20090304-organic.jpgThat's the question New York Times reporters Kim Severson and Andrew Martin raise in a terrific piece in today's paper. Here's the paragraph that really hit home:

The plants in Texas and Georgia that were sending out contaminated peanut butter and ground peanut butter products had something else besides rodent infestation, mold, and bird droppings. They also had federal organic certification.

Yikes! What's going on here? Am I the only person who bought a product made with organic peanut butter because I thought it was safer?

Here's what serious eaters need to know:

Although the rules governing organic food require health inspections and pest-management plans, organic certification technically has nothing to do with food safety.

Haven't we all pondered these very issues when we've been food shopping in the last month? A few weeks ago I bought a package of Newman's Own Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, surely one of life's most readily available treats. I thought about whether they contained tainted peanut butter but ultimately concluded that the fact they were organic meant they couldn't possibly be.

They weren't tainted. In fact, they were just as delicious and nutritious as ever, but Severson and Martin's piece made me realize how faulty my reasoning was. According to them, "So far, nearly 3,000 products have been recalled, including popular organic items like Clif Bar and Cascadian Farm."

What can serious eaters conclude from this episode? That organic processed food is still in fact processed, and the organic label doesn't guarantee its safety. Which means that the federal government needs to get a better handle on both organic and nonorganic food safety.


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