Is the Risk of Foodborne Illness Worth It?

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Almost immediately after posting a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Does Rinsing Fruit Make a Difference?” on our Facebook page yesterday, I got an email from a family member talking about pre-washed salad mixes in the past tense (“What a convenience they were.”) and asking me if I will change my own eating habits because of this article.

When it comes to foodborne illness, risk always exists.  One can take every known precaution and still contract a foodborne illness, or one can grotesquely forgo all food safety guidelines yet not get sick.  The question is not one of risk’s presence, but rather one of risk’s relative magnitude.

Each one of us has to decide for ourselves how much risk we are comfortable taking.  The article talks about the health of one’s immune system as being an element of consideration, but other factors are in play, too: What does one like to eat?  What can one afford?  How much time does one have for food preparation?  What are the realistic alternatives if one forgoes a given food?  Pros and cons exist for eating and not eating a given food, and these must all be considered before reaching a conclusion. 

The answer to my family member’s question is no, I will not be changing my own eating based on this article.  Generally speaking, I do not care for vegetables.  I know, I know, a dietitian who does not like vegetables.  As it turns out, dietitians are people too and we have our own challenges with food just like everybody else.  The modes in which I enjoy vegetables are slim: carrots and peppers dipped in humus, spinach in lasagna, and broccoli and mushrooms on pizza.  In terms of true enjoyment, that’s about it.

Raw salad greens topped with fresh fruit and nuts are moderately enjoyable, but the tipping point is such that convenience is a major factor for me.  Take away pre-washed salad mixes and the likelihood that I will buy whole greens and prepare a similar mixture on my own is very slim.  Therefore, when I weigh their benefits against the risk of foodborne illness, continuing to consume pre-washed salad mixes makes sense for me.

Somebody else might reach a different conclusion for his or her own life and that is perfectly fine.  My case is nothing more than an example; I am not suggesting that others should or should not reach the same conclusion for themselves that I have reached for myself.  Everybody has different needs, priorities, goals, and constraints, which is why Joanne and I feel so strongly about providing individualized nutrition counseling that is customized for each one of our patients.