BLT: Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato? No, Botulism, Listeria and Toxoplasma

Frankenstein’s food laboratories have excelled again: they’ve created a sandwich that stays fresh for fourteen days. Of course, that’s stretching the meaning of the word “fresh” somewhat but it brings a renewed challenge to Gerald Ratner who once said that his shops sold earrings that were cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich “but probably wouldn’t last as long”. Now the food technologists have raised the bar and Ratner must up his game.

I don’t doubt that the new, if that’s the right word, sandwiches taste “fresh”, my concern is what has been done to the components to make them last that long. Natural foods go off for a reason. It’s nature’s way of saying “Don’t eat me” because what made it wholesome in the first place has now gone and the bad stuff has taken over. We know and understand how we can slow that process down naturally, by freezing it for instance, but even so we can still lose some of the goodness. Other ways are less benign. Adding chemicals to preserve food is adding potentially harmful substances and we won’t know for sure whether or not they’re harmful until we’ve been consuming them for a decade or two.

I would also like to understand whether the new process merely masks the tell-tale evidence of rotted food, fooling our senses into thinking that it is still “fresh”. Just because they’ve stopped a sandwich from curling doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. Frankly, I’d rather trust my senses than the food technologists because they have an abysmal track record in food safety and food preservation.

This story reminds me of another great innovation, the tin can. Nobody thought that was a problem until explorers and sailors started dying from lead poisoning caused by the solder leaching lead into the can’s contents. We’ve made the very same mistake again in modern times. We used to think wrapping food in clingfilm was safe enough, but we now know that plasticisers aren’t good to eat and the early products were banned because they can cause cancer. Millions of people used to wrap food in clingfilm and cook it in a microwave, that’s how ignorant we were.

Or more to the point, that’s how ignorant the food technologists were.

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