A disquieting, highly effective assault on the American way of producing and eating food. The daily news is full--but not full enough, in freelance journalist Fox's view--of stories about mad cow disease, outbreaks of food poisoning at fast-food restaurants, and biogenetic experimentation. The media, Fox holds, are seriously underreporting the threat that current methods of food manufacture and distribution pose to health. ``The incidence of foodborne illness has been growing for some time,'' she writes, citing Centers for Disease Control figures that put the food-poisoning count alone at more than 81 million cases a year; E. coli 0157:H7, a particularly nasty bacterium, alone causes as many as 20,000 illnesses each year, killing between 250 and 500 Americans. It is no longer safe, she points out, to eat the skins of uncooked vegetables, no longer safe to eat eggs, perhaps even no longer safe to eat hamburger. It's something of an irony, Fox slyly remarks, that with our abundance of food choices--the average supermarket today stocks 25,000-odd items, against the 300 a store held in 1950--we should have to worry so much about what we eat. But we do, and the causes are many. With advances in transportation, refrigeration, chemical engineering, and industrial agriculture, our foods come farther and farther from their sources, and at all seasons, an unnatural state of affairs never before seen in human history. In the meanwhile, bacteria are getting smarter, evolving to survive efforts to contain them. Salmonella, Fox writes, now can survive in eggs boiled for as much as eight minutes, ``bad news indeed for egg lovers, for home cooks everywhere, and certainly for chefs--if they read obscure medical journals.'' Her prose is a little ungainly, and her case studies are sometimes repetitive, but Fox's book will make you think twice about the foods you buy and consume. A first-rate work of journalism in the public interest.