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Food?More Dangerous Than Ever

Dangerous bacteria are becoming a bigger problem than ever as new germs arrive in imported products and microbes already here evolve into new forms. In a report for the Institute of Food Technologists, scientists report that the increasing use of manure as fertilizer poses the risk of spreading harmful bacteria to food, either by contaminating irrigation water or coming into direct contact with crops.

Manure harbors bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella and is used as a substitute for chemical fertilizer on both organic and conventional crops. In some countries, chicken manure is fed to farm-raised shrimp.

The report also says it is ?practically impossible? to keep hot dogs and other precooked meats free of Listeria monocytongenes because the bacterium is so common in the environment.

It raises concerns about the regulation of imported fruits and vegetables and potential new pathogens getting into the country. It happened before when the bacteria Cyclospora cayetanensis entered the United States through imported produce, and rare forms of salmonella also have been appearing in this country. ?Certainly, you can grow produce that is free of pathogens in developing countries. It?s just a matter of sanitary practices and the quality of water that is used for irrigation,? says Michael Doyle, a University of Georgia microbiologist.

The FDA inspects less than 2 percent of imported fruits and vegetables. Major supermarket chains, worried about new outbreaks of salmonella and other bacteria, have recently started requiring domestic and foreign produce suppliers to be inspected by private firms.

Doctors often treat patients for food poisoning without reporting the illnesses to public health authorities or ordering tests to determine the exact causes. This means that the FDA and food companies may not be aware of new pathogens or dangerous products.

Changes in how foods are processed, such as leaving out salt or replacing fats with gums, can lead to new safety problems by making food more hospitable to bacteria, or by causing the bacteria to evolve into hardier forms. At one point, yogurt manufacturers started replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener only to discover that led to the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, which can be deadly. It turned out that the sugar had been removing water from the yogurt, making it difficult for the bacteria to grow. The yogurt was reformulated to eliminate the problem.

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Matt Markovich and Suzanne Brahm report on abcnews.com about the dangers of E. coli bacteria. In 1993, four children died after eating improperly prepared hamburgers from a Jack in the Box restaurant. Another child died in 1996 after drinking unpasteurized juice. Over the last 20 years, E. coli outbreaks have killed dozens of people and sickened thousands more.

In order to make their products safer for consumers, food companies have turned to a new technology called ?Fresher Under Pressure,? developed by high-pressure equipment maker Flow International, that washes food with extremely high pressure. The extreme pressure destroys the larger E coli bacteria, while smaller microorganisms important to taste and nutrition survive, so food still looks and tastes good after being pasteurized.

Moist foods like meats, vegetables, fruits, and shellfish can withstand the crushing effect of the pressurization process. The treatment will not work for dry foods, like cereals or breads, that contain air. If you place grape and a pingpong ball in a pressurized container, they react differently. The pingpong ball, which is filled with air, will collapse but the grape will come out looking completely normal. Other forms of pasteurization using heat or irradiation cause foods to lose flavor and nutritional value, and consumers are wary of irradiated foods. The only downside is that, right now, the pressure washing method is expensive.

If you want to know if the food you?re buying has been pasteurized by pressure, read the label. If it says ?Fresher by Pressure? the product has withstood pressures greater than the deepest ocean.

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A spice manufacturer claims that curry has healing powers. It has been known for centuries that many of the spices in curries combat infectious bugs and other ailments, according to Patak?s Indian Foods.

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have discovered that one of these ingredients?turmeric?may slow down the progress of Alzheimer?s disease.The spice, which is found in many Indian dishes, halved the build up of knots in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer?s. This may help explain why rates of Alzheimer?s disease are much lower in India than they are in the West. Turmeric also fights off infection and helps break down toxins in the liver.

Cumin, a key ingredient in curry, soothes indigestion by working on enzymes in the stomach. Ginger improves circulation and alleviates indigestion. Cloves help to clear up cold sores and heal sore throats. Cardamom flushes out the kidneys and helps settle the stomach, coriander stimulates the digestive system, and chili provides three times the vitamin C than oranges.

Those dangerous meats and vegetables may be just fine when enjoyed in an Indian restaurant.

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