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Lucky accident slashes food poisonings

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 22, 2011

A new natural food additive, discovered in a laboratory accident, is now ready to slash by half the number of hospitalizations and deaths from food-borne bacterial poisoning across the Western World.  

In July, salmonella traced to ground turkey hospitalized 78 people in 26 states and was blamed for one death. Nationwide, such deadly food-borne bacteria as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria claim an estimated 48 million victims per year, with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The bacteria attack even more viciously in countries with cruder defenses.   

Now, hundreds of thousands of anguished parents, relatives and friends will not find themselves standing by hospital beds because a victim innocently ate something that should have been safe -- thanks to the new food additive.

That's today's good news. The bad news is that the other half of our food-borne bacteria victims are still at risk. We still refuse to use safe, cheap "electronic pasteurizing" to kill the deadly bacteria on our fresh produce -- such as the E. coli-infested bean sprouts that recently sickened 3900 people and killed 39 in Europe.  

Food Scientist Dan O'Sullivan at the University of Minnesota found the new natural food additive because he was looking at food bacteria microscopically and knew what he had when he found it. The new food additive is a "lantibiotic," a peptide produced naturally. It kills gram-negative bacteria -- including most of the harmful ones.  

The new lantibiotic can be added safely to hamburger and other ground meats, egg and dairy products, seafood, salad dressing, canned foods and many other products. It's nontoxic, easy to digest and doesn't induce allergies. It's also hard for bacteria to develop resistance to it. It has been patented by the University of Minnesota and will now be licensed for industry-wide use. Watch for it.

This kind of food safety advance was supposed to come from the government's new Food Safety Act, which is hiring lots of new food inspectors to chase food-borne bacteria after they've already sickened or killed their victims. That's a fool's game because the bacteria are so pervasive, and often appear only fleetingly in the food chain. The food inspectors will spend millions of hours without preventing much danger. In 2006, contaminated California spinach killed 3 and hospitalized 276. The source may have been found -- weeks later -- in a nearby cattle pasture, with a fence that had been penetrated by feral hogs. But that doesn't tell us how to prevent future E. coli O157 outbreaks since the E. coli O157 has been found in every cattle herd ever tested for it.

Unfortunately, our "food scare industry" loves the new law, because, not being at all preventative, it leaves them free to proclaim profitable "answers" such as organic food and "nature's own" products that are not demonstrably safer.

Electronic pasteurization has been on the shelf for decades, safety-tested, approved by medical authorities worldwide and cheap. It even makes the produce taste better and fresher because it kills the spoilage bacteria too.  The world got pasteurized milk because of a tuberculosis epidemic in the dairy cows, which were spreading it through their milk. What will it take to reassure our consumers that technology is better than thousands of hospitalized children per year?

The best news for me, besides the thousands of people who don't become ill, is that the food scare industry will now have only half as many food-borne illnesses to crow about in the press. Unfortunately, you will still be playing a needless game of Russian roulette with your family's health when you buy fresh fruits and vegetables -- even organic ones. Good luck. ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to cgfi@hughes.net or visit us at www.cgfi.org.


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