Okay, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. What do you want first, Chief? Let’s start with the bad news, okay? You are spinning around this earth with an intestine full of bacteria, including E. coli. The good news is you probably don’t have the nasty E. coli 0157:H7, which is the organism that causes loss of blood and sometimes, serious death. When I read about people dropping from eating Romaine lettuce, Mexican fast food or from drinking apple juice it gives me the Willies.

With this latest romaine outbreak, people who were thinking outside the bun were getting more than they bargained for when the lettuce they put in their extra crispy, organic, tempeh tacos turned out to been enhanced by the deadly strain of E. coli.

The news made me wonder, why was the lettuce bad? Do employees at restaurants and home chefs not rinse it properly? Can the nasty bacteria even be rinsed off of stuff once it’s on there? I’m disappointed in the media. They only tell you that people are dropping like flies. They never tell us whether rinsing the lettuce would have saved the day.

So I’ve looked into this a bit. Sadly, this is a real bummer for vegetarians because this bacteria almost always come from animals or their waste. A little cow manure on the garden is all it takes, or even some runoff getting onto the veggies from Bessie’s nearby pen. Cows in particular are a hazard. Eating the meat is another source for the germ, but that’s to be expected from factory farms and distant slaughter houses. But lettuce? Spinach? Sprouts?

I feel like we have to back off the giant factory farms and source as much locally as possible. Any farmer depending on the Chinese to get rich off American soil is not doing anyone any favors. Now the government is bailing out factory farms. Lobster operations back East are having trouble shipping every last lobster in the ocean to China. These tariffs may slow the draining of our resources to profit a few.

Until we can grow our own, experts say that it’s a real good idea to rinse the hell out of any raw vegetable you eat, including and especially those pre-chopped, mixed and rinsed greens (even organic). This includes vegetables you are going to peel and eat raw. Unfortunately, if the Romaine has E. coli, you probably won’t be able to get it all – there are too many nooks and crannies for the sticky bacteria to cling to. But keep rinsing. Kale? Put it through the dishwasher. It may also help to dry the rinsed greens on a clean cloth or paper towel. But, the only way to get rid of bacteria is to kill it by cooking the produce thoroughly. Another helping of steamed salad?

Meat has it too. I don’t really want to tell you why here. You might be trying to eat a bagel right now and I’d hate to spoil your breakfast. Let’s just say that the sweetest organic cow in the world, if mishandled, could be a problem. Burger meat is the most dangerous, especially if it’s not cooked all the way.

With all the high-paid chefs working at fast food joints, it’s hard to imagine this happening, but sometimes those burgers get flipped a few seconds too early, and the rest is history. The poor sod in the kitchen might not ever even know that he or she killed someone by undercooking their double bacon, cheeseburger, rare. A customer recently filed legal action against a fast food chain for cooking her meatless burger on the same grill as the meat burgers. It’s a fast food joint! What do you expect?

The other way to get this bug is through human-to-human contact. If Joey didn’t wash his hands before returning to the food prep station, we’re screwed.

The raw food movement has gained a lot of momentum. Some people are even scarfing down raw chicken and beef. Not me. If I don’t personally twist the head off the chicken, I cook it silly. Raw food is fun and good – until someone loses a life. You just have to be absolutely confident and certain of the quality from seed to salad, from Bessie to burger, from udder to chilled glass. If you have that going in your life, you are truly on top of the food chain. For the rest of us who run for the border occasionally and think outside the bun, life’s a crapshoot.

I guess the best we can do is try to eat well-rinsed and thoroughly cooked foods prepared by conscientious individuals. So yeah, Ill have the Caesar with bacon bits. But makes sure the chef dries it on a towel after rinsing if off with a fire hose …after he washes his hands.

Steve Skinner is wary of other’s bathroom habits and is glad to have gotten through this without once mentioning feces. Reach him at nigel@sopris.net.