Sustainability Messages From The USA Salmonella Outbreak

Small is good for your health, especially where locally grown and consumed food is concerned. Why? It minimises the scale and spread of disease.

The latest Salmonella outbreak in the USA has important messages for Australians:

1.Wash fresh food before eating
2.Install and maintain rainwater systems properly
3.Local food networks contain and minimise certain diseases

When it comes to salmonella, Queensland has more to gain than anywhere else in Australia. According to the National Salmonella Surveillance Scheme, while any Australian could contract this disease more cases occur in Queensland than other states*.

Right now Florida’s tomato agribusiness faces collapse following revelations it is the source of salmonella, an infectious, typhoid-related bacterial disease. The New Mexico Department of Health says so far people have been infected by salmonella-tainted plum, round or roma tomatoes purchased from Wal-Mart and Lowe’s stores. Junk food chains McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have stopped serving those cultivars of tomato.

This and other salmonella outbreaks have simple sustainability messages:

Lunch monitors are a good idea
Wash hands, especially after gardening, in hot soapy water. Soil, fresh and bagged manure, potting mix, bins used for kitchen scraps, and compost heaps are potential sources of infection.

Wash fresh food before preparing it, irrespective of whether it’s chemically grown in factory farms, or wholesome organic food.

Keep food preparation equipment and areas clean. An investigation into a waterborne outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul by the Central Public Health Unit, Queensland also implicated shared water bottles, ice, unhygienic lunch boxes and the rainwater supply.

Install and maintain tanks, gutters and taps
Regularly check safety devices are operating efficiently. Check gutters for dead animals. Install leaf-excluding rain heads and first flush devices to keep gross contaminants out of tank water.

Exclude animals from rainwater tanks. Known sources of infection include rats, mice, frogs, toads, snakes and lizards, including geckoes. Both animals and their faeces can be infectious.

Remove microscopic contaminants from drinking water, by installing both an activated carbon filter and a porcelain filter to drinking water taps.

Mass food distribution networks can exacerbate epidemics
The biggest news for sustainability concerns system failure by mass production and transport. These are the fastest, most efficient way to infect the largest number of people over the widest area.

On 11th June 2008 Ms Arleen Porcell, a US federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson, says in The Electric Newspaper, the rarity of the Saintpaul strain of Salmonella and the number of illnesses “suggest that implicated tomatoes are distributed throughout the country”. So far a minimum of 145 people in 17 states are infected, and 23 have been hospitalised.

People most at risk of developing severe illness are the elderly, infants and people with weakened immune systems.

Take control of your own health: eat and drink clean. Grow your own, or buy local food.

* Reference: ‘A waterborne outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul’, by Roscoe Taylor, David Sloan, Toni Cooper, Bruce Morton, Ian Hunter, Central Public Health Unit Rockhampton, Queensland. See:

Jerry Coleby-Williams
11th June 2008


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