July 19, 2018

The Care and Eating of Fruits and Veggies

June is Fruits and Vegetables Month. And because fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and the most common source of food poisoning in the U.S., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has compiled some food safety tips.

produceAccording to a study published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  produce was the implicated in 46 percent of all illnesses stemming from outbreaks where a food source could be identified, with leafy greens accounting for 23 percent.

Produce can be contaminated by pathogens in the soil or water where it is grown, but also by those who handle, prepare and serve it. For example, norovirus, the most common pathogen source identified in food poisoning outbreaks, is almost always spread by an infected food worker.  A person who has norovirus will experience symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea, for about a day but be contagious for three days after symptoms resolve.

While there’s no way of knowing if the restaurant server of your salad is recovering from norovirus, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of illness while preparing produce at home. Here is what the FDA recommends:

The first thing is a refrigerator thermometer. Get one at a hardware store if your fridge is not equipped with one. Food that goes in the fridge needs to stay at 40˚ F. Anything above that puts it into the “danger zone” where bacteria multiplies rapidly. (An appliance thermometer is also handy when the power goes out. Generally, a fridge can keep foods at a safe temperature for about four hours if the door is not opened. At the four hour mark, it’s best sto start moving food you want to save into ice filled coolers.)

At the store, look for produce that is not damaged, discolored or bruised. Bag it separately from meat or poultry. When buying pre-cut produce, such as a portion of a watermelon or a bagged salad, only buy it from a refrigerated or ice-filled display.

At home, before you prepare produce, be sure that cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops have been washed with soap and hot water after the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood. Plastic or other non-porous cutting boards should be run through the dishwasher after use.

Before you begin to prepare produce, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. Then rinse the produce under cold running water and dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel. Produce with hard skin, such as cucumbers, melons and potatoes,  should be scrubbed with a clean brush under cold running water and then dried.  All produce must be washed before eating- a cucumber you are going to peel, an apple you are having for a snack, leafy greens you grew yourself, or those grown organically or conventionally that you purchased. Don’t use soap or a special vegetable wash.

Pre-cut bags or containers have different labels. If it says prewashed and ready to eat, you don’t have to wash it. If  it says some other variation and you choose to wash it, follow the steps above.

Finally, a word about sprouts. Sprouts are grown in warm humid conditions that are ideal for bacteria such as E.coli, Listeria and Salmonella to grow. Washing sprouts won’t remove this bacteria. The only way to kill the bacteria is to cook the sprouts. That’s why the FDA and the CDC recommend that children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind. If you are not in a high-risk group, but want to reduce your risk of food poisoning, eat only cooked sprouts.

An ongoing E. coli outbreak that has sickened 18 people in five states has been linked to raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s and other sandwich shops. Forty four percent of the case patients were so sick they required hospitalization.

 

 

Comments

  1. Why not use a vegetable and fruit wash?

    • Linda Larsen says:

      Good thought, but produce washes don’t reduce contamination any more than running water does, according to the FDA and scientific literature.

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