- By Dennis Douda
Mayo Clinic Minute: Fruit and veggie food safety
Too lazy to wash your fruits and veggies? Here are a few statistics that may inspire you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 48 million people are stricken with foodborne illness each year. One hundred twenty-eight thousand are hospitalized. Approximately 3,000 people die.
"I have been seeing a lot of stomach viruses, gastroenteritis, a lot of diarrheal kinds of illnesses," says Dr. Vandana Bhide, a Mayo Clinic hospital internal medicine specialist. "There are always outbreaks of different kinds of stomach bacteria from foodborne illnesses."
Public safety campaigns often remind consumers of the need to thoroughly cook ground beef or that raw poultry poses an increased risk for salmonella poisoning. But Dr. Bhide says even wholesome fresh fruits and vegetables need special handling. "Things that we don’t even think about ─ things like lettuce ─ actually can have a lot of soil and dirt, a lot of bacteria," she cautions.
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"I always say anything that can be washed should be washed. And you want to really wash it thoroughly. If there’s something that can be scrubbed, that has a hard rind, you want to do that," Dr. Bhide says.
Including cantaloupe, watermelon, mangos and papaya – zucchini and squash, too. Because, even if the edible part seems clean inside, a knife blade can carry in bacteria from the outside. It's also important not to cross-contaminate foods. "So you don’t want to have your meat at the same place where your fruits and vegetables are. And that goes with any kind of uncooked meat, whether it’s poultry ─ whether it’s beef, pork or fish."
Even when buying ready-to-eat produce, Dr. Bhide says it's wise to choose a reputable vendor that adheres to practices approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "So the hope is that, wherever those vegetables and fruit are being cut that they’re doing it in a very clean manner."
Children, older adults, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses and may also have the most severe reactions.