Moms and nutritionists agree, “eat your fruits and vegetables”. While I share that admonition, I offer a caution – wash them first!
The second deadliest bacterial food borne outbreak in the last 40 years killed thirty people and sickened 146. In 2011, the contaminated cantaloupe outbreak reached across 28 states. FDA officials ultimately found Listeria on dirty equipment previously used in potato farming. Contaminated water was found on the floor of the packing plant while the employees moving around the plant spread it. It is suspected that a “dump truck used to take culled melons to a cattle farm could have brought bacteria to the facility”. Furthermore, bacteria growth may have been caused by the lack of a cooling step before refrigeration.
Cantaloupe is notoriously difficult to clean. The outside of the melon is very convoluted with many places for germs to hide. A fruit/vegetable cleanser and brush are important tools to reduce contamination of the inside of the melon before cutting the skin. Evidence of outside damage should be cause for disposal.
- Peanuts and peanut butter were the associated cause for the largest food borne Salmonella outbreak. In the 2008 & 2009 event, 9 people died and at least 714 adults and children were sickened after eating products containing contaminated peanuts. This contamination triggered the most extensive food recall in U.S. history up to that time, involving 46 states, more than 360 companies, and more than 3,900 different products manufactured using peanut ingredients.
- In 2016, eleven people from nine states were infected with Salmonella after eating pistachios. Two ill people were hospitalized but no deaths were reported.
- Thirty six people were sickenend and 7 were hospitalized after a 2016 alfalfa sprout Salmonella linked epidemic. This was not the first epidemic linked to sprouts and in 1999 the FDA issued its first warning on the safety of sprouts. The seeds apparently become contaminated from manure or fertilizers during growth and or packaging so producer reputability and practices are critical.
Troubling about the peanut and the pistachios epidemics is that there is no way to clean these two enjoyable and healthy foods. The outside of the shells can’t be cleaned. Partially opened shells could easily contain germs. The consumer has to have blind faith that the producer has used the best growing and harvesting practices.
Preparing sprouts as a food is slightly more convoluted than you might think and includes washing, examining, smelling and refrigerating, according to one expert.
- Packaged lettuce also made the news in 2016 when 19 people were hospitalized, and one person from Michigan died as a result of listeriosis.
So I agree with moms and nutritionists “eat your fruits and vegetables” but scrub them first!