How Good Foods Can Go Bad: Fruits and Vegetables

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.

  • 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!


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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