For nutrition nuts and conscious foodies alike, some ingredients have a halo of innocence around them. Some foods are just so healthful, so representative of the way we wish our food system could be, that they bear a metaphorical sign at their door that reads, "Please, PLEASE Do Not Mess This Up For Us." The powers that be (a.k.a. the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and friends) can slander all the industrially-produced beef and airline food they want. By all means, pull those suckers from the shelves/tray tables and damn them to food purgatory to languish unbought and unloved! Just as long as they stay away from the organic, local, farm-raised superfoods of the world.
I am sad to report that lately, there's trouble in paradise. This month's latest food poisoning outbreak that's sweeping North America isn't being pinned on Taco Bell or the inconspicuous raw-chicken-breast-on-the-counter. The dreaded and bowel-fearing salmonella has got its slimy fingers on one of the trendiest food items out there: chia seeds.
The former pet turned obsession of superfood-pusher Dr. Oz, chia seeds pack a quintuple nutritional punch of fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants, and protein, among other purported benefits. NONE OF THAT MATTERS, people, because at least 65 infections in the US and Canada have been linked to chia seeds and the powders, trail mixes, and fruit and nut bars that contain the miracle stuff. Since May 28, clusters of victims have reported eating vegan, vegetarian, and dairy-free diets—code for "health food nuts."
The list of recalled products has been steadily expanding on both sides of the border. "Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that organic sprouted chia powder is the likely source of this outbreak," the CDC said. Canadian and American food safety agents have told consumers to avoid the chia seeds altogether. I'm not sure if that includes Chia Pets.
The worst part is that many people don't even realize that this is going on in the midst of making chia seed pudding—not even people with relatives who work for the CDC. Dr. Laura Gieraltowski, one of the lead investigators on the outbreak, called chia seeds a "stealthy" ingredient that could be lurking in many a beloved health food product. She added, "My own family members, two of which use chia seeds, had no idea about the recall."
Well, great. Not only is this poor, darling seed on the outs with eaters everywhere, but the CDC doesn't even let its own family members know that they might die or crap their brains out by chia smoothies (though, to note, no deaths and only two hospitalizations have been reported). If you think you may have had one spoonful of chia (Pet) too many, the symptoms of salmonella can be found right here. I'm sticking to flax and hemp seeds and pruning my Chia Pet in the interim.