Each year Canadians are warned of another foodborne outbreak that poses a potential risk to public health. In some cases these outbreaks are related to the produce supply. Produce comes from all over the world and in some cases travels thousands of miles from our home. That means there is a lot of processing and potential to be exposes to bacteria.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will keep us healthy and contributes to our daily water intake. Fruits and vegetables make up the largest arc of Canada’s Food Guide rainbow. Each year thousands of Canadians suffer from food poisoning and in a lot of cases it is the result of eating mishandled produce.
Most people already know non-organic produce will contain traces of pesticides that need to be rinsed off before eating. But even if your produce is organic or comes straight from the farm, it still needs to be washed.
Even in a certified organic environment, fruits and vegetables can come into contact with harmful contaminants through soil, livestock, and manure. Improper storage or handling can cause bacteria growth. Sometimes your grocery cart can be a source of cross-contamination between produce and other raw food, such as meat.
Expectant mothers, young children and the elderly are at greater risk for contracting illness from unwashed produce. Pregnant women need to be especially careful due to toxoplasma, a parasite found on unclean fruits and vegetables that can be harmful to her and her baby.
The best way to avoid foodborne illness is by taking care when selecting your produce and washing it thoroughly before eating it.
The first step to keeping your family safe begins at the grocery store. Wait until the end of your trip to shop for frozen and refrigerated items to ensure they stay within a safe temperature range. Make sure any pre-chopped produce you purchase have been safely stored at 4ºC or lower in a refrigerated case or shelf, not displayed on ice. After making selections make sure that your fruits and vegetables are separate from your meats, poultry, and seafood products in both your shopping cart and bags. Be sure to regularly wash your reusable grocery bags since produce can leave behind bacteria.
Cleaning fruits and vegetables is extremely important. Before getting started, wash your hands with soap and water. Harmful bacteria can thrive in bruised or damaged areas of fruits and vegetables so cut away any visibly damaged areas and wash your knife before using it again. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with cool, filtered water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria that may be present. For fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces (potatoes, oranges, carrots, melons, etc.) use a clean produce brush to scrub the surface. Avoid cross-contamination by cleaning kitchen surfaces with a clean dishtowel.
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