(Photo: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Sadly the harmful, illness causing bacteria are not fussy about the food it contaminates. Almost any type of food if not handled correctly can present a risk, even fresh fruit and vegetables. Many people are not aware that food poisoning can occur from consuming contaminated fruit and vegetables and are under the impression that only raw meat, eggs and poultry and expired preserved and pre-packed foods present a hazard.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can also present a hazard and have in the past been the cause of food poisoning. Cases of contaminated fruits and vegetables have occurred during the growing and handling stages of production. Contamination in previous outbreaks included e-coli and salmonella poisoning. Pre-cut fruit and vegetables can be contaminated during the cutting and packaging stages as well.
For consumers here are a few tips on how to avoid buying contaminated fresh produce.
Do not purchase fresh produce that has been bruised or damaged. Also avoid fruits that show signs of contamination like mould, sliminess or has insects. Also fruit with cuts are open for bacteria and insects to enter. Even if these fruits and vegetables are not contaminated, they are liable to spoil quicker.
If you want a certain fruit or vegetable and a good quality version is not available, consider purchasing a frozen or canned equivalent.
When buying salads and other pre-cut fruits and vegetables make sure the packaging is not damaged, torn or open because bacteria can enter. Also check the expiry dates and make sure the fruit is not discoloured or turning brown.
Only buy items that are being refrigerated (i.e. less than 5°C) properly or surrounded by ice when displayed.
Raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from fruit and vegetables because the blood from these meats may contaminate the fresh produce.
If you do not require the entire fruit or vegetable, refrigerate it as soon as possible once cutting. If it has been left at room temperature for a long period of time, discard it.
Prevent fruit and vegetables from coming into contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood. Be careful to store fruit and vegetables in the crisper of the fridge or on a shelf above these foods so there is no risk of blood and juice dripping onto fresh produce.
Cut fruit and vegetablesshould be kept in the refrigerator at less than 5°C to maintain optimum freshness and ensure food safety. This temperature is not conducive with bacteria reproduction and so should keep the food safe, at least for a while. But not all fruit and vegetables require refrigeration, bananas, garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins and sweet potatoes can be kept out of the fridge.
Apricots, avocados, kiwifruit, mangoes, melons, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes can be kept at room temperature until they ripen and thereafter must be transferred to the fridge.
The rotten or bruised part of the fruit or vegetable should be cut off and discarded and then use a different knife to continue cutting to prevent cross contamination.
Rinse all fruit and vegetables with cool tap water immediately before eating and do not use soap or detergents as ingesting chemicals is dangerous.
As with any food preparation, a clean and dry cutting board and cooking utensils should be used and if possible have a different chopping board for meat products and another for everything else. Also as with any food preparation wash hands thoroughly under warm water with soap for at least 20 seconds before handling and preparing fruit and vegetables.
Thoroughly wash and dry all food equipment, utensils and surfaces before use, with hot, soapy water. Health authorities recommend not using sponges as they soak up and hold bacteria and are good environment for them to reproduce.
Many pre-cut and packaged produce such as lettuce is pre-washed but just to be safe wash these items again as a precaution.
By being aware of the possible risks involved, consumers can make better food choices and thereby safeguard their health and the health of their families.