When my first child was born I was 26 years old. This was long before the internet so my maternal crazy was confined to magazines and stuff my doctor told me.
One cautionary tale he told was about baby powder. Seems there was a baby being changed who grabbed — as babies do — the container of powder, probably because it looked an awful lot like her bottle. The baby popped it up to her mouth, instantly filling her lungs with powder. It did not end well for the baby and it freaked me out. We did not powder that cute widdle heinie. Ever.
Eighteen months later, I had a boy. My doctor told me another story. (You’d think I’d change doctors, but no. I LOVED this doctor. He was practical, had a passel of kids of his own, and I assume he told only the stories I needed to hear and/or could handle.) This one was about a baby boy whose mother’s strands of long hair was found wrapped around his winkie, creating a dangerous little garrote. Guess who had long hair and was a lousy housekeeper? So that freaked me out too.
I thank the Universe every day that the internet was still a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye when my kids were little.
I’m reminded of both those stories and the anxiety they caused me as the news about the current listeria outbreak bombards me from all sides. The ridiculous thing is, I don’t like cantaloupe — I never buy it so the odds of getting listeria are, what, pretty close to zero? But the constant reminders in the news and all over the internet are still freaking me out a bit. (And grossing me out. If I never see video of cantaloupe getting sliced and diced and smooshed again, it’ll be too soon. All that beige juice squishing out everywhere … ick.)
It probably didn’t help that when we were out at breakfast last week my husband dug into the slice of cantaloupe on his plate with the same kind of gusto he normally reserves for non-listeria tainted foods. Clearly, he trusts the recall procedures more than I do. But I did mark the 70-day incubation period on the calendar in case I need a good told you so.
I try not to worry about things I have no control over, or things that have really low odds of happening. Like getting listeria from something I don’t ever — ever — buy or eat.
But I started thinking about the other foodborne illnesses out there. In the CDC’s FAQs it says, “The CDC estimates that that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.”
We’re faced with risks all day, every day, but I’ve always felt fairly confident in my food choices. After all, I don’t eat runny eggs, raw milk or raw shellfish. I seem to be eating less and less meat these days, but when I do, I cook the hell out of it.
But then I read this, also from the CDC: “Fruits and vegetable consumed raw are a particular concern. Washing can decrease but not eliminate contamination, so the consumers can do little to protect themselves.” Arrggh.
So, while I’m not overly worried about foodborne illnesses — and maybe even a little bit resigned — I’m curious. What do you do when confronted with the idea that your food is potentially full of cooties that you can’t do anything about? What do you do to avoid food poisoning? How safe do you feel, foodfully speaking?