Opinions vary as to the accuracy of the adage, “You are what you eat,” but do you even know what you eat?

A growing trend has many foodies working to ensure a clear answer to that question. In opposition to fast food restaurants, prepackaged portions and unpronounceable ingredients, the “slow food” movement has taken off here in middle Tennessee and many other parts of the country. Some fans of local produce want to discover local eating traditions. Others are mainly interested in organic farming practices. But there’s a third element to the slow food trend that may tip more scales to the side of local produce even right here in Nashville.

Ethical buying might seem superfluous when compared to the convenience of a neighborhood big box grocery store. But ethical buying is a nod to smaller farms, literal hands-on attention to production and, last but not least, healthy management of the final product – both plants and animals alike. In light of recent egg-related Salmonella enteritidis (SE) outbreaks, having the opportunity to actually see a farmer grow the dinner that ends up on your table could be a worthwhile endeavor.

About 80 percent of egg producers manage flocks of 50,000 or more egg-laying hens. These industrial egg producers are the first farms to go under the multi-year roll-out of steep new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for SE testing. This first stage egg safety action plan went into effect early in July and the FDA hopes it will reduce the estimated 79,000 cases of egg-related Salmonella infections in humans each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded approximately 50 cases of Salmonella enteritidis infections in the United States each week over the past five years. But beginning in late June, before the new FDA regulations went into effect, the CDC recognized a four-fold increase in the normal rate of infections. Investigators in individual states were able to track illnesses back to specific restaurants and events, and then identified Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, as the source of shell eggs used by each of those food service entities. On Aug. 13, Wright Country Egg issued a nationwide voluntary recall of the shell eggs it had shipped since May 19 to food wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The recalled shell eggs are packaged under the following brand names: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps.

Notably, Wright County Egg has been a repeat violator of farming regulations. Consumers can only hope the new and stiffer FDA egg-handling requirements went into effect in the nick of time. If industrial farmers and corporate food distributors are unable to manage food safely for the consumer, it may be time for consumers to take a more active role in their own health and safety.

Neither Nashville nor any part of the State of Tennessee has been included in the egg recalls, state and local agencies are investigating Salmonella infections in our area just in case there’s a connection. Visit FDA.gov for the most up-to-date listing of recalled shell eggs.

The Centers for Disease Control keeps track of local, regional and nationwide spikes in food borne illness via a network called PulseNet. The network of health and food regulatory agency laboratories works as a unit to quickly identify outbreak patterns.

For more information on slow food and locally grown foods in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, visit Slow Food USA, Local Table, and The Nashville Farmer’s Market. Visit FoodSafety.gov for the latest information on the nationwide egg recall and for tips on the safe handling of foods from Tennessee and elsewhere.