Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Paranoia of North America

I work in a Seafood Department for Thrifty Foods; while I've been there I've been able to first hand experience the combined paranoia of companies, employees and the general populace. The company I currently work for has always been proud of being very strict with sanitation, amongst other things.
As most people know, Thrifty's was recently sold to a larger company named Sobe's. About a year ago, in preparation for the sale, they brought in a policy called "Standard Operations and Procedures" (or SOPs for short). SOPs are guidelines on how to clean and sanitize everything, keep food in optimal conditions and what Johnson Diversey chemicals are needed for different situations. While I am all for improvements but it seems to me that, for the most part, when most companies bring in sanitation procedures their main goal is to achieve protection from lawsuit and a feeling of safety for customers. Examples of this can be seen with Thrifty Foods SOPs.
Bacteria is a vital part of life and species of bacteria exist almost everywhere, including in and on larger organisms such as pigs, cows, fish and humans. Bacteria also can exist in the food we eat and the liquids we drink. Digestion of certain types of bacteria can be beneficial or benign, even with small doses of pathogenic bacteria. Food sickness can occur if pathogenic bacteria align against the walls of the intestines and excrete harmful toxins. Most pathogenic bacteria optimal growth temperature is around room temperature, so by decreasing the foods temperature you decrease the growth rate of possible bacteria, which in turn lessens the risk of foodbourne illness.
There are positives to SOPs when it comes to reducing the risks of foodbourne illnesses, for example: regulation in how often temperature of cooling devices are checked and surfaces of tables, counters and tools are cleaned. Sometimes the paranoia of lawsuits can hinder the ability to protect people from pathogens. One example with Thrifty's is if someone asked for their meat to be wrapped with a bag of ice to keep it cold and away from optimal growth temperature, we can not do that for them, in fear of the customer using the ice in something causing cross contamination.
Another example paranoia in the world of food poisoning is the theory that we, first world citizens, are weakening our immune system by cutting off the everyday pathogens our bodies evolved with. The sanitation process may be great for cutting off severe cases but weak cases can make one stronger in defending against future attack. This is noticeable when people on vacation visit poorer countries that do not have the same sanitation systems put in place
and the vacationers get sick off of food that would not harm a local.
For the most part I believe that the regulations we put in place helps us but our standards can be hurt by the bureaucracy of our society. It's also pleasant to believe that these sanitation processes protect us from cases of upset stomachs to rarer and more extreme cases of fatality, but in the end there's always the possibility that we are weakening our defenses in the fight for the survival of the fittest.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foodborne_illness
http://www.thriftyfoods.com/common/index.html
http://www.johnsondiversey.com/Cultures/en/Content/Our+Expertise/Food+Safety.htm

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