No need to go cold turkey on cold cuts: experts

'For the immense majority of people, it is a non-issue'


Published: 14 hours ago


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Something about a nationwide deli-meat recall can cause even the fiercest of carnivores to consider giving up cold cuts - at least for a while.

No need, say experts.

Most people are not at risk for listeriosis, the food-borne illness linked to tainted meats.

"The risk of developing listeriosis is extremely small," says Ariel Fenster, co-founder of McGill's Office for Science and Society. The number of cases in Canada every year is "minuscule, compared with car accidents," he said. The risk of being hit by a car while crossing the street is probably greater.

Human nature is such that, when it comes to the familiar, we are far more willing to accept risks, he said.

Still, don't take silly ones: Make sure to read the list of the recalled products, Fenster said. And if there's sliced deli meat in your fridge with no label, throw it out.

For people in good health, "even if they were to eat contaminated beef, their bodies would fight it off," he said. "People who are at risk have to be careful, but for the immense majority of people it is a non-issue."

Those at highest risk for death from listeriosis, which is uncommon, include the elderly and newborns, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

"You don't want to minimize it, but at the same time for most people it is not an issue," said Fenster. "There's no reason to stop eating cold cuts."

Not that it's the most healthful of meats - "full of salt and nutritional value is not that great. But food has to be enjoyed - and if that's what you like, fine," he said.

"We shouldn't be causing paranoia," said Inteaz Alli, a professor of food science at McGill and an expert in food safety.

There is evidence there are problems at one facility, he said, "and we have to pay attention."

"Now, there is nothing based on what we know to suggest we shouldn't continue eating similar products from other places."

And yet, it is human nature to react emotionally rather than logically. "If we know people are getting sick from something we eat, it is natural that we get nervous," he said.

"But we have to put things in perspective. We know there is this particular category of foods ... let's not touch them now." But other deli meats "are still okay. We should not extrapolate."

Still, there are disturbing elements to the outbreak.

Time was when food was produced in smaller factories and sold locally, Fenster observed; increasingly, it is being mass-produced and sent all over the country. "And now an outbreak spreads all over the country."

And an aging population makes us "more susceptible."

Food companies and government agencies "do the best, I think, that they can," said Alli. "But these things happen."




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