It is going to be interesting to see how the whole E. coli calamity at area Taco Bells plays out. At this time there have been 36 illnesses linked to three restaurants in New Jersey and one on Long Island. Although they have not been sickened by the deadly 0157 strain, 2 of the 22 in NJ suffered a potentially deadly kidney problem called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Beyond the obvious that it came from some food substance, there hasn’t been a disclosed probable source yet. How the food became contaminated in the first place is the big question. Was it poor food handling procedures by restaurant employees or was the food contaminated before it arrived at the restaurants? Whatever the final verdict is, we are in the midst of a series (I hesitate to use the word epidemic) of E. coli outbreaks that could be a harbinger of things to come. Either we’re getting much poorer at handling our food at all levels within the food system, or the pesky bacteria is simply becoming more pervasive and difficult to control. At the very least this is all illustrative of a broken food chain that starts on massive corporate farms, leads through food processing plants, and onto the plates of American consumers.
It seems unlikely that poor food handling techniques by Taco Bell employees is the root cause because the reports do not have the affected people eating at the same restaurants. It seems more likely that the food was contaminated before it arrived at the restaurants. It remains to be seen what ingredients caused the outbreak, but I’d place money on the fact that it is the same stuff at all restaurants and came from the same root source (whether it be farm or processing plant).
As I have stated elsewhere, simply buying local does not ensure that these kinds of events will not happen again. But what buying local does is shorten the chain between farm and consumer. It gives consumers the opportunity to know where, how, and by whom their food is grown. By creating closer connections (shortening the chain), you get everyone involved and invested in the quality and safety of our food supply. Know your roots, Buy Local.