dumpster cooties?

Once upon last week (or was it the week before? my e-mail inbox has become a treacherous slope, move just one smooth gray pebble and the whole avalanche will come down on my head, best to just give it a good 10-meter radius) a Click Clack Gorilla reader (whose own blog you can find here) sent me an e-mail with some questions about dumpster diving. And I figured if she wanted to know, then maybe others might want to know too, and by the way I really love it when you folks send me questions because then I know what it is I have yet to tell you and posts begin to accumulate at a rate almost equivalent to that of unanswered e-mails in my inbox. Which is awesome because as you might have noticed I haven’t exactly been prolific lately.

And what did said reader want to know about dumpster diving? Well.

Here is the deal. I see the food you get out of the trash and it all looks perfectly fresh and lovely. The problem is, I have OCD and my main issue is food “cooties.” Even with commercially purchased food I sometimes get skeeved out and have to purge. This wastefullness upsets me but my fears win every time. I have no trouble with used clothes, salvaged furniture, and I even have a bedspread (that I love) I picked up in a thrift store. But I won’t even buy food at the dollar store for fear it has been cast out for potential ickyness.

I was wondering if you ever worry about “cooties” in the food you source from the trash. Do you find stuff in dumpsters? Is it wrapped up? Have you ever gotten sick from found food?

Me, well, I’m pretty much the opposite of a germ-o-phobe. I like to think of any stray bacteria that gets into my food as an extra boost for my immune system. (There is doctorly truth in this too, I have been told.) I have eaten a hell of a lot of dumpster dived food in my day, and I’ve never gotten sick. I have tabled dived the leftovers of strangers, and I’ve never gotten sick. And my stomach is not made of steel, oh no, in fact it’s a manic, moody fucker (hellooo, IBS). I’ve never eaten meat out of a dumpster, as I don’t really eat meat much (we’re talking like once a year here, and then I get it organic at the market), though I imagine that is a more slippery slope cootie-wise.

I think it’s important to trust your senses. Your eyes and your nose are the best for telling you if something’s still good, right? That’s how I do it, and like I’ve said, I’ve had a very clean record of dumpster health. Cootie free. If something tastes or smells funny, don’t eat it. And if you find 300 packages of bacon in the dumpster, check the web to see if there’s been a health-issue-related recall before you stuff it all down your hungry snout.

If you’ve never been dumpster diving for food, you’d probably be surprised at how non-skeevey the whole process is. In Germany, for example, stores separate all the organic food from the rest, so you’re looking at a huge pile of veggies, not veggies mixed with the regular gross trash. But I’ll take veggies that have ended up in the gross part too, but those get a very thorough washing. And considering pesticide use, that’s a good idea no matter what, bought or dumpstered, I say.

Have any of you ever gotten sick from dumpster dived food? What guidelines do you follow to make sure nothing spoiled ends up on your plate?

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Thursday April 07th 2011, 12:55 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,food,freegan

4 Comments so far. Please leave a comment.

wow, how nice that the leavings are organized where you are, here the places I tried finding food in are locked now (formerly abundant bakery) or have compactors (hippie-ish supermarket chain) so food is hard to come by

I organized our snack & candy cabinets today and am sampling chocolate with raisins & hazelnuts that “expired” 3.5 years, if it’s stale, it’s pleasantly so, I’ll cut it & other neglected chocolates & put in cookies tomorrow

Comment by tess 04.08.11 @ 12:40 am

I haven’t eaten dumpstered food in a long time, but I think there are probably more incidents of people getting sick from the crap that comes from factory-farmed food (animal or vegetable) than we realize.

If it’s an OCD thing, though, it may take a lot for this reader to overcome. I recommend starting by sharing someone’s toothbrush. Or, start with only dumpstering boxed/packaged items.

Comment by Jill 04.08.11 @ 2:00 am

great post! I’ve never done it myself, but friends of mine practically live off it, and they’ve never gotten sick. two tips I’ve learned from them: if someone drops a crate of honey jars (or something similar) and one cracks and spills, all of it gets thrown out! also, if a fan in a refrigeration unit goes out, as a precaution the store will throw out everything inside of it. I’ll try it soon enough!

Comment by Will 04.09.11 @ 5:38 am

Never gotten sick from anything liberated from a trash container, but I’ve probably walked the line a few times… Some three-day old ready-made sandwiches containing meat and mayo, also salads with cheese in them… but nothing BAD. That’s in contrast with a street-food chicken sandwich, which had me cramped over in pain for two days and two nights.

Hey, could I visit you? I’m not far – in the land of no-government, Belgium, and have time off from school until the 2nd of May starting this weekend.
Whaddaya say? :)

Comment by Mihail 04.12.11 @ 9:03 pm




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