A total of 30 people in 19 states have been infected with salmonella in recent days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The finger is being pointed at peanut butter, specifically from New Mexico nut producer Sunland Inc.
But wait a minute.
Salmonella are intestinal bacteria. And one of the nicest features about peanuts is the fact that they have no intestine. So where are the bugs coming from? Salmonella, like E. coli, are usually transmitted to humans in traces of animal feces that contaminate hands, food-preparation surfaces, and other foods handled in the same area. So the original source of salmonella is a farm raising chickens, cows, or other animals. And peanuts are an innocent bystander.
Widespread use of antibiotics in livestock operations can give rise to resistant bacteria such as salmonella. Through contact with farm workers and contaminated waste runoff, resistant bacteria can spread to humans and to other animals, as well as kitchen counters and grocery store shelves. Bacteria can also transfer resistance traits to other strains and classes of bacteria.
Salmonella and other foodborne outbreaks caused by the meat industry have become dangerous trend. A 2011 independent survey of foodborne illness due to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria found the number of outbreaks has increased each year since 1970, and 40 percent of outbreaks occurred between 2000 and 2010. The resistant bacteria responsible were mostly strains of salmonellae—28 of 35 outbreaks. These outbreaks were responsible for 19,897 infections, which lead to 3,061 hospitalizations and 26 deaths. Following a plant-based diet reduces the number of animals on farms, thereby reducing the threat of foodborne illness. Vegetarian diets also help lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
The dairy product industry has been milking school lunches for profit since the National School Lunch Program was introduced more than a half century ago. The federal government spends more money on dairy products than any other food item in the school lunch program. But it’s time to get milk out of school lunches. Abundant research shows milk does not improve bone health and is the biggest source of saturated (“bad”) fat in the diet—the very fat that Dietary Guidelines push us to avoid. So PCRM recently petitioned the USDA to stop requiring milk in school lunches.
The nutritional rationale for including milk in school meal programs was based primarily on its calcium content. Milk was presumed to promote bone health and integrity. Time and again, this has proven false. Milk-drinking children do not have stronger bones than children who get their calcium from other foods.
A study published by the American Medical Association in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this year showed that active children who consume the largest quantities of milk have more bone fractures than those who consume less. This was not surprising. Prior studies show that milk consumption does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis and actually creates other health risks.
Milk is the number one source of saturated fat in children’s diets. One in eight Americans is lactose intolerant. More than 1 million U.S. children struggle with milk allergies, the second most common food allergy. And milk also contains sugar in the form of lactose, animal growth factors, and occasional drugs and contaminants.
Calcium is an essential nutrient. But if children get calcium from milk, they miss the beta-carotene, iron, and fiber in vegetables. Children can get all the calcium they need from nondairy sources such as beans, tofu, broccoli, kale, collard greens, breads, cereals, and nondairy, calcium-fortified beverages, without any of the health detriments associated with dairy product consumption.
In this video, I explain more about eating for healthy bones:
Times have changed. So should school lunches. To safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s schoolchildren, the USDA should issue a report to Congress recommending that Congress amend the National School Lunch Act to exclude milk as a required component of meals under the National School Lunch Program. To learn more about the dangers of milk and other dairy products, visit PCRM.org/Health.
Is beef safe? That’s the question Americans are asking again after a new case of mad cow disease was confirmed in the United States this week. The answer is clearly no, beef is not safe. But the threat of mad cow disease isn’t the only reason. Not by a long shot.
Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) is a fatal central nervous system disease. The latest case was found in a dairy cow in a random U.S. Department of Agriculture test of dead farm animals in California. Alive, the cow showed no signs of BSE. Affected cows often show increased apprehension, poor coordination, difficulties in walking, and weight loss.
In this case, it’s a wonder that the disease was detected at all. The agency conducts BSE tests on only 0.1 percent of cows, or about 40,000 of the 34 million cattle slaughtered each year.
There is strong scientific evidence that the agent responsible for BSE is the same agent responsible for Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of mad cow disease. But there are many other equally compelling reasons to steer clear of meat. Meaty diets harbor enough saturated fat and cholesterol to bring on a heart attack. They are also linked to cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
A switch to chicken or fish does very little to reduce risk. But plant-based diets—loaded with vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes—can help prevent and reverse all of these diseases. That’s right. There is no “mad kale” disease.
April 17, 2012 Dr. Neal Barnard
Buy a chicken from any grocery store in America and you are likely to get more than you bargained for. Feces taint one in every two supermarket chickens, according to testing recently conducted by an independent laboratory at PCRM’s request.
The problem seems to be widespread. We collected chicken products from 15 different grocery store chains in 10 major U.S. cities. These were chickens marketed by Perdue, Pilgrim’s, and 22 other brands.
When the results came back, we discovered that 48 percent of the samples had tested positive for fecal contamination, as indicated by the presence of E. coli, a bacterium in chicken feces. The germs are used in USDA and industry testing as an indicator of fecal contamination.
How does fecal contamination make its way from chicken farms and slaughterhouses to the plastic-wrapped packages at your grocery store? It’s a dirty business.
A large chicken processing plant may slaughter more than 1 million birds a week. Chickens are stunned, killed, bled, and sent through scalding tanks. These tanks of water transfer feces from one dead bird to another.
After scalding, feathers and intestines are mechanically removed. Intestinal contents can spill onto machinery and contaminate the muscles and organs of that chicken and the birds that follow.
The carcasses are then rinsed with chlorinated water and—theoretically—checked for visible fecal matter. But slaughter lines process up to 140 birds per minute, and federal food safety inspectors are allowed little time to examine each carcass.
That could soon change—for the worse. The U.S. Department of Agriculture may begin to allow chicken plants to conduct their own inspections and speed up lines to 200 birds per minute. That will make it even harder for inspectors to detect contamination.
After this cursory inspection, chickens are packaged and shipped to stores. Americans eat an average of more than 83 pounds of chicken a year—and most have no idea that the supermarket chicken on their dining room table has a one in two chance of being contaminated with fecal matter.
Who cares, the chicken industry says. If the feces are adequately cooked, any germs they harbor will be killed. But feces may contain round worms, hair worms, tape worms, along leftover bits of whatever insects or larvae the chickens have eaten, not to mention the usual fecal components of digestive juices and various chemicals that the chicken was in the process of excreting.
Given the widespread nature of this disgusting problem, consumers deserve fair notice. It’s time for every package of supermarket chicken to carry a sticker that says, “Warning: May Contain Feces.”
For more information about PCRM’s chicken testing, please visit PCRM.org/ChickenFeces.
April 3, 2012 Dr. Neal Barnard
The recent uproar over “lean beef trimmings”—also known as “pink slime”—has led the maker of this ammonia-treated meat to suspend operations at all but one plant. Beef Products, Inc., acknowledged that the company has taken a huge hit since social media exploded with concerns about this disturbingly unhealthful, chemically-treated substance going into school lunch lines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering removing pink slime from schools, and fast-food companies have even taken the slime out of their burger recipes. The pink slime pandemonium has inspired bloggers to expose the long list of other unlabeled chemicals that end up in almost all industrial meat. Without any labeling requirement, meat processors can lace meat with chemicals used to bleach fabric, disinfect pools and hot tubs, and bleach wood pulp, just to name a few. These revelations have consumers fuming. Some are calling for more labeling, and less processing of meat. The meat industry is claiming that these chemically treated products are safe—maybe even safer than beef not treated with chemicals. But ultimately there is no such thing as safe meat. Meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention E. coli and other pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. If treated with chemicals, it then contains substances that may increase the risk of cancer and other health problems. Beef Products, Inc., is desperately trying to rebuild business, taking out a full-page Wall Street Journal ad and launching a website that proclaims that “Beef is Beef.” The company has that right. From ground beef to sirloin steak to rump roast, every cut of beef contributes to more deadly illnesses than the chemicals in pink slime will likely ever cause. Whether it’s pink slime or organic, grass-fed beef, it all leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses. The pink slime victory shows just how powerful consumers are when they come together to fight an unsafe product. But it’s hardly the end of the battle: It’s time to face up to the consequences of our meaty diets and move to more healthful ways of eating.
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