5 things a Canadian food safety expert will never eat
Don’t forget sashimi, Hollandaise sauce, and raw bean sprouts garnishing salads.
“My wife doesn’t like to sit with me at dinner and have guests in because, invariably, the conversation rotates to subjects near and dear to my heart and that’s contamination,” Holley joked.
Holley is a University of Manitoba professor emeritus. He’s been working in the food safety sector since 1979 and still runs an active program at the Winnipeg-based school.
“You’re opening yourself up to a level of risk that to my mind is unnecessary. I can’t see from the gastronomic perspective a significant taste advantage that’s outweighed by the attendant risk that comes with the normal presence of these organisms in these foods,” Holley said.
In summary, you’re “rolling the dice” anytime you eat certain dishes.
An intimate knowledge of what kinds of bacteria lurk in certain foods comes with that kind of decades-long tenure.
Here’s a list of five foods Holley, one of Canada’s top food safety experts, refuses to eat.
Raw shellfish and seafood
Raw fish, including shellfish, are at the “top of the list” for Holley.
Holly looked to the U.S. for the reason why he’s turned off seafood. Over the past six to eight years, Americans have seen a “rapid increase” in foodborne illnesses tied to a group of bacteria found in aquatic environments. They’re called vibrio and they’re typically found in warm coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico.
“They’re just as, if not more, dangerous than listeria,” Holley warned.
About half of vibrio infections are fatal.
Because of this concern, Holley’s never had a raw oyster, scallop or clam.
“I won’t. I’ve never had one. It’s not worth the risk to eat these guys raw. You don’t know when you’re buying shellfish what waters they come from,” Holley said.
He won’t eat sashimi or raw sushi either – those are cuts of raw fish, such as tuna or salmon.
What’s fair game? Mussels and frites, clam chowder, and a seafood bouillabaisse — those are all cooked options.
Raw vegetable sprouts
Sprouts, such as alfalfa, radish and bean, are of utmost concern to Holley.
When produce is chopped up for convenience, the juices in the fruits and vegetables aren’t compartmentalized anymore because their cell walls are broken. Now, bacteria can grow at room temperature as they mix and mingle.
“Vegetables and fruits are now given a shelf life in a processed state when they shouldn’t have any shelf life at all,” Holley said.
WATCH ABOVE: A massive recall has just been expanded over frozen fruits and vegetables that were shipped to stores in the U.S., Mexico, and several Canadian provinces, including British Columbia. Anne Drewa reports.
With sprouts, seeds can be contaminated with salmonella, E.coli, or listeria. They’re stored for days at a time, allowing the seeds to grow, but also giving room for bacteria to fester in the seeds’ moisture. It’s the “perfect broth” for foodborne illnesses.
“I do not eat sprouts, unless they’re cooked.”
He eats the chopped salads from the grocery store, though.
“I’m confessing now that I accept the risk because I value the convenience,” he said.
If you’re chopping up vegetables and fruit, they’re safe to eat for about four hours if kept at room temperature. In the fridge, they can last for up to three days, he said.
Those fresh green juices, fruit juices and smoothies you see sitting in ice in the fresh food aisles? They’re off the table for Holley.
Green juices and smoothies that are fresh and unpasteurized concern Holley for the same reasons as chopped produce.
“Once you have worked with a vegetable, and you don’t consume it right away, it becomes a risky food product,” he said.
“You grind them up in a food processor, you allow these bacteria an opportunity to grow” when you stock them on fridge shelves for days at a time.
What’s more concerning is the food handling and storing process. The more people touch your food while preparing it, the more risk there is for contamination. You’re counting on them to make sure cutlery and equipment, such as blender blades and juicers are clean. You’re also relying on storefronts to make sure they’re keeping smoothies and drinks at the right temperature.
He gives unpasteurized milk the same treatment.
Unpasteurized milk is having its moment. Some people say it’s healthier for you but Holley thinks that’s far from correct.
When milk isn’t pasteurized, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to toxins. Listeria, salmonella and E. coli are the biggest three, he said, adding the untouched version is 10 times more risky than pasteurized milk.
It doesn’t matter if they’re delicacies – steak tartare and beef tataki are major no-nos for Holley.
Undercooked ground beef, say, in a hamburger patty spells trouble because when the meat is ground, organisms get “mixed in” with the bulk of the beef.
“When you’re eating a hamburger and some parts are rare, the organisms don’t get killed,” Holley warned.
He’ll happily eat a steak cooked to a medium or medium rare. In that case, organisms are typically on the surface and seared off in the preparation.
WATCH ABOVE: A report by Canada’s auditor general is raising questions about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of last year’s XL Beef recall. Global’s Stefanie Dunn reports.
He’s never had steak tartare, but he knows most restaurants that prepare it are probably using fresh cut steak so it shouldn’t be too worrisome.
“It might be OK but it certainly wouldn’t be for me,” he said. He doesn’t think you should try making this dish at home either.
There isn’t the same level of confidence in the quality of meat you’re buying and how fresh it is.
WATCH ABOVE: A team of UBC researchers has found antibiotic resistance E. coli on lettuce from several of Vancouver’s farmers’ markets.
Sunny side up, eggs Benedict, Hollandaise sauce, Béarnaise sauce – Holley won’t do it.
“The risk is incredible.”
In 2010, half a billion eggs were recalled across the United States following a widespread salmonella outbreak that left thousands of people sick with food poisoning.
Salmonella seeps into eggs before the shell goes on and the bacteria multiples.
Salmonella, just like E.coli and listeria are killed by proper cooking. Had these people cooked their eggs thoroughly, they could have evaded illness, Holley noted.
Luckily, he doesn’t like eggs — cooked or uncooked — anyway.
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