How to Avoid Foodborne Illness When Enjoying Fresh Produce at Home
In the wake of multiple fruit and vegetable related multi-state recalls for bacteria contamination, consumers question how to know if their produce is safe. With concerns of E. Coli from lettuce and Salmonella from pre-cut fruit it is vital to prepare and store produce safely at home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “nearly half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce.” This is a concerning statistic for anyone trying to eat healthy as well as those who are at a higher at risk of serious side effects such as the elderly and young children. The CDC provides not only updated information on current food recalls but helpful food safe practices on their website. Among the many recommendations, cooking produce is the safest way to ensure any bacteria has been killed. However, there are steps to ensure RAW fruits and vegetables are safe to eat – a good thing since many people interested in health know that raw fruits and vegetables have more of their natural nutrients.
Here are just a few: First off, while at the store, look for produce that has not been damaged or bruised. Second, when shopping, separate the produce from raw meat in the cart and in grocery bags. Third, when purchasing pre-cut fruit and vegetables make sure they stay cold, putting it on ice if it will be a lengthy time between the store and home.
Once home, there is more you can do. Cleaning fruits and vegetables prior to consumption in the best line of defense against foodborne bacteria. The CDC recommends running the produce under water, even if the peel will be cut away. Using a vinegar solution to clean produce is also an option.
Dr. Floyd Woods and Dr. Joe Kemble, horticulture professors at Auburn University, weigh in on the effectiveness stating,
“Using a solution that’s three parts water and one part vinegar will be most effective at removing bacteria. If soaking fruit in the sink, be sure to clean the sink first and make sure you’re using enough vinegar to meet the three-to-one ratio. Using vinegar, however, is not necessary because simply washing fruits and vegetables with clean water will remove 98 percent of bacteria. Also, a vinegar soak will not extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.”
The CDC also recommends keeping fruits and vegetables dry. After washing, prior to cutting, drying the produce with a clean paper towel, and repeating this again after cutting but before storing it in the refrigerator is importatnt. Moisture is a conduit for pathogens. Drying the moisture off the cut produce removes the wet barrier that can breed bacteria.
Always store fruits and vegetables that have been cut within one to two hours. Also, keep the produce away from raw meet in the refrigerator.
Keeping up with these safe produce practices will ensure the fruits and vegetables have the best chance of steering clear of harmful bacteria.