Monday, November 26, 2007

Danger of Salmonella?

Perhaps the biggest nostalgia killer in the past couple decades has been the salmonella hysteria. For millions who enjoyed licking the cookie dough off the wooden spoon in their younger years, the blissful memories have been replaced by fear of foodborne illness. For years, we have had the notion burned into our minds that if we don't cook our food to the consistency of a styrofoam packing peanut, it will poison our bodies with deadly microbes. The way disinfectant products are advertised on T.V., one would think that salmonella bacteria are lurking in every single egg and every breast of chicken like a ticking time bomb waiting to induce atomic diarrhea and dry heaves. I myself have experienced food poisoning not once, but twice, and as awful as the experience was, it has not deterred me from eating raw eggs, enjoying cookie dough, and eating bloody meat.

So, how real is the risk of being poisoned by salmonella? Well, to find this out, we turn to surveys done by two government agencies on salmonella and the two most prevalent sources of food that salmonella cases arise from: chicken and eggs. The following statistics and data were compiled from 2004 studies supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

According to the CDC sample aggregated from 10 sample states, the prevalence of reported Salmonella poisoning in 2004 was 14.61 cases per 100,000 people in the United States. If we do a rough calculation using the total number of people in the U.S. capable of eating either eggs or poultry (about 274 million over age 5), then one arrives at odds of 1 in 40,031 of getting sick with Salmonella. Those are about the same odds as dying as a result of electrocution from power lines. For a less morbid comparison, you're almost twice as likely to become a professional athlete than get seriously ill from salmonella poisoning.

Thus, it seems safe to assume that even if you like your eggs runny and your meat bloody, you're not automatically dancing with the gastrointestinal devil. Although they're not particularly useful in compiling odds, here are a couple of fun (disturbing) facts that might get you thinking about something other than salmonella. In 2004, the United States consumed a total of 14,339,000 tons of chicken and 74,100,000,000 eggs. Both are fairly staggering numbers. Bon Appetit.

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