwhisperer says

    @17 Ilyris
    Thanks for supportive words. I can actually tolerate small portions of pulses, which is awesome, because my psyche sometimes needs good vegetarian refried beans and salsa. Small amounts, infrequently, with Beano. Still.

    Needles in strawberries? As a resident of California, which is one of the biggest strawberry growing states in the US, that troubles me greatly. Mind you, strawberry farming in my state is one of the most pesticide-using activities, because all manner of local and imported beasties like strawberries far more than humans do. Still, having done some of my growing-up in one of our major agricultural areas, I have to go on record supporting the underpaid (and sometimes undocumented) folks who do the effort-intensive work of strawberry farming.

    Life is complicated.

  16. bachfiend says

    I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 40 years, for ethical and environmental reasons, but 4 weeks ago I decided to go the ‘whole hog,’ and turned vegan.

    I avoid the ultra-processed vegan products in supermarkets, such as Beyond Burger, and I’m suspicious of uncooked vegetables and salads.

    I buy whole vegetables and I cook them at home. I very rarely eat out in restaurants, mainly when I’m travelling, a rarity nowadays with COVID-19.

    I buy chicken hearts and gizzards for the dog (I regard them to be byproduct from the human consumption of chicken). There’s currently a shortage of chicken and other meat products owing to the virus induced shortage of workers in the Eastern States of Australia, so the dog has to be satisfied with chicken necks, plus some dry food.

    I used to feed her the chicken raw, but then I read that fresh meat has a high level of contamination with Enterococcus sp, so I now microwave the meat to cook it.

  17. R. L. Foster says

    My dad was a mess sergeant in the army and I learned a lot about cooking from him (he was a very good cook, in spite of the bad rap mess hall food gets). Clean-as-you-go was his motto. The problem with chicken contaminated with bacteria is not so much the finished product, but the prep process. When I prepare chicken I always have anti-bacterial wipes at the ready. I’m obsessive about wiping down all of my prep surfaces, cutting board, and knives. I wash my hands thoroughly many times, especially with chicken. There shall be no cross-contamination in my kitchen! The same is true with leafy greens and some fruits. I don’t put my faith in any assurances of ‘triple washed’ spinach. It gets thoroughly rinsed in a colander. I bathe my blueberries in a vinegar-water solution. I’ve had my share of bacteria caused gastrointestinal trots, and as other commenters here have testified, it’s not something you ever want to go through again.

  18. Walter Solomon says

    Reginald Selkirk @14
    Well, it does involve a lot of pressure apparently. I guess microbes don’t any better about choices involving the afterlife than people do.