Not so long ago, your biggest food safety worries lingered over under-cooked hamburgers and egg salad at a picnic. But recent foodborne illness breakouts have made us painfully aware that it can occur just as easily in fresh produce.
How can something so good for us become scary? One obvious reason is that we are eating more produce in its raw form, without the microorganism-destroying advantages of cooking.
Fixing the Produce Problem
A lot of energy has been poured into minimizing the risk for produce contamination. It's a good thing, as there are lots of opportunities for contamination en route from field to fork. Farms have concerns like irrigation water, manure, worker hygeine and sanitation of harvest equipment. Processing industries have issues like sanitary equipment, pest control, and temperature control.
Once the food leaves the processing unit, in-transit temperature and sanitation concerns kick in. And at the final destination - from grocery stores and restaurants to household refrigerators - responsibilities continue for safe handling. That's why the fresh produce industry is implementing standards to address all of the risks that can occur as produce moves from farm to table. Just keep in mind that consumers share the responsibility for safe produce.
Buy Local Produce
It's not only a matter of hometown pride -- it's a way to maximize nutrients. When produce in the grocery store has traveled a great distance, nutrients break down due to exposure to light, time, etc. Your next best bet is frozen fruit and vegetables; freezing preserves the nutrients.
Tips For Keeping Produce Safe
- Purchase produce that is not damaged.
- Choose fresh cut produce that is refrigerated properly.
- Maintain produce separate from meat, poultry and seafood products.
- Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees or below.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria.
Can the symptoms of foodborne illness be mistaken for something else?
Yes. Foodborne illness often shows itself as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, so many people may not recognize that the illness is caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that many of the intestinal illnesses commonly referred to as stomach flu are actually caused by foodborne pathogens. People do not associate these illnesses with food because the onset of symptoms often occurs two or more days after the contaminated food was eaten.
Bigger is not Always Better
The next time you're in the produce aisle, try thinking small. The larger your produce, the fewer nutrients it packs per ounce, according to the Organic Center, a nonprofit research organization. Their new report examined several recent studies and revealed some interesting findings. For instance, they found that the more a tomato weighs, the lower its concentration of the antioxidant lycopene -- even if it's organic. Researchers believe that high-yield farming, which often focuses on the quantity of crops, rather than their quality, may be to blame. Bottom line: Fill your cart with petite fruits and vegetables.
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