Do You Wash Your Produce? Why?

washing produce, e. coliIn his June 11, 2011 column for Newsmax Health (www.newsmaxhealth.com), Dr. Russell Blaylock, noted neurosurgeon and lecturer, admonished his readers to pay careful attention to the washing of their produce, especially in light of the recent outbreak of deadly E.coli in Europe, where more than 4,000 people were afflicted, and more than a few dozen died. None of us can tell where our food has been before it hit the home refrigerator. Not only E. coli, but also other strains of pathogenic bacteria can lurk in our foods. The steps we take to ensure food safety after we get it home from the store or the garden market makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Blaylock states that, “Eating raw, contaminated food appears to be the culprit in the recent outbreak in Europe.” He cites two main reasons: the use of human waste as fertilizer and the failure of people to wash their produce before eating. He adds that the problem is rampant because, “People assume…that the government is looking out for their safety.” Although the FDA website reminds people to wash biocides off their produce, there are no public reminders of the biological menaces that might accompany those chemicals. Because kidney failure is one of the dangers of E.coli poisoning, Dr. Blaylock tells of using magnesium as a counter measure in his own case of food poisoning, keeping in mind that “magnesium protects the kidneys and can protect against vascular collapse associated with gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli.”

How many times has that lemon slice in the water your waiter brought you fallen to the floor?  How many people touched it before you got it?  Who handled it from orchard to the packing house to the grocery store to the restaurant?  Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli could have come from any pair of dirty hands, whether organically or conventionally grown. We need the produce, but not the bacteria, pesticides and bugs that might be attached.

E. coli normally inhabits the intestines of humans and animals. There are a few different strains, but some are dangerous.  Bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and vomiting are some of the symptoms of food poisoning. But some are worse. Among them is hemolytic uremic syndrome, where blood cells shrivel and die and kidneys fail to function in severe cases, usually among the old and the very young.

Washing produce is not really a big production. Start by keeping all work surfaces and cutting tools clean. Wash hands before preparing produce and meats, and always after handling animal products. Keep all fruits and vegetables away from raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.  If you wash produce too far ahead of the meal and keep it in the fridge too long, it might spoil before you get to eat it.  Foods with rinds or peels can harbor bacteria. Before you cut the cantaloupe or orange, and before you peel the banana, wash it. If you feel better about using a cleaning agent, try mixing hydrogen peroxide 50-50 with water, although 30-70 will probably suffice. In truth, those commercial preparations are no better than this, and are not much better than plain water.  Dump the outer leaves of lettuces and cabbages, and rinse the rest.  Get a salad spinner to dry leaves so the dressing will adhere.  Firm produce, like potatoes and apples, can withstand a brushing under running water.

When it comes to chemical contamination, some foods are worse than others, according to the Environmental Working Group.  The most heavily sprayed foods include apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines and grapes, bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale and collards.  The least are onions, corn, pineapples, avocadoes, asparagus, peas, mangoes, eggplants, cantaloupes, kiwi, cabbages, watermelons, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms.

They might look gorgeous on the outside, but who knows what they’re really like…just as with people.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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