Cultured Food Safety
I get a lot of people writing me letters indicating that they are afraid they are going to get sick from eating cultured foods. They don't understand cultured foods and how they work - preconceived ideas and the media have created fear, a lot of fear. I get a lot of letters about one particular story that floats around the internet stating that kombucha killed somebody. One really good friend who was making his mom kombucha after she got cancer saw that story and stopped making it because he was scared. It didn't matter to him that I had been drinking and making it for 17 years right in front of him. If it was on the internet, it was true.
The story stating that kombucha tea killed someone was based on a single incident back in 1995 where a woman was admitted to the hospital with severe acidosis and elevated levels of lactic acid in her body and later died. According to reports, she had been consuming kombucha every day for two months prior to her death.
You can never just blindly believe every story until you read the underlying facts, and it clearly states that no direct link was confirmed between kombucha tea and the woman's death. In fact, the report states that she had already been suffering from other underlying health conditions, and that she "took medications for hypertension, anemia, and mild renal insufficiency." An autopsy later showed that her actual cause of death appeared to be "peritonitis with fecal contamination of the peritoneal cavity"
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"If you read it on the internet, it must be true." Abraham Lincoln
Fermentation Makes Food Safe
I want to explain to you how safe these foods are and why you don't need to be afraid. For thousands of years, it was the process of fermentation that made possible the safe storage of food. The good bacteria in cultured foods become so strong and dominant that they keep pathogens and harmful bacteria out. It's how people protected themselves and made their food safe. They also found these foods had more vitamins than they contained before they were fermented. The fermentation process added enzymes and probiotics and helped digest the foods they ate. When there are so many good bacteria strains and good yeasts in foods from the process of fermentation, the harmful and bad bacteria cannot survive. It's how the whole wonderful art of fermentation was designed to help us. First it preserves the food and then when you eat it, it preserves you and makes you live longer. Botulism cannot happen - it is a scientific impossibility. It won't survive the good and mighty acidifying bacteria that are found by the billions in these foods.
I have been eating these foods for so long and I have studied the science behind it; and I must tell you there are other forces going on here because fermentation is one of those wonders of the universe that I think is a gift to all of us.
Botulism Can't Get a Foothold
I know that this process of fermentation goes against the common understanding of food preservation. Fermentation causes the vegetables to rise in the jar and sometimes push up the lid on the jar, and we have been trained that this is dangerous.
It is true that if you see a can that has a raised lid you should never eat it. Do you know why? It is because all of the good bacteria have been killed and the only bacteria that can survive heat is botulism. So, yes, this is dangerous in canned foods. However, with cultured foods the good bacteria are never heated so they survive and take over, and botulism can't get a foothold. You would have to kill off the other good bacteria with heat, which you never do with cultured foods. So, it is very safe and you do not need to be afraid.
I have seen cultured veggies go bad by being exposed to air or veggies that weren't fresh, but you will always know when they are bad. You will see black mold and it will have a horrible odor that makes it impossible to want to consume. It's my favorite thing about cultured foods. They will show you something is "off," but this happens very infrequently. Almost always they last for month and months in your fridge, preserved to perfection like a fine wine. Kombucha will turn to vinegar if you let it go too far. This, too, is something that will last forever in your cabinet and at this point, you can just use it as you would use any other type of vinegar.
These foods are not only safe, but they will also help you digest your food, make vitamin K in your gut, boost your immune system, fight viruses and pathogens, make serotonin and elevate your mood, lower your blood pressure, and lower your blood sugar. These are just a few of the things they have done for me. This is why I love them so, they are special cultures that sit upon my counter and transform my food which then transforms me.
No Safety Concerns
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service microbiologist Fred Breidt says properly fermented vegetables are actually safer than raw vegetables, which might have been exposed to pathogens like E. coli on the farm. “With fermented products, there is no safety concern. I can flat-out say that. The reason is the lactic acid bacteria that carry out the fermentation are the world’s best killers of other bacteria,” says Breidt, who works at a lab at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, where scientists have been studying fermented and other pickled foods since the 1930s.
Breidt adds that fermented vegetables, for which there are no documented cases of food-borne illness, are safer for novices to make than canned vegetables. Pressurized canning creates an anaerobic environment that increases the risk of deadly botulism, particularly with low-acid foods.
These Foods Are Safer Than Canned and Even Raw Foods
For hundreds of years, we had no giant industrial agriculture where food was produced on a large scale. People bought or grew their food locally. Food was not processed and packaged on an enormous scale, and we had no airplanes, 18-wheelers, or massive cargo ships to distribute food.
It wasn't until the industrial model hit food production that we started having tons of people becoming sick from food sources. The government had to start regulating food safety because of how big and vast it had become. It was not because of the traditional farmer or food fermentation. So yes, these foods are not only safer than canned and even raw foods; but they are essential to keeping our bodies healthy and vibrant for years longer than if we didn't consume them.
Listen To My Podcast
Many people are afraid to make cultured foods for fear they'll mess it up and get sick. They don’t understand cultured foods and how they work, and preconceived ideas have created fear. Check out today's podcast and learn the science that will help you gain confidence and remove the fear.