Crikey. Logical Fallacy Bingo time again.

Or is it?

Organic Food vs aUTisMsI’ve written before about common cognitive biases making people think vaccines cause autism when everyone knows organic vegetables are responsible (the graph proves it) but perhaps I should stop this blogging lark; I wrote about Salmonella last week and appear to have provoked an epidemic. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

There have been other recent events to feed my confirmation bias but let’s look at Salmonella first: one in Yorkshire via Bulgaria, then 100 cases putatively attributed to a Japanese steakhouse in Michigan plus the US National Guard and Navy rescuing a one-year-old girl with salmonellosis on a yacht 900 miles off Mexico. Crikey again. And as if that weren’t enough, another food recall due to Salmonella.

Which prompts two important points I missed in my last post on the subject.

First is that Salmonella can be caught from dried or low moisture foods in addition to the usual animal, plant (and human!) routes. In the 1950s there were outbreaks associated with spray-dried milk and since then with cereals, chocolates, peanuts, almonds, herbs, spices, dehydrated veg such as onions and mushrooms – the list goes on. There is also the problem of using low moisture ingredients in other recipes and cross-contaminating that way. (There are factsheets explaining the two principal types of Salmonella in the Recto-BugWiki!)

While Salmonella can’t grow in low Water Activity products it can survive for long periods and you need relatively few organisms can cause illness. It also shows increased heat resistance at low-moisture levels so don’t be fooled that dried foods are not risky because they do not support bacterial growth.

Second point is that if you’re running a food business it becomes ever more important to stay vigilant; genetic techniques make it ever easier to follow the natural history of an outbreak and if you are not held to account by the authorities you may well be by the customer directly or via their lawyers.

It’s true you can never eliminate all risk which is why food safety is about putting a sequence of hurdles in the way of our Microbial Overlords; provided you can show that you’ve done everything reasonably practical and followed the rules you’ll be fine (not least as that makes it unlikely customers will get sick).

Back to the bugs. The E. coli outbreaks reported this week are apposite given the Food Standards Agency’s public meeting last Monday regarding Raw Milk – see if you can spot me – coinciding with increased fervour about the subject in the USA. Raw milk is more popular there – and infections from it are up. Wow! While association is not  necessarily causation sometimes it is – you just need to show a causal link. As has been done with… errrrr…. raw milk. Regular readers will know I have no strong opinions on raw milk but I am told those that want to feed their children sewage in the insane belief that it’s healthy claim it’s about freedom.

I can’t help but observe the parallels with the vaccine ‘controversy’. Of course, the only controversy is people thinking Google is a University, not a search engine, and that cherry-picking uninformed opinion that confirms their biases is research. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”…

So hats off to Croatia’s Constitutional Court who recently upheld a contested law mandating all children receive vaccinations. Their judgement:

“The child’s right to health is more than the rights of parents to the (wrong) choice.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.