How To Avoid Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables
Over the past few years there has been a rash of Listeriosis, Salmonella and Escherichia Coli outbreaks involving fresh fruits and vegetables within the USA. Although we were told that most of the incidents were limited to lettuce, onions and various other vegetables that were part of prepared salad packages sold under various store brands around the USA in 2008-2012, more recent outbreaks during 2012 involved tomatoes and cantaloupe melons sold as stand alone items. In 2011 a similar outbreak of Listeria in fruit turned out to be the deadliest in ten years. Over seventy people became seriously ill, with thirteen deaths reported as a result of the infections.
People that become infected do not immediately get sick because these infections take anywhere from twelve to seventy-two years to take effect. When people do become sick they exhibit symptoms which include cramps, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience those types of symptoms after eating fresh fruits or vegetables at home or at a restaurant within a twenty-four to forty-eight hour period, visit your doctor or an emergency treatment center immediately. Tell the medical care givers what you have eaten and when you ate it.
The causes of all these outbreaks are up for debate, but there is an ugly truth here that is being ignored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are not properly enforcing sanitary conditions with growers or processors and that is putting the public at risk. If they continue to ignore this growing problem, you will see many more infection outbreaks sooner rather than later. With that in mind, what is the best way to protect your self from these incidents?
Letís began with a huge falsehood. You cannot remove the chance of infection by simply washing off fruits and vegetables. The Listeriosis and Escherichia Coli bacteria has already been absorbed from the soil and ground water or other sources. You can avoid common infections caused by various household bacteria by always washing off fresh fruits and vegetables with cold running water, and washing your hands as well.
In all honesty, it is almost impossible to completely protect yourself from these types of infections as long as you eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Outbreaks strike everywhere with no particular pattern found among one grower, producer or store, or another. It is true that fast food locations serving items with fresh fruit and vegetables have been hit the hardest. That leaves you with the options of cooking vegetables at 150 degrees for five minutes or more, and nuking fruits in the microwave for at least thirty seconds or more. Please note that neither of these options will guarantee one hundred per cent protection against infected foods.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from infection and still be able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables is to grow them yourself, if that is an option. There are a number of soiless easy-grow kits sold year round which produce luscious oranges, tomatoes and other fruits in your home or apartment. There are also pre-packaged planting boxes which fit on most window sills and allow you to grow small amounts of choices like fresh lettuce and herbs. These are sold at many big box department stores and plant nurseries during the growing season. To my knowledge there has never been a reported bacteria infection associated with any of these quick or easy-grow products.
You can plant your own garden if you have the room in your backyard. Make sure you plant it in an area where pets and other animals do not generally urinate or defecate. You may want to have a soil analysis done before you actually plant anything to make sure it is safe and able to support your crop. Sometimes local colleges or other schools with agriculture programs will offer free soil analysis.
If you serve meat with fresh or cooked vegetables, always keep your raw meat and vegetables separate until you plate them to avoid any cross contamination. Cook meats to medium well to be sure they are also safe to eat. Avoiding the kind of infections that have occurred in fruits and vegetables over the past several years is all about making the right choices. Given the inability of the USDA to properly protect our food supply, I suggest you cook your vegetables, avoid purchasing pre-packaged salads and walk past the salad bar without stopping at your local eatery.