Farm to Fridge, fast
Cantaloupe is good. Listeria growing in cantaloupe is fatal. The death count in the recent Colorado farm outbreak is 17, with at least 84 reports of illness in 19 states. That's a lot of travel for a short shelf-life summer fruit like cantaloupe. My heart breaks for the innocent victims. I love cantaloupe. When it's in season, I eat it daily. Wedged, in smoothies, summer soups, or fruit trays. As soon as I bring it home, I wash it, cut it in half, wedge one part, and save the other half for fresh midweek slices. My last few melons were so large, I froze melon balls to enjoy in a few months. (Freeze them on a tray, then store in a sealed bag. I pull a few out at a time and eat them like a slushy.)
So I've watched this story closely over the past two weeks. Am I in danger? I just returned from Denver where I ate only cantaloupe and pineapple at a breakfast buffet one day. Jensen Farms, the producer, doesn't even know their fruit's final destinations, so how could my hostess know? More importantly, I'm aware that any living product-fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese, meat, grains-can host a multitude of dangerous bacteria. I do my best to look for telltale signs of deterioration, but it's not always visible and I'm honestly not that diligent.
What's a girl to do? Eat out of a can? Have a mainstay diet of processed foods so that nothing could possibly be alive, since all the ingredients are synthetic? Or maybe I should just do a better job of controlling my food sources. After all, it's my family's safety at stake. I already belong to a CSA, Yellow Wood Farms, with pick up less than a mile from my home. My produce and fruits are grown about an hour away, and brought to town fresh every Wednesday. While this doesn't mean no dangers exist, it means there's less time and fewer negative conditions for bacterial grown. Farm to fridge in a flash. And I joined their winter share program, so I'll have fresh, frozen, and canned produce all season. (Yes, I wish it were me doing all the preserving, but insert reality check here:)
One of the most disturbing quotes in this updated cantaloupe article (http://yhoo.it/pc73gw) is from Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs for the Pew Health Group. While promoting the need for stricter oversight he states "It would be virtually impossible to sit down and eat a meal and eat food that hasn't come from all over the world."
Are you serious Erik? Almost every meal I eat in summer comes from local growers and suppliers. It doesn't come in a box, it doesn't have a list of unidentifiable ingredients. It's local lettuce and tomatoes and corn and eggs and occasionally local organic beef. Yes, I'm sure I often eat pepper grown in Vietnam, wild salmon caught in the Pacific, olive oil pressed in Italy, and drink wine from across the globe, but the notion that we couldn't possibly control what we ingest makes me angry. Why not promote seasonal local options, reminding us of our agricultural roots that dictated what landed on the dinner table every evening. Even I remember when my parents' garden produced so much lettuce that we ate dandelion and escarole sandwiches for lunch (don't laugh till you've tried it).
My point is simply to spread the word that being a locavore has many benefits. (Wiki definition: A locavore is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market.) Sustainability, food safety, environmental health, economically sound. You can taste the benefits.
So please Mr. Olson, while you're searching for initiatives that will strengthen our food chain, don't fail to support the simplest solution of all.