Many of my clients have a big fear of food poisoning, especially as they start cooking and fermenting their own traditional foods. The three major fears I see are fear of handling raw meat, home fermenting food, and consumption of raw dairy. We will address each of those specifically, but the over arching concern is a few of “germs”. This often comes from a conventional medical perspective (or if someone has worked in food safety!) where germs are seen as “bad”, rather than important parts of your microbial ecosystem. The truth is- germs do not cause disease. I know, I know- most people’s heads explode when they here me say that. But truly, it is only bacteria or other pathogens in the CONTEXT of a weak immune system that cause problems. The most paradoxical thing about this is that people who are most afraid of germs are people wiping everything down with bleach and hand sanitizer, when truly these practices are actually making you more susceptible to being attacked by a germ in a dangerous way. Our good microbes protect us from bad microbes- so the solution to a healthier immune system is actually exposure to MORE germs- not less!

We need to constantly be exposed to “germs” to keep our internal ecosystem healthy. This means probiotics in food, making skin to skin contact with other people and animals, playing in the dirt, exposed to natural sources of water, and more. Therefore, it is how balanced and healthy your gut is that defines how the viruses, parasites, or bacteria you are exposed to are going to affect you. You can see this play out in real life: not everyone who eats at the same restaurant gets food poisoning. Not even everyone in a family, exposed to the same viruses, will get the flu. It is not the germ, it is the ecosystem.

All that being said- what about these primary fears? Meat, ferments, and raw dairy. Fear about meat is generally centered around raw meat and safe preparation methods.

If you look at official data, it is actually much more likely to get food poisoning from raw vegetables or improperly stored leftovers (not refrigerated at the correct temperature) than to get sick from meat. Raw meat is eaten regularly in many traditional diets. It is easy to digest and very nutrient rich. Even FERMENTED meat is eaten in many cultures! Fermented food over all, whether it is fermented meat, vegetables, or dairy, is a universal part of all human diets. It is so important that we remember, people have been preparing meat, fermented foods and drinking dairy without pasteurizing it for centuries without any problems. We have learned to few methods of preparation that have been used all over the world for thousands of years.

It is always important to trust your sense of taste and smell. We evolved highly tuned senses that can easily pick out pathogens. If something tastes or smells rotten- it probably is! If something simply tastes sour or bitter- it has likely been successfully fermented. We CAN trust our guts around food safety. It ensured the safety and health of our ancestors when we did not have highly regulated food storage methods.

It is essential to remember that people only started getting sick from raw dairy in the late 1800’s when people started moving cows into dirty, crowded cities and milking them without any proper public sanitation. Cows raised in clean, healthy, rural environments do not make dirty or contaminated milk. It is truly only in an artificial, urban context. Pasteurizing was the solution to filthy living conditions before public sanitation standards were put into place. We do not need this anymore, but now the myth has been promoted that raw dairy is dangerous. It is not the dairy- it is the context it is produced in.

I encourage you to look at history, look at the traditions of cultures around the world, and bravely experiment with skills that are essential to learn for our long term health. Germaphobia only harms us, it does not help us. We need these enzyme, probiotic, and nutrient rich foods to be healthy, and your fear is the only obstacle to that.

About the Author
Jen Donovan completely rebuilt her life and career as a result of her experience with severe chronic illness. After finding no answers from conventional medical approaches, she took matters into her own hands and with the help of key mentors, found a path to healing.
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