Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Poisoned tomatos?

One of the top news stories for the last few days has been the salmonella cases resulting from eating fresh tomatoes. Salmonella is what commonly causes food poisoning or what we call "the green apple two step". Only 40 cases of salmonella have been identified throughout the USA - which is an infinitesimal percentage of the millions who eat fresh tomatoes on a daily basis. And we are never told if the 17 who were hospitalized were elderly or already ill from other things but I suspect they were. Most of us get food poisoning regularly and it just means we have to stay close to a toilet, a good excuse to stay home from school or work and play GTA or other video games while we "recuperate". (Oh the pain)

I remember in my fast food days many years ago, saying that certain places had the word "Express" in their names not because of the rapidity with which one was served but rather the fact that the food seemed to "express" more quickly than desirable from the South end of my body.

That this article about a small percentage of folks getting food poisoning from tomatoes has been headline news for three days now, is only nice in that it gives us a break from the usual election fighting and emphasizing how many deaths there have been of Americans in Iraq (which are reported and stressed even if the deaths had nothing to do with the fighting). The fact remains that many people do not wash their veggies before eating and most of them do not get food poisoning from it.

Many restaurants do not bother to take the time to wash the fruit or veggies before serving so the bottom line of this little piece of news may be something we all know already - one takes a risk of food poisoning every time one eats fast food or restaurant food.

My answer to seeing the article for the umpteenth time was lighthearted. I pointed out that if folks ate chocolate instead of fresh veggies they would not face this danger. (Chocolate is a veggie, you knew that, right?)

However, that being said, I have heard that one should wash the veggies with soap... I have a concern about that as soap is a chemical and may leave a residue or worse yet, be absorbed in the veggie. They have a non soap substance you can use to wash veggies in but who knows how safe that is (they advertise it in infomercials... which isn't exactly the greatest source of the truth).

And washing even with soap, may or may not help the salmonella issue - the little buggers may be living INSIDE the tomato anyway.

There is pretty good evidence that we cannot digest fresh veggies as well as we can cooked veggies, and if one is going to cook them, one can wash them with water - that gets the soil off etc - and then the cooking takes care of the rest including any nasty bacteria which are hiding within.

As the recent study suggested, we lack the enzyme to break down the cell walls of plant material so cannot access many of the nutrients of uncooked veggies. I learned that in biology also.

Since salads are such a staple among the weight conscious (that's probably most of us whether we are fat or slim), saying things like fresh veggies may not be as nutritious as cooked veggies may be an unpopular statement. However, from what I have studied, it certainly might be something to consider.

With regards to fresh fruit, further study however, in researching about the ill effects of methanol in aspartame/Nutrasweet, revealed to me that at least some fruit allowed to remain on the bush for even a short amount of time, builds up methanol in the cell wall - this apparently dissolves in cooking the fruit but if the fruit is eaten raw and the passage through the small bowel is slowed down for any reason, it can ferment and release the raw methanol which then DOES get into the system. The biochemist who showed me the studies was making an argument for saying that there is just as much methanol in fruit as in Nutrasweet (he loved Nutrasweet and didn't want to give it up). Though I was never much of a fruit eater anyway, that revelation rather killed my desires completely for uncooked fruit....

That being said, although the excuse of diagnosing better is used for everything (as in the reason why there are 1 million new cases of cancer each year now, as opposed to 100 in the early 1900's), there may be some basis for a case of over diagnosis in the case of the bacteria laden tomatoes. Many of us can get food poisoning (which is basically what salmonella can cause) from anything and not notice it because it's self limiting... As in "oh I have food poisoning today and have to be close to the toilet but I'll be back to work or school tomorrow".

Our wily news media has discovered that if folks are scared, they tend to watch the news more carefully (and also listen to the commercials which is the main point of TV anyway). So it's good to keep that in mind when listening to the news - or perhaps, better yet, when deciding it might be time to turn off the news.