Food, Inglorious Food
It's certainly been quite a month for tainted food products, hasn't it?
First there was the rodent-in-the-canned-beans incident, in which a Utah woman found a rat head in her sauce pan. ("Waiter, what's that fly doing in my soup?" "I believe it's the backstroke.") The best part of this was Allen Canning's response. They offered the victim $100, and assured her that - even if the rat was theirs, and they weren't admitting anything just yet - their canning process had "rendered it commercially sterile", and thus not harmful at all. (I posted on this over on Opinionated Marketers the other day.)
Nothing as dramatic as a rat head, but I have had a few somewhat odd run-ins with foodstuffs that were not quite right.
One time, I was putting green beans - what is it with green beans - in one of those flimsy plastic weighing bags when I noticed something stiff and gray in the mix. I thought at first that it was a mold-covered bean, but closer examination revealed it to be a small, dead lizard. I gave it to a store employee to discard, and went on with my bean picking. I'm assuming that my preparation rendered those beans commercially sterile, because I didn't get sick eating them. The store, by the way, offered me nothing for my troubles.
Craving a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, I bought a large jar of peanut butter at the supermarket. When I got home and unscrewed the lid, it seemed a little loose. That was because the person who'd gotten there before me - and scooped out a mitt-ful of peanut butter - hadn't bothered to screw it back on properly. I raced back to the store, grabbed a new jar off the shelf, and returned the opened jar to customer service. I then raced back home and made myself a sandwich.
At Mama Leone's - an old-fashioned, not very good Italian restaurant that, I believe, is out of business - I bit into an olive only to find that my teeth were hitting teeth marks that someone else had made. Oh, ugh.
At a neighborhood bar, I was once served a Cape Codder with a fingernail floating in it. I believe the alcohol would have rendered the fingernail commercially sterile, but I returned the drink, anyway. The drink was free.
I almost broke a tooth once on a chunk of gravel in my soup. I once found a small bandaid in some restaurant cole slaw. Like everyone else, I've had numerous close encounters with corn bores, worms in apples, worms in lettuce, etc.
None of this was anything I couldn't live with. As I said, none of it was rat head caliber, but in today's environment, I probably could have raised some small stinks and gotten free something or other. (Obviously not with the worms in the produce, but with the other stuff.) Certainly, the rat in the green beans is worth something - and that something should be more than $100. But I've worked in restaurants, and I know that things happen. And I'm sure they happen all the time in food production. Best not to dwell too long and hard on it. I guess you eat a peck of insect wings, larva, and fecal matter before you die.
Plus I have a pretty strong stomach.
Not that strong that I haven't gotten food poisoning on a couple of occasions. Or maybe it was just "the bug", which I associated with whatever food I was eating before I came down with it.
I don't buy frozen hamburgers, so I avoided the Topps tainted ground beef. After having to recall 21.7 million pounds of it - and facing lawsuits from people who got sick eating it - Topps has closed its Elizabeth, NJ doors just days after the meat recall. And after 67 years in business. Eighty-seven people in Elizabeth are now out of jobs that I'm guessing were none too pleasant, but which the people who held them were no doubt happy to have.
From what I've read, the shut-down was not done to avoid the suits, which will carry on. Topps just couldn't process - or de-process - the cost of the lost 21.7 million pounds of bad meat.
The final bad news on the food front was Banquet's finding salmonella in the frozen turkey pie.
There's no going back to some agrarian nirvana that never really was in which we all grow and can our own fruits and vegetables, pluck our own chickens, slaughter our own beef. We all have to trust that the food processing industry follows standards, and that the government enforces whatever standards it has set. And we should pretty much trust it. Let's face it, the whole thing works pretty well. Rat heads in the green beans, and 21.7 million pounds of bad hamburger, are anomalies. That's why they make the news.
But the back-to-back-to-back nature of this month's inglorious food incidents does raise a couple questions:
- Is the quality of our processed food going down for any reason. (Lack of oversight, lax adherence to rules.) Or is it just that we're more likely to hear about it.
- Are people these days getting sicker from bad food, or are they just more likely to want to track down who's responsible for every intestinal "bug" they end up with - and sue "the bastards"?