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Washing produce helps prevent food poisoning

produce April 30, 1998
Web posted at: 6:17 p.m. EDT (2217 GMT)

From Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil

ATLANTA (CNN) -- When it comes to produce, fresh does not always equal clean.

With the average American consuming 300 pounds of fresh produce per year, cleanliness is becoming increasingly important. And often, the kitchen sink is the last line of defense in making sure fruits and vegetables are clean and safe to eat.

For consumers, it's important to store fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator when you bring them home from the market. If produce is not stored in refrigerated temperatures, any bacteria in these foods can multiply -- and certainly make you sick.

Wash each piece of fruit carefully, especially if you intend to consume it raw. Although this step will not kill bacteria, it will reduce its numbers.

  • Lettuce leaves should be rinsed individually under cool tap water.

  • Root vegetables should be scrubbed, even if you plan on peeling them later. After all, they were grown underground.

  • Delicate fruit such as strawberries should be rinsed in a colander. Their leafy stems should then be removed, as they provide good hiding places for bacteria.

A number of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses this year were linked to fruits or vegetables contaminated with bacteria.

Recently, basil has been connected to an outbreak of cyclospora, tomatoes with salmonella and alfalfa sprouts with both e-coli and salmonella.

Packages of sprouts now suggest they be rinsed before serving. Fresh herbs, such as basil, should always be carefully washed, especially when raw.

Some fruits, in fact, should be washed on the outside even though their peels are not consumed. Lemons or melons, for example, should be cleaned because they may come into contact with other foods or beverages.

Cantaloupes, for one, have been linked to outbreaks of salmonella, which is found on the rind. When you slice the rind, however, you can contaminate the entire fruit.

If you prepare raw meats, wash the surface before cutting fresh produce.

The rule is, even though many of these foods have been washed by growers, your kitchen sink is the key to making sure produce is clean and safe to eat.


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