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Being too safe?

In a recent post I was commenting on food safety regulations being enforced without understanding and this reminded me of an experience we had.

We’d written about storing garlic and chilli peppers in oil. We explained that we just stored them in cold olive oil only to get a blitz of comments about how this would give you botulism.

We back traced the story to a case of botulism in Canada where garlic in oil was suspected that had been reported and the reports copied, embellished and reported to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that a clove of garlic dipped in oil was a biological weapon! That was the only actual case we could find world-wide.

You’ll often find information is taken from a web site and copied to others so that after a while people are convinced it’s true because so many people say the same thing. Recently I made a mistake about the vitamin content of Brussels sprouts. An honest mistake that was easy to rectify. What was interesting was that the person who kindly pointed it out to me said they’d originally got it from a seed supplier who, when challenged, quoted me as the source. You can see how these things spread and take on a life of their own.

Anyway, back to storing in oil. We didn’t want to mislead our readers and get them poisoning themselves. But it was something we and two chefs we know have done for years without problem. So I contacted some food scientists and sought their advice. Was it a risk or not?

None of those I spoke to were willing to be quoted on the record but it came down to this. Apart from one who’s primary source of information was Google, they said the risk was (at least in the UK) vanishingly small. They wouldn’t be concerned and would eat garlic stored like that quite happily. But, and here it comes, since they couldn’t prove it safe they’d have to say it wasn’t if quoted.

This may seem logical, but it’s a bit like saying that there is a risk you will be hit by a meteor walking outside and therefore you should remain undercover forever. There’s risk in everything and we can’t escape it. It’s quantifying the risk that’s tricky.

Anyway, we took the cowards way out and instead of advocating the way we’ve used for years in our books and on the site, we recommend the hot oil method. You never know, that meteor might just strike and then we’d get sued! Not to forget answering email after email warning we’re doomed if we carry on as normal would sap the life out of us.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary

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