We’ve all heard about the risks of handling raw meat – disinfect, wash everything, be careful or you’ll get Salmonella or E-Coli. We’re careful to cook meat thoroughly, and even restaurants have a warning on menus that state eating raw or under cooked eggs or meat can get you sick.

After hearing all these dire warnings, it’s amazing any of us even eat meat. Vegetables would be the healthier choice right? Wrong! Meat is not the cause of the majority of food borne illness – vegetables are. One in six Americans get sick from food, and the cause of the illnesses is most often Norovirus, typically found in leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce and cabbage.

Common Causes

Here are common causes for food borne illnesses in our vegetables:

  1. Farmers not irrigating with clean water. (Norovirus is spread to our vegetables from water contaminated with fecal matter).
  2. Inadequate refrigeration during transport.
  3. Handlers in the food chain not washing hands frequently enough.
  4. Sloppy salad bars. (If it looks unkept or messy, don’t eat it!)

What Can You Do?

Unless we consumers grow our own fresh veggies, we can’t do much about how our produce has been handled prior to our purchasing. But, awareness can help keep you from becoming sick from the foods you eat. Here are some tips:

  1. Wash everything – even fruits like cantaloupe need to be washed so the knife you slice it with doesn’t drag bacteria into the flesh of the fruit, where it grows and makes you sick.
  2. Soft, fragile produce can be put in a colander and cold water run over it. Keep in mind that when the produce is at the grocery store, people handle it – don’t you pick up fruit such as apples and look them over before choosing the ones you feel are best? Well, so does that sick person, and the person that hasn’t washed their hands all day. Wash your produce well!
  3. Keep fruits and vegetables cold – bacteria thrives in warmth – even room temperatures let it multiply quickly.
  4. Use paper towels to blot produce dry – never let it air dry. Rubbing produce dry greatly reduces microorganisms.

Being aware, and following safe produce handling will reduce your risk of any food borne illnesses greatly. Don’t stop eating your fruits and vegetables – it truly is good for you and provides a wealth of micro-nutrients. Just be careful – and remember to keep everything clean and cold until it’s time to eat.