This article in last week's New York Times is an important wake-up call that even certified organic products are susceptible to food safety problems like the salmonella contamination that prompted the massive peanut product recall.
I'd like to confess something: when I first started eating organically, I thought that "organic" meant "totally pure." Like some germ-phobic health nut had personally inspected each grape or leaf of lettuce or cucumber, so I didn't have to, you know, wash it. I also thought I didn't need to wear gloves in my garden because it was all organic compost and top soil.
But "organic" doesn't mean clean, safe, or even healthy in and of itself. You still have to wash your produce (to get rid of any little critters that might have lived in the soil or on the hands of your neighbors who handled that apple at the grocery store), you should always wear garden gloves (to protect your skin and nails from drying, to stave off bug-bites, and to keep dirt--even organic dirt--from finding its way into your mouth), and you should think of organic food as mere players in your healthy, balanced diet.
And perhaps most importantly, buying organic food shouldn't make you feel inoculated against things like the peanut butter recall. There are so many benefits to eating organic, but full protection from pathogens isn't among them (especially, as the article points out, when inspections don't fully do their jobs).
For me, this is all yet another reminder that making informed, mindful, common sense food purchases is always best. Sometimes, that might even mean passing over the organics. From the Times article:
Emily Wyckoff, who lives in Buffalo, buys local food and cooks from scratch as much as possible. Although she still buys organic milk and organic peanut butter for her three children, the organic label means less to her these days — especially when it comes to processed food in packages like crackers and cookies.
“I want to care, but you have to draw the line,” she said.
But the line stops when it comes to basic food safety.
Recently, a sign near the Peter Pan and Skippy at her local grocery store declared that those brands were safe from peanut contamination. There was no similar sign near her regular organic brand.