In Case You Needed Another Reason

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was renewing my Food Handler Certificate this month in the event that I ever work as a cook again.  The one-day course is to teach the essentials of proper cooking temperatures, storing, etc., as correct food prep and practices can go a long way in preventing food-borne illnesses. It also covers personal hygiene, kitchen cleanliness and other areas that can impact public health but it mainly focuses on the food.  Here’s a quick fun fact for you: over half of food-borne illness occur from food cooked in the home and over 75 percent of food-borne illnesses are a result of inadequate temperature control.

This was not the first time I’d taken the course but it was my first time as a vegan. The content was what I expected in that nearly all the food mentioned centered around meat and dairy.  I did have one pleasant surprise: the instructor, a Health Inspector with Toronto Public Health, actually showed a picture of chickens raised for meat on a factory farm (called “broilers” in the agriculture industry). That was new. She was talking about the pathogen salmonella, typically associated with chicken, and how chickens don’t actually carry this bacteria but rather “pick it up” due to the crowded conditions they are kept in on industrial farms today.  To clarify: salmonella comes from the intestinal tract and feces of both humans and animals. Because chickens are kept by the thousands in huge sheds with their food and water in the same place where they shit and urinate, they inevitably ingest some of the feces that cause salmonella.  And that’s why almost all raw chicken you buy now, even the organic birds (depending on their living conditions), contain traces of salmonella. (Remember: the term organic has nothing to do with animal treatment; it only pertains to their diet.)

By the audible gasps in the classroom at this information, it was clear not many people knew that.  Hell, I didn’t know for all those years I ate chicken and I was impressed that Toronto Public Health was as blunt as they were with this information.  It’s a step in the right direction in terms of educating the public on how their food is “made”.

The most interesting part of the day was not new information to me but it was new in the sense that I now saw it with different eyes.  Plus – not that I needed it – it gave me one more reason to believe in the benefits of a diet that didn’t include meat, dairy or eggs.

While you can get food poisoning from any food that requires cooking and certainly even from raw, whole foods if they’ve been cross-contaminated with a harmful bacteria or pathogen, this was flat-out stated in the course and in the handbook I received that day:

“Potentially Hazardous Food (food that is able to support the growth of a pathogen or the production of toxins) include: poultry, ground meats and dairy products.”

This was repeated several times throughout the day and, as I say, was not new info but I had a whole new appreciation for it this time around.  It also explained why meat and dairy were the focal point for most of the day:

1) These foods are the most susceptible to being a potential source for food-borne illness, and
2) These foods are what most people are eating and what most restaurants are serving.

Put simply: if a mass outbreak of food-borne illness occurred and meat and dairy were among the food items served and/or ingested, Toronto Public Health would begin their investigation with the meat and dairy first.

Here’s why:

Just as three things need to be present for a fire to occur (heat, fuel, oxygen), three things also need to be present for harmful micro-organisms to grow in food: the item must contain nutrients (i.e., be high in protein or carbohydrates), moisture (e.g., condensation that happens during cooking) and be low in acid (i.e., most meat and dairy). Take one of these elements away and, like removing oxygen from a fire, you drastically reduce the chance of food poisoning or illness. That is why, “poultry, ground meats and dairy products” are considered potentially hazardous: the presence of all three factors occur frequently in these items during the slaughter, extraction, preparation and/or cooking process of animals. Obviously, people eat these items everyday and aren’t getting sick if they’ve been cooked, stored, pasteurized, reheated, etc., to the correct temperatures.  But for me, it was another reason to champion the vegan diet and one more reason to spare not only the animals, but ourselves.

This concludes today’s lesson.  Thanks so much for stopping by!

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