Fresh fruits and vegetables look so luscious and appealing, it's tempting to eat them straight out of the package. Stop yourself and make for the kitchen sink! Food safety experts say it is imperative to carefully wash all your produce before you eat it to avoid food-borne illness.
Battling the Bugs
Every year 76 million Americans get sick from something they ate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Fortunately, most people are only ill for a day or two, but the CDC estimates that some 352,000 people are hospitalized each year and 5,000 die.
Contaminated seafood, meat and poultry are the traditional culprits, but recently a number of outbreaks have been traced to fresh fruits and vegetables that were processed under less than sanitary conditions, according to the CDC.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently analyzed 3,500 food-poisoning outbreaks and found that contaminated produce was responsible for the greatest number of individual food-borne illnesses.
"Dirty irrigation water and the use of untreated manure can help spread animal pathogens to fruits and vegetables," CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said.
Fresh manure used to fertilize vegetables can also contaminate them, the CDC said. In addition, the use of unclean water to wash and chill fruits and vegetables after harvest can contaminate many boxes of produce.
Safe Produce at Home
Here are some key steps experts at the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration say to take to reduce the risk of food-borne illness from fresh produce.
- Thoroughly rinse all your fruits and vegetables under running water before you eat them.
- Cut away bruised and damaged areas on fruits and vegetables because they can harbor bacteria.
- Thoroughly wash all fruits that require peeling or cutting, like melons, before eating because bacteria can transfer from the exterior to the flesh when the fruit is sliced.
- Remove and throw away the outer leaves of lettuce or cabbage before washing and eating.
- Don't leave sliced fruit or vegetables at room temperature for more than two hours because bacteria can thrive on the cut surface.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling fresh produce.
- Avoid eating sprouts because bacteria can get into the seeds before the sprouts are grown, and it's nearly impossible to wash out.
Phenomenal Fruits and Vegetables
Once you've taken the necessary food safety precautions, settle in for a treat. Fresh fruits and vegetables taste phenomenal. They also contain an array of vitamins, minerals, fiber and important health-promoting antioxidants.