Monday, November 2, 2009

Protecting Us from Hamburgers and News About Hamburgers

Two people have died and close to 30 are ill, apparently from eating beef products infected by e.coli bacteria. New York meat company Fairbanks Farms has recalled over half a million pounds of beef, largely on the east coast. A complete list of recalled products is available here.

Presuming that there is evidence linking these illnesses to the recalled beef, the recall makes a lot of logical sense. And there is no point in having a recall if people don't hear about it, so the publicizing of the recall also makes sense. But there is a tension here. Less than 30 people are sick and 2 have died, but now millions are worried. Everyone is looking in their freezers to see if they have the dreaded patties, and eyeing their fast food a little more suspiciously. After all, you can control what's in your freezer, but not what McDonalds or Burger King have in theirs.

In balance, the level of panic caused by the publicity is probably worth it, at least in adults. Most of us are able to keep things in perspective, realizing that this is a threat we can control. There are exceptions to every rule, however, and exhibit A in this is the commenter over at Huffington Post who wrote:
Obama should declare a Pandemic in the Meat Industry. Processed meat that people buy in supermarkets have [sic] killed people. This is a bigger threat than that swine flu.
I can only hope this person has their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, because the death rate from H1N1, as we all know, is a lot higher than it is from Big Macs, even with the current outbreak.

We know that. The thing is, our kids don't. Our children, particularly those in the roughly 7-10 age range, are old enough to know that bad things happen in the world, old enough to understand the basics of a news story, and old enough to know that, as much as they rely on adults to keep them safe, that isn't always possible. Now they hear that ground beef is killing people, and we assure them that either we don't have any of it or we've thrown it out, but they can't help but wonder. If your child is a particular worrier, he or she may be able to come up with numerous scenarios under which they will still ingest contaminated beef. This is how vegetarians get their start.

So what's a parent to do? Most of us naturally become exasperated after a while and start brushing their concerns off with "don't worry about it." This is a sure-fire way to increase children's concerns. The minute we indicate we don't want to talk about it, kids believe we aren't talking because we have something to hide. The best thing we can do is be honest and upfront about what is going on and what we have done to keep them safe, and promise them that if there is a reason to worry or any more information to share, we'll talk about it some more.

And then, ultimately, we have to hope they believe us. In the end, that's what parenting so often comes down to.


Colleen said...

There is a good side to this. The beef that is most likely to get infected is that which is ground up containing a whole bunch of meat from different sources, especially containing the nasty fatty hunks. When you get the hamburger that is lower fat, it doesn't have as many sources, especially not the higher-risk nasty fatty part that is worse for us _anyway_. So maybe the packagers will be forced to stop using that nasty, unhealthy riskiest part!

Or, if you have one, you can go to the little local grocery store, where they grind their own, and it comes from just one source. The nosing around I did suggests that if your beef is from one source the risk is lower, which does make sense. Of course, I started getting the meat from the little grocery store because it tastes better and is healthier, as it's much fresher and has lower fat, and they cut it how you want it!

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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