Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 12, 2014
Summer’s fresh produce offers many healthy food choices; however, eating fruits and vegetables can put you at risk for a foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six people suffer a foodborne illness each year. Produce is one of the most common sources of foodborne illness.
Fresh foods, such as leafy greens, can lead to foodborne infections because they grow close to the ground, are not cooked before consumption, and are not acidic like citrus.
E. coli is one of the most common bacteria leading to foodborne infections. E. coli symptoms usually show up three to four days after eating contaminated food. (Other bacteria and toxins can cause symptoms minutes after eating, and in some cases, symptoms may not strike for up to a week.) Severe abdominal cramps and bloody stools are the most common symptoms of an E. coli infection. If diarrhea is bloody, doesn’t resolve in three days, or is accompanied by a fever over 101.5º F, you should call your doctor because this can be a sign of serious illness.
Follow these tips to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables safely while avoiding foodborne illness.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before preparing food.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking.
- Eat refrigerated leftovers within four days or throw them out.
- Reheat foods to 165º F and reheat soup until boiling.
- Heat food to 160º F to kill E. coli.
- Don’t eat raw sprouts (bean or alfalfa).
- Wash produce even if you are going to just peel it or slice it. The knife can transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside as it slices through.
- Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking. (Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes is not recommended.)
- Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables (lettuce and cabbage). Processing plants wash leafy greens three times in chlorinated water before bagging them. But bacteria are sticky, so even thorough washing may not remove all contamination.
- Organically grown produce is not necessarily safer than conventionally grown produce.
- Canned and frozen spinach are safe to eat.
For more information, visit FoodSafety.gov.