Bacterial contamination of produce, including Organic



By Catherine Haug, August 21, 2015 (Photo, right, from Wikipedia)

The lifestyle blog, Take Part, featured an article today titled Your Organic Spinach Could Be More Dangerous Than Meat, by Willy Blackmore (1). At issue is contamination of vegetable crops, both Organic and conventional, primarily by contaminated animal waste (primarily from CAFOs – Confinement Animal Feeding Operations) leaching into ground water.

A classic example was a 39-state recall of E. coli-contaminated spinach a few years back, that was caused by animal waste from a nearby CAFO leaching into groundwater regularly used to water the crops. Similar recalls have involved listeria and other pathogens.

Data from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) indicate food-borne illness is far more likely from produce, than for poultry, seafood, red meat, eggs or dairy (2).

What is the solution to this problem?

What to do about contaminated produce

Contamination happens in many ways, but as mentioned above, one of the most common is from using contaminated ground water to water crops. There are many ways the ground water can become contaminated, including (but not limited to)

  • CAFO animal waste (pathogen contamination);
  • Slaughterhouse waste (pathogen contamination);
  • Mineral mine waste (heavy-metal contamination);
  • Industrial waste (heavy-metal and toxic chemical contamination).

Other sources of pathogen and other contamination include:

  • Improperly/insufficiently composted food and/or human waste used to fertilize crops;
  • Contaminated animal manure used to fertilize crops;
  • Agricultural chemical sprays (herbicides, pesticides).

What you can and should do to minimize your exposure to contaminated foods

I realize many of our readers shop at Costco and other large food retailers. But can you trust them to put your health first, above their bottom line? The Take Part article on produce contamination (1) especially mentions problems at large retailers. Adding to the issues, another Take Part article (2) concerns seafood sold by Costco and originating from Asian countries that use slave labor.

The number one advice: Grow/raise your own produce/livestock. But not all of us can do that.

The next most important and effective thing you can do is to buy your produce and meats from local farmers/ranchers whose methods you trust. Interview them concerning the following concerns. This list may seem daunting, but consider this: would you rather spend a few extra hours a year doing this kind of investigation? or deal with illness/death in your family from contaminated food?

  • How/what their livestock is fed through the seasons;
  • If commercial feed is used, investigate its source, and whether or not it contains potentially GMO corn or soy (because GMO crops are heavily sprayed with toxic herbicides/pesticides that then becomes a part of the meat/dairy/eggs from the livestock);
  • How their livestock is housed (pastured and truly free-range is best);
  • How/where their livestock is slaughtered and butchered (then visit the appropriate facilities to observe methods of cleanliness, humanity, etc.);
  • Do they use Organic methods to grow their crops;
  • What, if any, pesticides/herbicides are used;
  • What, if any, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals/chemicals are used for the care of livestock;
  • What is the source of their water (then investigate up-stream for potential sources of contamination; this is especially important if there are any mining operations in the area, such as the CFAC facility in Columbia Falls);
  • Anything else you consider pertinent.

When you shop at a local farmers market or a farm-stand, you are much less likely to get contaminated food (then if you shop at a supermarket), but it is still a good idea to interview the seller.

When you shop at a large national or regional retail business, buyer beware! because you don’t know much about their source and it is extremely difficult to learn how the food has been raised and handled.

When you eat out, interview the owner/chef about his/her food sources.


  3. CDC foodborne illness data: (especially the charts on page 8)

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