Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The most dangerous food in the world!

This is a repost from A Curate's Egg, but it is topical (re The Fat Duck post) and really belongs here .

In my previous incarnation as a food chemist I was often asked ''What food shouldn't we eat?"
I'm not sure what people expected me to say.

Butter, maybe.

In the incarnation prior to that one, I worked at the Coroner's Court doing post-mortem drug analyses. No one ever asked me what drugs they shouldn't take.

However, there I am, Food Chemist, at a dinner party or a BBQ and after the obligatory "What do you do for a living?" question I get the "Oh, really? What food shouldn't we eat?" question. Always tricky if you don't know what is on the menu. But few people are ready for my reply.

Alfalfa sprouts.

Yes, those clean, green, biodynamically pumped shoots are one of the most treacherous foods on the menu.

"Surely not! You're joking, right?"


Think about it. Seeds of any sort are open to the environment. They will have bacteria on them. So what do you do with them? You soak them in water and leave them somewhere warm for three days. Water, warmth, and the seed, a good souce of protein. Bacteria heaven.

"But sprouts have been eaten for centuries." they protest.

"Cooked" I respond. Eating sprouts raw is a recent 'healthy' practice.

Cooking sprouts will kill any bacteria.

That doesn't mean that raw sprouts are bad, just that they are high risk. There is no safety net.
You can reduce the risks by using boiled or chlorinated water and changing the water frequently.

"Now, would you like my thoughts on curry powder? Or margarine?"

"Ah ... that's very kind of you but I can see an actuary over there that I have been dying to talk to ... "


  1. I am gonna go tell this to my ma..
    She is all a raw food junkie!
    This made sense! :)

  2. Fascinating. I'm terrible for eating things raw. Do it all the time. I read that in medieval england they never ate anything raw, they thought everything was poisonous raw, even fruit, so everything was cooked. Maybe they knew something we're now happily ignoring.

  3. Loved the line about wanting to talk with the actuary - ties in nicely with the post about chemists being next to last on the virginity scale; math majors were in a tie with them. LOL

  4. A bit like steering clear of 'healthy' salads in tropical climes, unless you're 100% certain they've been washed.

    I'm sure fire was tamed with the express intent of sterilising food.

  5. WEll, e coli to you too. My garden guru was telling me that llama poop was good to use directly on the vegetable beds.
    Directly, as in no composting necessary?

    It's too good to be true, I said. I was right on that one. Now, you tell me even gentle sprouts that cost us an arm and a leg at the organic store could give us the same bacteria. Ouch. You feed my paranoia, Doctor.

  6. Oh thank goodness! I hate raw sprouts. I'm not a fan of sprouts anyway. I had a friend who fed alfalfa sprouts to her guinea pig. Yuck! They make me think of eating fruit flies for some reason.

  7. "Now, would you like my thoughts on curry powder?"

    Research the thousands of articles on PUBMED on the health benefits of curcumin (turmeric) before you give us those thoughts

    1. Dear Anonymous poster: please read my post before commenting. You have completely missed the point. I am not making any assertions about the merits, or otherwise, of curcumin. I am referring to the microbiological risks of using curry powder in non-traditional ways.


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