Summer is a great time for eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whether they come from the local farmer’s market, grocery store or your garden. Fresh produce may become contaminated with harmful pathogens that can cause food poisoning. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, one in six Americans get sick every year from foodborne pathogens that you cannot see, smell or taste but are everywhere. Eating any contaminated product is serious business because it can make you very sick and even cause death. Unfortunately, produce labeled as organic or locally grown are not immune to contamination.
Each year, 3,000 Americans die from food poisoning. In 2011, listeria-contaminated produce caused the deadliest food-borne illness outbreak in nearly 90 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Harmful foodborne pathogens like E. Coli, salmonella, listeria and norovirus may contaminate fruits and vegetables from the soil or water or during harvesting.
New recommendations for a healthy eating plan include filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. So enjoy produce, but be sure to follow safe buying, storing and preparing tips. A rule of thumb is to avoid produce with mold, bruises or cuts as these are great places for bacteria to hide and spread rapidly to other places of the fruit. Also, buy loose produce rather than pre-packaged. This seems counterintuitive, because we think of pre-packaged foods as being washed, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the more food is handled the higher the risk of contamination. If you do purchase bagged lettuce or pre-washed carrots be sure to wash them before eating.
Wash fruits and vegetables with cool tap water before eating or serving: using soap or produce wash is not necessary; be sure to scrub melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel to eliminate bacteria; and use a knife to cut away any damaged or bruised areas. It is also important to wash produce before peeling to make sure dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife to your fruits or vegetables.
To prevent cross-contamination from the juices of raw meats, poultry and chicken, be sure to use two cutting boards, one for raw meats and one for produce. Be sure to label them as such and that your family knows the difference. Don’t let food poisoning threats scare you, just take the necessary precautions.
P.S. It’s cherry season right now and local Idaho cherries (especially Raineers) are my favorite! The season is short, so enjoy this delicious fruit while you can!