By Jennifer Krisch
E. coli-tainted beef. Salmonella-contaminated tomatoes. The list goes on.
Reports of food contamination seem to be an everyday occurrence these days. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 76 million people will suffer a food-borne illness in the United States this year alone.
But how does our food supply get contaminated in the first place? Michele Morrone, director of environmental studies and an associate professor of environmental health science, has some answers.
In her latest book, "Poisons on Our Plates: The Real Food Safety Problem in the United States," Morrone examines the impact of bacteria and viruses on the country's food supply. A registered sanitarian and credentialed food safety professional, Morrone said she became interested in the topic while teaching a food safety course.
"Talking about bacteria and viruses is complicated because it is very scientific," Morrone said. "There are several great public education campaigns about food safety, but I wanted to translate some of the science behind food contamination so that anybody can understand it."
Federal regulations, Morrone said, are not as strict as many would like to believe. There is no federal agency or environmental health policy in place to guard against the presence of bacteria in food.
According to Morrone's book, many people assume the food supply is safe and often are unaware of microbiological contaminants until point-source outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella sicken the masses, generating tremendous news coverage.
While distribution sources sometimes are to blame for food contamination, Morrone said consumers share the responsibility. Choosy purchases and safe food handling ensure meals on the dinner table are healthy and bacteria-free. This is the message Morrone hopes readers learn from her book and take to heart.
"I hope my book enhances everyone's understanding of how food becomes contaminated and what can be done about it," she said. "I also hope that they can relate to some of the stories I tell in the book. I gathered these stories from environmental health professionals across the country. And ultimately, I hope they get sick from food less often."
Morrone is former chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Education and director of the Ohio Comparative Risk Project, a citizen-based environmental planning project. During her time with the Comparative Risk Project, Morrone was responsible for writing Ohio's first State of the Environment Report, a 500-plus-page publication detailing human health, the ecosystem and quality-of-life risks.
"Poisons on Our Plates" can be purchased online from these sources: Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Borders.com and www.Greenwood.com.