Most canned tomatoes contain bisphenol-A, a controversial endocrine disrupter. While some manufacturers are going BPA-free, it's particularly hard to make a BPA-free canned tomato because of the fruit's acidity. But Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes are now BPA-free; Eden Foods offers organic tomatoes in glass jars. Shelf-stable boxed tomatoes are another option. Most campaigns against BPA center on pregnant women and babies, but some studies link it to adult diabetes and heart disease too.
Salmonella is so common in raw chicken that government guidelines assume it's there and treat the meat accordingly. You can avoid getting sick from salmonella by avoiding cross-contamination and cooking the meat properly, but why not lower the odds that the birds you're eating are infected?
One study found salmonella in 39 percent of conventionally raised chickens, but only 6 percent of organic birds from the same farm.
It's No. 2 on the Dirty Dozen list this year, and the Environmental Working Group says it's also one of the vegetables most likely to contain multiple pesticides. Ninety-six percent of its samples tested positive for pesticides and nearly 90 percent had retained more than one pesticide. One sample was contaminated with 13 different kinds of pesticides.
Spicy tuna rolls are a mainstay of grab-and-go sushi packs, but a recent outbreak of salmonella brought attention to the food's origins. The rolls typically include "tuna scrape," flesh scraped from fish skeletons, frozen in large blocks, and generally shipped to the U.S. from overseas.
The "scrape" isn't inherently more dangerous than other raw fish, but, like ground meat or any other product combining ingredients from large numbers of animals, a single contaminated animal can spark a widespread outbreak. Slices of nigiri sushi should be safer. Ask your supplier where it sources the fish for the chopped stuff in its rolls.
While they're No. 4 on the Dirty Dozen list when it comes to total contamination (strawberries are No. 3), the Environmental Working Group says its peach samples had been treated with a greater number of pesticides than any other produce, with combinations of up to 57 different chemicals.
Apples came close behind, with 56 separate pesticides. Raspberries, though No. 24 for the amount of total contamination, had retained up to 51 different pesticides.
There are plenty of environmental and political arguments for buying your food from local farmers, but there's a practical argument too, even if local food costs more. Supermarkets often select produce based on what will last the longest and be easiest to pack and ship, says Local Harvest's Erin Barnett. But locally grown produce is likelier to be bred for taste. It's also probably been harvested more recently, retaining more nutrients.
"It isn't always apples to apples when you're just checking the prices. Take into account the quality and the flavor," advises Barnett.
Rebekah Denn is a two-time winner of the James Beard Award for food writing. She is a regular contributor to The Seattle Times and Sunset magazine.
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