Sunday, December 26, 2010

Careful What You Eat, Drink Or Breathe-- And It'll Get Worse When The New "Caveat Emptor" Congress Starts Asserting Itself


Not many people want big government interfering in their lives-- reading their e-mails, telling them who they can or can't love, forcing them to subsidize social parasites like the banksters who chronically gambled, lost and demanded-- successfully-- to be reimbursed by the taxpayers. However, in a modern, complex, impersonal society, big government serves as a countervailing force for society in general against the special interests of powerful private, selfish corporations and individuals.

In Chicago this week, for example, around 100 people got sick after eating a dessert from Rolf's Patisserie in suburban Lincolnwood-- some at company events and catered parties, others at restaurants or private holiday parties. The desserts were contaminated with staphylococcus aureus bacteria, a staph infection that causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Normally the contamination is caused by unhygienic procedures and after ingesting the toxins people can get ill in as little as 30 minutes, although more typically the infection manifests itself in between an hour and six hours. Usually a day or two later the victim is back to normal.

The Illinois Department of Public Health issued a warning to consumers and closed down the bakery, and the company is "voluntarily" recalling all products made after November 1, 2010, while retailers and restaurants were asked to remove and discard the recalled desserts from their shelves.

Government needs to protect consumers by making sure companies that prepare food for the public follow the procedures that protect against foodborne illnesses. This is how staphylococcus aureus infection is prevented:
1. Wash hands and under fingernails vigorously with soap and water before handling and preparing food.

2. Do not prepare food if you have a nose or eye infection.

3. Do not prepare or serve food for others if you have wounds or skin infections on your hands or wrists.

4. Keep kitchens and food-serving areas clean and sanitized.

5. If food is to be stored longer than two hours, keep hot foods hot (over 140°F) and cold foods cold (40°F or under).

6. Store cooked food in a wide, shallow container and refrigerate as soon as possible.

I'm in Marrakech, Morocco, right now. I started coming here in 1969, and I've been here at least a dozen times since. One of the rights-of-passage for a Morocco traveler is to eat in a food stall in the main square, the Jemaa el Fna, even if you don't want to go all the way and sit down for some goat's-head soup.

These days it isn't only hippies and jet-setters visiting Marrakech. Thousands and thousands of middle- and working-class Europeans flood the city-- and the Jemma-- every day.And even Morocco now has food inspectors trying to keep tourists from getting sick by pressuring the food stalls to use hygienic procedures. Since all dishes are washed in buckets of turgid water, I doubt it works too well. But Morocco is very dependent on its burgeoning tourist industry, and if tourists routinely get sick, it would badly impact the economy.

Although conservatives and "free market" ideologues have always fought against government regulation of business-- claiming businesses that make people ill, or even kill them, will be driven out of business-- most modern societies have recognized that conservatives (as usual) were on the wrong side of history.

Let's go back to Rolf's Patisserie in Lakewood for a moment. Never been there, never heard of the joint or even of the Cook County community, right? OK, what about Whole Foods? Whole Foods, a commercialized quasi-version of a national chain of health food stores, sells Rolf's infected products in 23 states. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a national recall of Rolf's gingerbread houses on Friday.
All desserts made by Rolf's, which are sold through retail outlets, wholesalers and online, are being recalled after being connected to several outbreaks of staphylococcus aureus food poisoning... A total of 100 cases have been reported from four separate events in November and December, most of them in Illinois and Wisconsin.

The FDA recommends disposing of the desserts in a sealed container so people and animals cannot access or eat them. The company is working with retailers and restaurants to remove and discard the contaminated products from shelves.

Yep, online too. And government? Protecting the public, whether from avaricious banksters or careless food processors-- YES; interfering with individual rights-- NEVER! Today's NY Times has a profile of unlikely congressional victor Joe Walsh from the 'burbs north of Chicago (north of Rolf's Patisserie), a teabagger who vanquished corrupt New Dem Melissa Bean. He promptly turned down congressional healthcare, pension and retirement packages. Honorable, given that his priorities are to repeal healthcare for Americans and gut Social Security. He has a very limited view of government's role: “Protect my borders, protect Americans on their streets, keep our highways paved and our environment clean, defend us overseas, and help those who can’t help themselves." That's it. “I’m going to D.C. absolutely prepared to lose in two years," he declared.

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