What IS on the end of your fork?

Of course I have been aware of the food scare crisis going on in China over recent weeks, but I admit it was only last week that I sat up and really took notice. I was emailed a list of some of the potentially contaminated products and was disturbed to say the least when I saw on the list the same Baby Bite rusks that my little boy has been powering his way through for the last year.

Like many people I imagine, I had thought the risk were limited only to certain brands of baby formula. Apparently not, it appears it could even be spreading in far wider food circles than that, even covering Dove chocolate and M&M’s.

With 4 Chinese babies already dead and nearly 11,000 babies and children still being hospitalised, the world is now sitting up and starting to get itself into something of a flap. Dozens of countries, from Indonesia to Kenya to Colombia, have now banned Chinese dairy imports amid fears sparked by the tainted infant formula.

As a precautionary measure, Tesco (UK) removed ‘White Rabbit’ milk sweets from its shelves, a brand that the New Zealand’s Food Safety Authority have now warned contains “unacceptable” levels of melamine – a chemical used in making plastics and fertilizer that can cause kidney stones and even kidney failure.

Of course the Chinese government are busy trying to play down the problem, or in other words stick their head in the sand where no one can ask them too many awkward questions. Despite Xiang Yuzhang, the quality watchdog’s chief inspection official, telling reporters in Beijing that “There is no problem,” the world it seems is just not buying it. Perhaps because another senior Chinese product safety official has also insisted that the problem was “under control, more or less“.

Not the most comforting of words to use really, ‘more or less’. Those in charge of Chinese media spin must be shaking their heads in horror.

It does seem these days, according to the media at least, like the world is forever lurching from one food scare to another. It’s hard to know what’s safe to eat anymore, whether something is healthy or packed full of cancerous additives and which panic reports and urban myths to believe.

A World Health Organization study reported this year that unsafe food is responsible for illnesses in at least 2 billion people.

Of course it’s impossible and unrealistic to expect everything we eat to be 100% germ free. Food now is grown, flown and consumed all over the world and passes through more pairs of hands than you can shake a stick at. So while you may keep your kitchen as sterile as an operating room and religiously and rigorously wash every piece of fruit that you eat, the chances are the food you eat has already been contaminated in some way, long before you even brought it home. Possibly 1000’s of miles away by some backpacking fruit picker who went to use the loo and forgot to wash his hands. What a lovely image as you bite into your Royal Gala.

A long history of food scares, many of which turn out to be completely unfounded are enough to have you turning anorexic with fear.

The outbreak of listeria in 1989 that had customers fleeing from  supermarket soft cheese and cooked chicken. Edwina Curries ‘egg fiasco’ of 1999, when the country stopped poaching, scrambling and boiling their breakfast for fear of getting salmonella. The 23% of pigs taken for slaughter that the British Government then reported were also infected with salmonella in 2000. The BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and the outbreak of E coli that caused widespread mayhem in 1997.

The numerous links with cancer for a whole host of foods, including salmon, prawns, low fat milk, MEAT, bread, rice and even potatoes. The reports that cling film was dangerous, chickens nursing the flu could kill and swordfish gives you mercury poisoning. The concerns over food irradiation and the ongoing debate surrounding margarine.  The media furore over GM (genetic modification) food and the unknown fear over what long term effect a chemically enhanced cucumber may have on our body in 20 years time.

Even trying to eat your 5, or is that now meant to be 7-a-day has become a mission in staying alive, with recent reports of fresh spinach, tomatoes and peppers all testing positive for salmonella and certain brands of carrot juice (organic no less) being linked to botulism.

When you start looking at your fork and wondering what exactly is in the food you are about to eat and whether it will one day cause you to grow another limb, then you know it’s time to dig out a vegetable plot and only eat what you can manage to grow.

Much like with the everyday products that we use, the medications we pump into our bodies and the diets that we follow, it seems that in this day and age, eating has never been so dangerous.

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