Veggies can make you sick, too

Brief by Central Staff

Health – January 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

Fresh fruits and vegetables are supposed to be good for you. But they are becoming a leading source of food-based illness, thanks to changes in the ways they’re marketed in the U.S.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recently reported that produce now accounts for 12% of all food-borne illnesses and 6% of outbreaks, up from 1% of illnesses and 0.7% of outbreaks in the 1970s. Some of that is because veggies are more popular — per-capita consumption rose from 287 pounds in 1992 to 332 pounds in 1994.

What else has changed? Produce distribution is more centralized, which means that the same facility used to process meat with coliform bacteria might be exposing lettuce. Imports are more common (it’s summer in South America, and that’s one reason you see fresh greens here in the winter), and other countries may not have high sanitation standards. Also more of us are buying pre-chopped salad greens, and the more pro cessing, the greater the chance of contamination.

The most problems have been reported for tomatoes, melons, lettuce, sprouts, and green onions.

The solution? The CDC says to wash them, even if the bag label for the pre-cut salad says they don’t need to be washed. Also, refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables; prepare them on clean surfaces with clean utensils; and cook or toss fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.

Come spring, you might want to grow some of your own (lettuce and spinach grow well hereabouts), or buy from a local producer, but in either case, wash the produce before you eat it