- Author: Ann King Filmer
Now that we’re in the thick of summer and eating bountiful quantities of uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables (salads, and fruit bowls, and tomatoes — oh my!), it’s time to make sure we handle them properly to avoid foodborne illnesses.
According to Dr. Trevlor Suslow, a plant pathologist and Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis, “Americans consume more than six billion servings of uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables every year, versus a very small number of illnesses that are clearly linked to foodborne pathogens.”
The take-home message is that the food supply in the U.S. is generally very safe, particularly when everyone in the food supply chain (including consumers) does their part to assure food safety.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the following information for home consumers:
Nearly 48 million people (1 in 6 people) are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year, and some of the causes might surprise you.
Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent illness, many don’t realize that produce can also be the culprit in foodborne illness. In recent years, the U.S. has had several outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables — including spinach, tomatoes, and lettuce.
Fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, fruits and veggies may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water, and poor worker hygiene. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.
The FDA says to choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items — such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices — are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition, follow these recommendations:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
- Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
- Wash produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
- Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
- Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
Store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.
(Condensed from an FDA news release. The site has an interesting video and useful links to other sites with food safety information.)
For more on what UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension are doing to assure the safety of fresh produce: