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Tips to avoid contaminated fruits, vegetables, and meats

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Keep your food safe

The most recent food outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes coupled with last summer's panic of E. coli in spinach has led to a scare of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Cutting back on fresh food during an outbreak is not a bad decision, but there is no need to forgo healthy produce if you follow these tips to lessen the risk of food contamination.

Wash Fruit

How Bacteria is Transmitted

Salmonella and E. coli, two harmful bacteria, are transmitted through fecal matter of animals and humans. It is usually found in the intestinal track of animals and can be passed on to fruits, vegetables, and meats through cross-contamination of manure or unwashed hands. If meat is not cooked thoroughly or fruits and vegetables are not washed carefully, the bacteria can stay on the surface and infect a human intestine tract.

Wash All Produce, Hands, and Surfaces

Always wash produce. No matter where you get your produce, no matter if it is organic or not, or no matter whether or not you will eat the skin, always wash fresh fruits and vegetables.

Use cold running water. Wash produce with cold running water and gently scrub the surface with a clean scrub brush. Even fruits with a peel that is removed should be washed because your hands can transfer bacteria from the surface to the inner fruit. Special vegetable washes typically are no better than running water.

Wash your hands. Before handling any food, always wash your hands with warm running water and soap.

Keep your kitchen clean. Always wash cutting boards, utensils, and counters that come in contact with raw foods. If possible, use a set of cutting boards and utensils for meats and another set for produce.

Keep food cold before use. To minimize bacterial growth, always refrigerate produce that has been cut, and thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator.

Be Safe When Eating Out

When eating out at restaurants, casual or upscale, there is a chance of being contaminated. Awareness is the most important key to avoid it.

If you are really concerned, request that any high risk produce (currently tomatoes) not be added to your dish. Even if you pick the suspect foods off personally, there is still a chance of you being contaminated.

Cooked tomatoes (at 145 degrees F.) are fine to ingest as is meat when cooked at 150 degrees F. And when ordering beef, request your meat to be at least medium well. Chicken and pork should not be eaten rare or medium rare.

For more food-safety information and up to date information on recent food-borne illness outbreaks and food safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of E. coli and salmonella

Most symptoms of E. coli and salmonella go unnoticed because they are very similar to flu or food-poisoning symptoms. Poisoning from these bacteria can occur 12 to 72 hours after being ingested and can result in cramps, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms and think it could be from contaminated food, immediately go to the hospital.

The best way to avoid a food related illness is to be aware of what you eat and where it came from. Once a food is suspected of being contaminated, most food markets and restaurants are diligent about removing it from their aisles and menus. However, voice your concerns and questions to your local grocery store and the restaurants you frequent. In addition, be sure to always wash your hands, wash your produce, and disinfect your kitchen before and after handling raw food.

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