It used to be that you just had to worry about convincing kids to eat the fruits and vegetables they need to grow healthy and strong. But recent outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella remind us of another concern — making sure fresh produce is safe to eat.
Even with the risk of food-borne illnesses, it's important for kids to eat fruits and vegetables every day to get essential vitamins and nutrients. For example, fruits like oranges provide vitamin C, which helps heal cuts and wounds. Vegetables like broccoli contain dietary fiber, which can help keep cholesterol down and bowel movements regular.
The good news is that it's easy to make sure that the produce you buy and prepare is safe.
Regardless of the variety of produce you pick — whether it's bagged or loose, organic or traditionally grown — there's always going to be some chance, however small, that harmful bacteria may have gotten on the food. It can happen anywhere between the fields and your kitchen, during picking, transporting, or packaging.
The safeguards you can take begin when you're selecting produce at the store. Be sure to inspect fruits and vegetables before you buy them, and avoid any with visible cuts or broken skin where bacteria could enter.
Also keep these things in mind:
You've probably seen the term "Certified Organic" on USDA labels indicating that a product was grown or made without pesticides, synthetic ingredients, or bioengineering. However, bacterial contamination is possible whether the produce is certified organic or conventionally grown.
To safely store produce, make sure your refrigerator and freezer are cold enough to keep it fresh and prevent any bacteria in it from thriving. Keep your refrigerator set to 40º F (5º C) and your freezer to 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower. If they don't have thermostats, consider buying one for each.
When you prepare fresh produce, these steps will help ensure that it's safe to eat:
Though commercial produce washes are available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend washing produce with them. Following the recommendations above and washing your hands, dishes, utensils, and the surfaces in your kitchen should work just fine. Periodically sanitizing cutting boards and kitchen surfaces can offer added protection.
Rest assured that while fresh produce, meat, and fish do carry some contamination risk, with the proper precautions you can reduce that risk and enjoy them safely.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012
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