Here are 10 practical tips to help you avoid foodborne illnesses while you enjoy your vegetables.
Meat, poultry, and eggs are not the only foods that can cause foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminated vegetables (and fruits) also are to blame. Follow these guidelines for safe vegetable preparation from the CDC’s FightBac! campaign:
- Vegetable guideline 1: Do not buy vegetables that are bruised or damaged. If blemishes or soft spots develop after buying, remove them before eating.
- Vegetable guideline 2: Avoid precut vegetables or packaged salads that are not refrigerated.
- Vegetable guideline 3: Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling fresh vegetables.
- Vegetable guideline 4: Clean all surfaces and utensils (including cutting boards, countertops, peelers, and knives) with hot water and soap before and after using them to prepare vegetables.
- Vegetable guideline 5: Rinse all vegetables under cold running water for two minutes. This includes vegetables that have skins you don’t plan to eat (such as cucumbers), since bacteria can travel from the vegetable’s skin to the flesh during cutting. Detergent and bleach are not necessary and could be harmful to your health if ingested.
- Vegetable guideline 6: For potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables, scrub the skin with a clean brush while running under cold water.
- Vegetable guideline 7: Should you wash bagged salads and other packaged precut vegetables that say “ready to eat” or “washed”? The CDC’s FightBac! campaign doesn’t mention anything about these products, but some food safety experts recommend washing them as a precaution. So the decision is up to you.
- Vegetable guideline 8: Sprouts are another food not mentioned in the FightBac! campaign, but bacteria can grow inside sprouts and are difficult to wash out. We recommend that you always cook sprouts, and at restaurants and delis ask that sandwiches and salads be made without raw sprouts.
- Vegetable guideline 9: Keep raw foods, such as meat, poultry, and seafood, separate from fresh vegetables -- in your grocery cart, in the refrigerator, and when preparing meals. In addition, use separate knives and cutting boards for vegetables and raw foods to prevent cross-contamination.
- Vegetable guideline 10: Refrigerate all cut, peeled, and cooked vegetables within two hours. Vegetables left at room temperature for longer than two hours should be thrown out.