The FDA has released information on how to select and serve produce safely, which is timely considering the two current outbreaks linked to raw sprouts. An E. coli O157:NM outbreak in Minnesota and Wisconsin has sickened at least 9 people, and a Salmonella Muenchen outbreak in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania has sickened at least 13.
It’s worth noting, however, that raw sprouts are an inherently risky product, and your selecting and handling this food may not have any effect at all on their safety. Sprouts can be contaminated from within, so no amount of cleaning on your part will ever make them safe.
For other produce, you can follow safe handling tips to protect yourself and your family. And if you choose to eat raw sprouts, these tips may help reduce the risk of illness somewhat.
When buying produce, always look for products that are not damaged, with bruised skin, tears or holes in the skin, or soft or moldy parts. If you are buying pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce, only buy those items that are in a refrigerated case or surrounded by ice. And keep fresh fruits and vegetables completely separate from raw milk, poultry, eggs, and seafood when shopping and while packing them to take home.
Always store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables in a clean refrigerator that is set to a temperature of 40°F or below, verified with a refrigerator thermometer. Always refrigerate all produce that is bought pre-cut, such as watermelon slices, or packaged.
Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw away from raw meat, eggs, poultry, and seafood. And watch out for cross-contamination. Cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops should be washed with soap and hot water after preparing raw meats and other such foods. The best solution is to use one cutting board for raw meats and another for fresh produce. And always run cutting boards through the dishwasher after use if they are plastic or non-porous. Other boards, such as wood, should be cleaned with soap and water.
Never eat any produce that looks rotten, and cut away damaged or bruised areas before you prepare or et them. Wash all produce under running water before preparing or eating. This includes produce you grow at home or buy from a store or a farmers’ market. Do not wash them with soap, detergent, or a commercial produce wash. Even if you are peeling the produce before eating, wash the skin. Bacteria can be transferred from the surface to the flesh when peeling and cutting.
Scrub produce with hard skins under running water with a produce brush. Then dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel that is only used once to further reduce bacteria.
Pre-washed and pre-cut and pre-bagged foods are usually pre-washed and ready to eat as long as the package label states that is the case. If you want to wash produce marked “pre-washed”, make sure that it isn’t contaminated in your kitchen by touching a dirty sink, not cleaned surfaces, or raw meats.
If you have experienced the symptoms of food poisoning after eating Jack and the Green Sprouts raw sprouts, or Sweetwater Farms raw sprouts, see your doctor. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and headaches. Salmonella and E. coli infections can be very serious and cause lifelong complications and even death if not treated properly.