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Food paranoia?

r
rainey Dec 1, 2009 07:26 AM

I've read a few threads in which people ask about the safety of food and get responses. As you'd expect there's a range of opinion about what constitutes good food hygiene. I'd be willing to bet there are responses that fall into the factually "wrong" area on both sides of the spectrum. Still, and in my *opinion* there's a lot of overreaction.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't different standards on a continuum for what you'd eat yourself, what you'd feed your family, what you'd feed company and what you'd feed a fragile person. Or what a restaurant should be permitted to serve the public. In my case the "5 second rule" is more like a "5 or 10 minute rule". But I grew up with a grandfather who shot his own meat and saw the deer hanging on his garage for a week or so before he'd ever butcher them. And I ate baby veggies he picked for me from his garden even when dirt was clinging to them. I ate outside with dirty hands all the time when I was a kid whether it was picking up a sandwich I'd dropped in the sandbox or an apple I was picking from a tree. At 62 I still have a clear sensual memory of what dirt tastes like. And a treasured memory of drinking the coldest, most delicious water from a natural spring that I could see the frogs swimming in.

I also know what French bread that rested unwrapped in someone's arm pit on the way home from school tastes like. And stews that simmered under the cigarette that drooped from the cook's lip. And cheeses that aged unwrapped in caves with only natural geo-cooling. And vinegar that ferments uncovered in my pantry as I type And tomatoes from my garden that I have to wash bird doo from. I could go on.

My point is that no one should eat what they don't enjoy and feel good about. Ever. But some folks could be subjecting themselves to unnecessary anxiety and distress. That just makes me sad. It's also worth considering current research about typical contemporary American hyper-hygiene. Seems it subjects kids to exaggerated risk or incidence of allergy. The advice that follows from the research is let your kids have pets. Let pets in the kitchen. Let them expose themselves to things that *assault* their immune systems so that they have an opportunity to *build up* an immune system.

My thought has always been that it wouldn't be an overcrowded planet if we were that fragile. ...with a touch of that-which-doesn't-kill-us-makes-us-stronger thrown in for good measure. So this is NOT an accusation or a demand and it shouldn't be read that way. It's just a wish that folks who wish to could relax and enjoy and increase the sense of we're all just fine here. Consider it or ignore it as you see fit.

  1. c
    Cookiephage Dec 14, 2009 04:33 AM

    Not every dish that has been left out overnight will cause illness, but nor is every such dish safe. Some people get sick from unwashed vegetables, and others eat "dirt" and proclaim that it's perfectly safe. Our immune systems are as individual as we are. I don't think there can be a blanket rule that protects everyone.

    Part of the problem is just that people have not developed or lost appropriate instincts for food safety. Microorganisms require food, water, an appropriate temperature, and time to grow. Some species are more dangerous than others and since most people can't really tell the difference without a microscope/expert, the best way to protect oneself is to keep a close eye on where the food has come from/how it has been stored/how it is prepared before it is re/eaten. Appropriate storage of left-overs is important since some bacterial products (toxins) are heat-resistant.

    I prefer to be safe than sorry, but I draw my own line based on what I know about my own body and the things that can grow on my food.

    1. Bryn Dec 13, 2009 07:23 AM

      Last year I took a course called Food Safety and Media. It really brought to light that:

      a) When communicating to people you need to use between Grade 8 to 10 reading level,
      b) Common sense/ Knowledge isn't,
      c) You can't talk down to someone or laugh at them when answering questions or conveying information to them.

      There is soooo much conflicting information out there and anyone can put respectable doctors' names on it (see soy is bad), but I think it is important to remember that we know more than most people when it comes to food safety and we have to share that information and not laugh at other peoples questions because they are valid.

      1. amyzan Dec 11, 2009 11:17 AM

        I've had similar thoughts while perusing Chowhound. Some of the ways people express their concerns just strike me funny. It's almost as if some people don't get that our food is from the earth and from animals that um, defecate. Now I have food allergies and sensitivities, so I understand a lot of the confusion and fear. It's scary when food can poison you or make you ill. To my mind, this elicits a desire for education. I realize many people don't have the benefit of critical thinking skills, having somehow gotten through the educational system missing that valuable component. I won't even go into the disservice the media does, which I consider to be just so much fear mongering.

        Rainey, I'm 41, and I have many of the same memories about food and water you do. I was lucky to grow up with parents and grandparents who gardened and/or farmed. There is that my grandmother poisoned the family once with sloppy canning practices, but we don't talk about that incident now that's she's gone. Anyway, I can relate and I hope you will take some comfort that a person 21 years younger does relate to your experiences. The world may be changing quickly, but knowledge passed from one generation to the next does influence and carry on.

        5 Replies
        1. re: amyzan
          r
          rainey Dec 11, 2009 11:37 AM

          That just highlights that other American tragedy: we don't have people passing on the traditions of preparing food from its source.

          As a pre-school teacher my kids sang a little song called "Dirt Made my Lunch" but, at the same time all their food came from cans and jars and their parents were as dumbfounded as the kids were to find out you could make applesauce from actual apples and that it's not all that much harder than opening a jar of the commercial stuff. As teachers we were cognizant how much foundation for math and science is resident in cooking and yet so few parents actually cook with their kids anymore. At least in the highly urban, two-income families that were our school population. But the kids ate it up with a spoon! Literally and figuratively.

          So many people are interested in things like making an occasional jam. ...if only they weren't so apprehensive about things they've never seen done and have only the caveats to cling to. So sensible and reasonable. So sad. ::sigh::

          1. re: rainey
            amyzan Dec 11, 2009 07:44 PM

            If there's any comfort to be found in the current economic situation, it's that Americans seem to be getting back to basics on food. They're going to farmer's markets, stocking up in season, learning how to cook and can and freeze, and teaching their children these skills. At least here in the Midwest where I live, this is a huge trend. Maybe it's not quite mainstream, but it's a trend not to be taken unnoticed. I take great comfort in it, and hold onto hope for our foodways, rainey. Local farmers cannot keep up with demand. Cooking classes fill quickly at all the groceries and schools. CSAs here have long waiting lists. The situation may improve as more people look to go local and learn to prepare food at home.

            1. re: amyzan
              r
              rainey Dec 11, 2009 07:48 PM

              Wonderful news!

              1. re: amyzan
                EWSflash Dec 13, 2009 07:10 AM

                That's great news, but I sure see a lot of the opposite behavior- enough to make me scared. When my coworkers go to McDonalds instead of the Chinese place across the street from work for lunch to avoid food poisoning, it sounds a big ugly alarm that rings on so many levels for me.

                Mind you, nobody's ever actually gotten sick from the local Chinese place across the street except the diabetics I work with that will only order the General Tso's chicken and drown it with sweet/sour sauce. Then they talk about feeling sick all that night. Food poisoning? I have to wonder.

                1. re: EWSflash
                  alanbarnes Dec 13, 2009 09:56 AM

                  >>"my coworkers go to McDonalds instead of the Chinese place across the street from work for lunch to avoid food poisoning"<<

                  What, don't you have a Jack in the Box nearby?

          2. alanbarnes Dec 2, 2009 01:48 PM

            I'm torn. Those who provide food safety advice do so for the best of reasons - to help keep people from getting sick. They do so with the best of intentions, and accomplish a lot of good by providing solid information.

            The problem is that the information provided has to be somewhat simplistic. Give the typical overworked home cook a three-page decision tree and s/he's just going to be overwhelmed by the amount of information. But a PSA that says not to eat food that's been in the "danger zone" for more than an hour will make an impression. Especially if it's accompanied by suitably ominous music and dramatic voiceovers.

            Then there's the way the media handles food safety issues. The only alternative to hysteria seems to be no response at all. Level-headed analysis of fairly boring data sets doesn't make for a lead story on the local nightly news.

            There are significant food safety risks out there. We should be doing a lot more to address the underlying causes, but in the meantime people need to be educated as to steps they can take to minimize the risk of serious illness. And that education can't require graduate-level microbiology or epidemiology to understand; it has to be basic principles, simply presented.

            Which leads to people concluding that a medium-rare hamburger fresh-ground from a clean chuck steak is sure to kill them. Argh.

            2 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes
              f
              fourunder Dec 13, 2009 06:56 AM

              I'm torn. Those who provide food safety advice do so for the best of reasons - to help keep people from getting sick. They do so with the best of intentions, and accomplish a lot of good by providing solid information.
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

              While this is very true, I can't help but feel there are a few who do so because they feel they know more and are smarter than you, evident by the fact it usually starts with.....you don't know what you're talking about.....

              With regards to food paranoia....does anyone remember the poster who got upset when the grocery worker placed her items packed in a bag on the floor? What about the lasagna thread that is current? My position on food left out.....there was a time when there was no refrigeration available....not even block ice.... Moms and Grandma's madae food in the morning and it sat out all day until finished......for the record, in the summer months though, I will adhere to the two hour rule.

              1. re: fourunder
                r
                rainey Dec 13, 2009 10:47 AM

                H*ll, I can remember at our summer cottage getting ice blocks covered in sawdust to put in the "ice box" (so named because that's how it worked) to keep food. Or, in France and in college, putting it out on the window ledge overnight in the winter. ...and living to tell about it. ;>

            2. g
              gordeaux Dec 1, 2009 12:45 PM

              My mil is scared to death of chicken. Like funny scared. Compulsive scared. We need to make pasta once for a pasta salad. Check this out. So - ok fromm the beginning - they have very little idea how to cook anything. They live in the boonies cilantro and ginger are exotic. Mostly meat and potatoes - liked baked chicken, stewed beef, or grilled meat and potatoes. Rice is fancy. You get the drift. So anyway, one day, they were planning on baking up some boneless skinless chicken breasts (ya know - the ones that come individually frozen in a 5 lb bag, and magically, they are all the same exact size?) Well, they weren't thawing fast enough, so, they decided to fill up a big pot of water, put it on a burner, and put the little birdie parts in the pot. (Like I said, clueless.) So anyway, the chix parts were probably halfway cooked in the boiling water, and they decided that was "enough," and they were "thawed" sufficiently. So, we needed to make pasta salad. I suggested we salt the water that the chicken was boiling away in, and toss the pasta in. NO WAY! Salmonella alert! Salmonella alert! We can't do that!. I actually asked why (knowing that I'd get a lifelong chuckle out of the answer) Here's the answer I got word for word:
              "Because the chicken that was in the boiling water was removed from the water before it was fully cooked"

              She actually believed what she said.

              So, folks, beware. If chicken is not fully cooked before you remove it from boiling water, then that boiling water is surely contaminated with some kind of bacteria.. You can let that water boil away for an hour after the chicken is removed, but it will still be deadly.

              1. a
                anakalia Dec 1, 2009 12:06 PM

                I agree! While I do toss food that starts to smell "off" -- even if it's probably all right to eat -- I am definitely NOT uptight about what has been sitting where for too long. Maybe I'm just lucky but I've never had food poisoning. I also think perhaps the fact that I DO eat this way has led to me having a slightly stronger stomach than some of my friends who seem to get "food poisoning" on an almost monthly basis.

                My mother, who is 60, was always quite paranoid about wrapping food up and refidgerating it immediately after the meal. Finally, in the least year or so, she's really mellowed out, and she told me she's been so worried for years over nothing. I agreed - after all, in college, I always ate pizza we had ordered the night before and left sitting out for 24 hours... I never got sick.

                On a related note, every holiday season, the government always reminds Americans to properly chill their cheeses -- I remember someone telling me they recommend putting your cheese in the fridge if it's out for more than 30 minutes, and swapping it with another, so the temps never get too warm. Then I moved to France last year and, surprise surprise, NONE of the cheese in the fromageries is refrigerated. Imagine my surprise...

                1 Reply
                1. re: anakalia
                  r
                  rainey Dec 1, 2009 12:21 PM

                  Man! You can't properly *taste* many cheeses until they've come up to room temp!

                2. MGZ Dec 1, 2009 09:48 AM

                  On the one hand, your post reminded me of my recent realization that dirt smells clean. On the other hand, it reminded me of Mike Judge's movie Idiocracy and the consequences of interfering with the process of natural selection.

                  In the interest of disclosure, I used to clam with a knife and tabasco in my pocket so I could eat 'em fresh out of the warm bay - oysters, too if I got lucky!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MGZ
                    r
                    rainey Dec 1, 2009 09:59 AM

                    I compost as well as grow some of my own produce. I really love the organic smell of my fresh soil!

                    Mmmmm! How I'd love to go clamming again. The smell of that muck up to my knees when I was a kid is another one of those memories I'd never part with! That was Maine. We don't have no clamming in Los Angeles. ::sigh::

                    1. re: rainey
                      Sam Fujisaka Dec 2, 2009 03:22 AM

                      And you never clammed at Pismo? We grew up doing so. There it was sand and not muck between the toes.

                  2. bushwickgirl Dec 1, 2009 08:19 AM

                    I have a lot of those memoires too, including pets, pets in the kitchen and the dirt one. After 25 years in the restaurant business and 58 years of happy eating, I have never knowingly had an episode of food-borne illness. I take reasonable precautions, wash my hands, no cross-contamination, proper storage and refrigeration, all those things I learned in culinary school and, beyond that, I just can't worry about it all. There's just too much else going on in the world to be concerned about.
                    I frequently read about food-related anxieties and some of the mistrust regarding restaurant prepared foods on these boards; it's distressing to me that the mistrust exists. I realize that people have they're reasons for such, according to their individual experiences, but we seem to have an overwhelming concern about our food supply and safety, which may or may not be warranted. I wish it wasn't. Perhaps that overwhelming concern will become pro-active and will eventually be the catalyst for change in our food production methods in the US.
                    My wish is that no one ever becomes ill from what they've ingested. All I can say is that I've been fine throughout my life and I wish that others could "relax and enjoy", as well. If we could step back in time and see what our ancestors ate and drank, I think the conclusion could easily be drawn that we have, in this century, a pretty good deal.
                    JMO.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: bushwickgirl
                      r
                      rainey Dec 1, 2009 09:02 AM

                      Sadly, the concern is often misdirected. Where is the outrage about inhumane feed lots that pollute the ground and ground water and result in things like salmonella tainted spinach and watermelon grown miles away? Did you ever think that fruits and vegetables would be significant sources of really noxious pathogens?

                      Pass me the food from a restaurant kitchen that had actual human hands on it and feed me meat, eggs and dairy from animals that had lives and deaths we don't need to be ashamed of!

                      1. re: rainey
                        bushwickgirl Dec 1, 2009 10:03 AM

                        "Did you ever think that fruits and vegetables would be significant sources of really noxious pathogens? "
                        Not in a million years. Certainly one could ask if our food supply is safe and go on to draw some pretty anxiety-ridden conclusions.
                        I worked with a French woman 20 years ago, in a nice restaurant and she told me that she thought the food in this country was crap. Her socially exclusive attitude notwithstanding, I was offended at first, not having traveled much outside of the US, but I sure as hell understand what she meant now.
                        It's certainly easy to see the source of concern, as I think Americans have been rather blase about where their food comes from for at least a few decades now. We eat very well in this country, we're safe, our kids are well fed, supermarkets are well stocked, why think about it. We don't want it taken away, either.
                        We're very detached from gardens and chickens and pigs in the backyard, from being involved with the actual production of food, as my or your parents understood it. Americans don't have a solid sense of connection with food, where it really comes from. This is simplistic, but we live to eat in this country, rather than eat to live. Inhumane feedlots and tainted spinach exist because of that lack of connection.
                        I feel the rumblings of a change starting up, I read about it in NYT articles, I see it with the change in attitude regarding food procurement and sourcing in restaurants and hear it discussed at places like Chow. Seeds of change? I hope so. It's beyond time to just think about it.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl
                          r
                          rainey Dec 1, 2009 11:32 AM

                          Couldn't agree more!

                          This is what Alice Waters has been saying for close to 50 years now. And one President's wife finally listened carefully enough to put in a garden and invite kids to work in it and eat from it. (The Clintons yessed her to death and did nothing thru 2 administrations.)

                          When I lived in a small town in France everyone who lived in a worked in the tight confines of town had a garden on the outskirts. And there still is no faster way to stir up the French population than to suggest tampering with their food supply or traditional methods.

                          They eat better, enjoy more and live longer! Even if they permit dogs in restaurants and smoke like chimneys. ;>

                        2. re: rainey
                          d
                          danieljdwyer Dec 2, 2009 12:33 PM

                          Thank you. I couldn't agree more. There is such a panic over testing food, cooking it enough, storing it properly, et cetera, that it seems like no one is bothering to ask why their food is so dirty as to require all this special handling. Vegetables certainly should not be full of pathogens, but neither should meat, eggs, or dairy. If these things were, by nature, disease ridden, our species would have died out hundreds of thousands of years ago.

                      2. elfcook Dec 1, 2009 07:32 AM

                        I can see both sides. I expect my kids to get dirty, and having a dog & a horse guarantees that there is dirt, hay, germs, and more tracked in & out of our house. I keep it clean, not surgically sanitized at all times. I also ate out of the garden as a kid, and the 5 second rule is extended - depending on individual circumstances.

                        However, I am the first one to toss food if I *think* there is something wrong. It drives my husband nuts. I just cannot serve it to my kids if I think it has been hanging around too long, or smells funny. I did have a rotten bout of food poisoning once which I think added to my paranoia. I am sure I have wasted food that was fine, but I know myself & I will worry about it way too much. So I try to buy things in smaller amounts that will get used, or freeze it & take out as needed. And I am pretty careful about washing up to avoid cross contamination.

                        My opinion - do what works for you!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: elfcook
                          c
                          chefdara Dec 11, 2009 02:27 PM

                          I am totally with you rainey....i grew up the same way. Drank water from a garden hose most every day because no way was going inside in case there was a chore waiting for me. Played in the creek and ate my fair share of food dropped in dirt, sand, tan bark. For me it has to be personal choice. I have been known to eat leftovers after they have been in my fridge for two weeks and even more; one sniff is all it takes and if it doesn't have an offensive odor I eat it. I grew up eating leftovers; my mother never wasted food and the same holds true in my household now. I am lucky I have a child that is happy to eat whatever I put in front of her and as long as I would eat it then she will too.

                          1. re: chefdara
                            r
                            rainey Dec 11, 2009 06:55 PM

                            I am still eating left over turkey from Thanksgiving two weeks ago as I read your post. Bet a lot of folks would have tossed it by now but, as Tony the Tiger would say, it's GRRRRReat as the last bits of turkey pot pie ;>

                            1. re: chefdara
                              j
                              James Cristinian Dec 13, 2009 11:31 AM

                              chefdara, nothing finer than hose water on a 95 degree day when you're a kid playing outside all day. At football practice, the neanderthal coaches thought too much water was bad for you, (70's Houston), and sprayed you like cattle during 90 plus practice days. We would drink out of our helmets and suck the water from our jerseys, the same ones that had been in our lockers for a week in a stinky lockeroom. We took our gear home on Fridays for washing.

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