Certain events and headlines of the past few months remain in the forefront of my mind because they infer — as bad as they are — there are many others, as yet not headlined, that will inevitably be identified and reported as being worse.

There’s an old joke about a man who, feeling ill, went to see his doctor. After an examination, the doctor told him X-rays indicated he was in need of an operation.

“How much will it cost?” the man asked.

“Several thousand dollars,” the doctor replied.

“I can’t afford it,” the man said.

The doctor thought for a moment and then said, “Well, for $50 we can retouch the X-rays.”

It strikes me, we are not above retouching X-rays in this society. Take, for instance, the poultry industry. As the poultry business grew and markets expanded in order to meet demand and increase profits, the poultry industry resorted to a variety of mechanized procedures which ultimately resulted in contaminated eggs.

Widespread poultry contamination resulted from conditions in which hens are kept and from washing thousands of carcasses in tanks filled with the waste of thousands of carcasses that preceded them. Consider how bad conditions must be to make that age-old challenge to architects and engineers and designers, that epitome of functional design — the egg — poisonous, when just laid?

Poultry in our markets is so systematically contaminated it has become an industry standard so totally accepted that the solution is not sought in corrective or preventative measures but only in the handling of the contaminated product. We are warned that bacteria in the product — if deposited not only on our hands, but also on our counter tops and sinks — can bring sickness or even death. Meat and fishery products industries are rapidly following the poultry model.

Are we content to accept that’s the way it is; the way it must be; and the way it will continue to be?

“No problem,” says the food industry. “Just use the ready-made and innovative solution, antibacterial soap,” a product designed to use the inadequacies of one industry as the basis for creating a new one.

Thus, entrepreneurs offer us a means — a diversified assortment of specialized soaps — to protect ourselves from impure foods for which the only reliable defense is total abstinence. And if we don’t use these new products to protect ourselves from contaminated food and we become ill, it’s our fault. Are you comfortable with that? I’m not.

Poultry has not always been a threat to health. When grandfather took Sunday’s dinner, still squawking, out to the chopping block, plunged it into scalding water and plucked it and dressed it, he never worried about salmonella. He washed his hands with whatever soap was handy and plunked the chicken on the sink drain where grandmother took over. There was never a worry of E. coli or B. coli.

As a matter of fact, after World War II, before “big box” supermarkets came on the scene and the volume of poultry sales greatly increased, one never heard of a person sickening or dying as the result of eating chicken, much less for just handling it. Disease wasn’t a factor until the technological revolution in food processing and distribution made it one; new technology and methodology was organized to increase the speed of production and increase profits, somewhat incidentally wiping out countless small poultry producers.

With the permission of government regulations, food purity was simply set aside. Today, in the name of productivity and profit, it is no longer the food producer who is responsible for purity of product. Rather it is we, the consumers, who, held hostage for our own health, must assume the risk. With extra effort and cost for the consumer, and more products and greater profits for industry, antibacterial soap solves our problem today.

But what problems will antibacterial soaps themselves generate tomorrow in our bodies, our water and our children? What will be the next layer of complex protection from a problem that could be easily solved? Is it really impossible to simply demand that basic food production processes be sanitized? Let’s face it. Aren’t we retouching X-rays?

Norbert Nathanson, a Northport resident, had a career in public television, education and government.