Story by: Norton Healthcare on June 14, 2016
If you have ever been tempted to pop an unwashed strawberry into your mouth while visiting your local farmers market or grocery store, what you’re ingesting may not be as sweet as the fruit.
Practice some self-restraint and wait till you get home and wash your produce. Here’s why:
1. Bugs. If you have really fresh produce, such as from a farmers market or your own garden — lucky you! Since insects are a natural part of plant growth and your produce was just picked, it’s likely a bug or two may still be tagging along on that beautiful head of lettuce. Chances are if you ingested one of these bugs, it wouldn’t harm you. But, do you really want to?
2. Bacteria. They too are a necessary part of soil quality and plant growth. But some bacteria can harm you. Eating produce contaminated with Salmonella, Listeria or other bacteria can lead to foodborne illness, from a mild case of food poisoning to serious illness and even death. Harmful bacteria can come in contact with produce not only through soil and water but during harvesting, packaging and storing it.
3. Animal waste. Plants grow outside; animals live outside; animals like to nibble on produce. You get the picture. Critters who visit your garden or farms where produce is grown can transmit diseases such as E. coli.
“It’s simple — washing fruits and vegetables reduces the bacterial burden,” said Shadi Parsaei, D.O., Norton Infectious Disease Specialists.
Let’s say you’re going to remove the outer skin or peel of a vegetable or fruit. Can you skip washing? Nope. Bacteria can be transferred from the outer surface when peeling or cutting produce.
“That’s why it’s important to wash all fruits and vegetables, even those that have an outer skin like cantaloupe or avocadoes,” Dr. Parsaei said.
The best way to wash produce
To eliminate bugs, bacteria and other pathogens, cold running water will do the job. Vegetable washes and other types of detergents are not necessary or recommended.
Scrub firm fruits and vegetables with a clean produce brush, as the mechanical friction works to eliminate most of the bacteria. After washing, dry produce with a clean paper towel to further reduce any surface contamination.
Many precut and bagged produce items, such as salad greens, are prewashed and ready to eat. If you see this labeling on the bag, these items can be consumed without additional washing.
Remember to bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from raw meat, poultry and seafood, and store produce that spoils quickly, such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms, in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees F or below.
If you’re not sure if an item should be refrigerated to keep its quality, ask your grocer.
Test your knowledge of how to keep fruits and veggies safe to eat with a quiz from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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