Recalls for organic foods are on the rise.
The word “organic” has all kinds of connotations: healthier, cleaner, better for the environment. In fact, 71 percent of people in a 2011 University of Arkansas study said they believe organic foods are safer than conventional ones, while 11 percent of folks were specifically concerned about the potential for bacterial contamination in conventionally grown foods. “The consumer sees organic as everything that is good,” says Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, PhD, head of the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
Yet, despite this reputation, there’s been a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food, according to a new report by Stericycle, a company that helps businesses handle recalls. So far in 2015, 7 percent of all recalled foods have been organic, the report’s analysis of USDA and FDA data reveals. In 2012 and 2013, just 1 percent of recalls were for organic foods.
Although recalls can occur for a handful of reasons — including mislabeling and the discovery of a potential allergen in a product — bacterial contamination is the one that tends to freak us out most. And, unfortunately, organic foods aren’t just being recalled for the more benign reasons: In March, for example, Amy’s Kitchen voluntarily recalled nearly 74,000 cases of organic spinach due to possible Listeria contamination. And the same month, Wegmans recalled its organic walnuts, citing potential Salmonella contamination as the reason.
Why the uptick in organic recalls? Stericycle has speculated that the increased demand for organic ingredients may be partly to blame — we’re eating more of it, so naturally, more recalls would follow. “That’s true,” says Lawrence Goodridge, PhD, director of the Food Safety & Quality Program at McGill University, “but it’s more nuanced than that.” As the demand for organic produce has skyrocketed, organic farms have gone from small-scale operations to super-farms. “If that produce [grown at large farms] gets contaminated, it’s spread all over the country,” he explains. That means the grower is more likely to issue a recall, bringing national attention to the issue.
But, size aside, are organic farming practices generally filthier? Might the decreased reliance on pesticides — which ward off insects and the bacteria they bring with them — mean an increased odds of contamination?
Organic farms do use manure as fertilizer, so it might seem obvious that the produce they grow would pose a greater risk of food-borne illness than conventional fruits and vegetables. But the research doesn’t necessarily bear that out: A 2012 research review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which analyzed more than 200 studies, concluded that E. coli contamination was equally likely to affect organic as it did conventional produce. (Likewise, bacterial contamination of chicken and pork was unrelated to farming method.)
Generally speaking, “there’s no real difference between organic and conventional, with respect to safety,” Goodridge tells Yahoo Health. Diez-Gonzalez echoes this sentiment.
Related: What is Organic Farming, Really?
Yet there are studies out there suggesting that organic food is actually more prone to bacterial contamination. For example, in a 2015 study of produce from California farmers’ markets, the vegetables sold by organic farmers were twice as likely to be laced with Salmonella than those sold by conventional farmers.
What’s going on? If manure is properly composted — the temperature is monitored, the pile is regularly turned — there won’t be dangerous microbes in the mix, says Goodridge. “But if it’s not composted properly, then there is a risk that bacteria will be spread to the produce. The larger, commercial farms, of course, understand the importance of composting. But many people who grow produce in their backyards or on small mom-and-pop farms may not compost manure properly. I see that all the time. Then, they’re essentially spreading raw manure onto that produce. That’s what can lead to contamination.” In a University of Minnesota study, organic produce fertilized with manure that had been aged for just six to 12 months was 19 times more likely to be contaminated with E. coli than produce from farms that used older compost.
Taken from Yahoo Health
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