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Something Smells Bad

Something Smells Bad

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Published by: api-3704682 on Oct 17, 2008
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Something Smells Bad
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4/8/2008 5:54 PM
Something Smells Bad
How to Avoid Food Poisoning

We see advertising actually creating and naming taboos. The most famous, B O and Halitosis, are archaeological specimens from an age which we might fix as either Late Iron Tonic or Early Soap... Bad breath and body odour have always existed, of course, but as individual matters. To transfer them from personal idiosyncrasies into tribal taboos is a magicianly trick indeed.

- Howard Luck Gossage
Something Smells Bad
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by David Schardt & Stephen Schmidt

"I want to tell you about what it's like to survive a severe attack ofSalmonella, because there are
too many people who have died and can't tell you what it is like. I gotSalmonella from
something I ate. The most likely culprits are a chicken sandwich and an undercooked egg salad
sandwich. I first got diarrhoea which lasted for days and days. Then quite suddenly, the
diarrh\u0153a stopped. Soon I felt as if there was a red hot brick inside me. It was the most awful
thing I had ever experienced. I knew that I had to go to the hospital. And I knew that I was
going to need surgery to live..."

Washington, DC, businessman Bill Adler, Jr. almost died in 1990 after eating
Salmonella-contaminated food. "Fifty-five thousand dollars later, I'm as healthy as I was before

this happened," he says. The only casualties: the colostomy he had for nearly a year and the four inches that were cut from his colon. Adler was lucky. He lived. Twenty-five Americans will die today - and another 16,000 will become ill - from something they ate.

Here are the foods that are most likely to make you sick. (The list doesn't include seafood.)
Chicken and Turkey

Russian roulette. If you're among the most susceptible, one out of every four chickens - and one
out of every seven turkeys - has enoughSalmonella to make you sick... or kill you. It's that
simple. And while cooking destroys the bacteria, that message doesn't always get through. The
US Department of Agriculture estimates that anywhere from 350,000 to 2.5 million Americans are
taken ill - and 350 to 2,500 die - every year after eatingSalmonella-contaminated poultry and

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meat (about 1% of all cattle is also infected). The estimates are so broad because most food poisoning cases are never reported to health authorities. "For every one we hear about, there are 20 to 100 that go unreported," says Tom Gomez, a USDA epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.

Poultry producers don't deny that at least a quarter of the chickens they send to market carry
dangerous bacteria. But they downplay the risk. "Ninety percent of chickens found with
Salmonella have fewer than 30 bacteria on the whole bird," says Kenneth May, the scientific
advisor for the industry's National Broiler Council.

"Thirty bacteria probably won't make you sick if you're a healthy person in the prime of your life,"
agrees Gomez. "But it could if you're one of those most susceptible to food poisoning." Like
children. In 1994, the Schwan's Ice Cream that made an estimated 224,000 people sick (most of
them were youngsters) contained only sixSalmonella bacteria per half cup. (One of the ice
cream's ingredients had been transported in tanker trucks that had previously carried
contaminated raw eggs.)

Is skinless, kosher, or "free-range" chicken any less likely to be contaminated? No good studies
have been done.

And that's for the best-studied bacterium. Others -Campylobacter, for example - aren't being
monitored as closely. "Campylobacter causes more illnesses thanSalmonella, though it doesn't
get as much notoriety," says Gomez. "It should." In other words, chalk up another two million or
so illnesses every year... and who knows how many deaths. The problem, says Gomez, is that
"local diagnostic labs don't test forCampylobacter, and state health departments aren't required
to report it to the CDC. They should."

Based on the results of a pilot surveillance program, CDC Director David Satcher was able to tell a congressional committee in May thatCampylobacter is "the most frequently isolated foodborne bacterium from persons with diarrh\u0153a." Not too comforting.


How many people were felled last year by contaminated eggs? Nobody knows. "We have
incomplete data after 1994," says the CDC's Tom Gomez. Congress is to blame, at least in part.
In 1995, in the name of cost-cutting, it terminated the federal control program forSalmonella

enteritis(EN-terr-ID-iss); enteritis is the strain of Salmonella that's most likely to affect eggs.
But there's no reason to think that 1995 or 1996 is any different than 1994, when Americans
probably suffered from "between 200,000 and 1,000,000 actual infections" caused bySalmonella
enteritis, CDC Director Satcher testified in May.

The culprit? "Shell eggs accounted for 80% of those outbreaks for which a vehicle was
determined," said Satcher. Even scarier: Most tainted eggs are contaminated within the hens'
ovaries before their shells form. So washing the eggs before cracking them open is no guarantee
that they'll be clean.

While no deaths from outbreaks caused bySalmonella-contaminated eggs were reported to
federal authorities in 1994, disease-control experts remain concerned. "The big news is that the
number of infections has tripled in Southern California," says CDC epidemiologist David Swerdlow,

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