Heather McAvoy of The Daily Herald reports that while vegetables and fruit are well known for their powerful health-protecting benefits, what is less well known is that these valuable foods can also be sources of food poisoning when they are not properly handled.
Health officials recommend eating at least five servings of a variety of vegetables and fruit each day. These foods provide a wide range of plant compounds, known as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals have been shown to protect against many diseases, including heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Food poisoning bacteria can contaminate vegetables and fruit. These bacteria can come from soil, water and/or handling during harvest and transport. Viruses and pesticide residues can also be present.
It is important to wash the skins and rinds of vegetables and fruit even when they won’t be eaten. Bacteria or other particles on an unwashed orange are transferred to the flesh from the hands of the person peeling it. Particles from the rind of an unwashed melon are transferred to the flesh on the knife used to cut it. Cantaloupe requires a particularly good scrubbing, as the netted surface traps bacteria easily.
Wash produce under running water. Vegetables and fruit with hard surfaces should be scrubbed with a clean brush. More fragile produce can be gently rubbed under the running tap. Do not use soap or bleach solutions to wash vegetables and fruit. Residues can remain on produce and absorb into their porous surfaces.
Washing will cause produce to spoil more quickly. Wash fruit or vegetables just before using them rather than when you buy them. Lettuce can be rinsed before storing to maintain crispness.
Washing produce helps to ensure that you get all of the health benefits of vegetables and fruit, without the risk from unwanted contaminants.
Heather McAvoy is public health nutritionist for P.A. Parkland Health Region.