A recent spate of listeria cases have been linked to cantaloupes in Colorado. A few months ago, there was a surge of salmonella infections traced to contaminated eggs. Not to mention the e.coli tracked to contaminated sprouts and leafy greens. It’s almost enough to make you throw up your hands and wonder if anything is safe to eat anymore.
The first thing I want to point out is that none of these were linked to organic produce or organic eggs. Because conventional farming methods allow higher yields per acre or per animal, there is more opportunity for disease to take root and spread. Just one of the benefits of choosing organic.
Regardless of whether you go organic or not, there are common sense precautions you can use to protect you and your family from foodborne pathogens when working with fresh produce or eggs.
First and foremost, wash everything before you cut into it, and wash it well. As I’ve noted, I like to use a veggie wash to help loosen any dirt, pesticides, waxy residues, etc. that might help germs stick to the produce. I have a scrubber brush that is reserved just for this purpose, and I will scrub the fruit or vegetable with the veggie wash and rinse well. Simply washing your cantaloupe before cutting into the rind can protect you from the current listeria outbreak.
Secondly, cut away any damaged or bruised parts of the fruit and discard. This may seem intuitive, but it requires a little more care as you are prepping produce, and can be easily overlooked. Broken skin on a peach, for example, can provide an entry point for bacteria, so just cut that chunk out; the rest of the peach will usually be fine.
Third, practice good kitchen hygiene when working with eggs, or any meats, for that matter. It’s not a bad idea to wash the eggs before you crack them if you have a tendency to lose shards of shell. Regardless, you should wash your hands with soap after handling eggs, before handling any kitchen tools or touching raw produce. Fully cooking eggs until the yolk and white are firm (160 degrees F) kills bacteria and other germs, making for safer foods.
STOP Foodborne Illness is a food safety activism group that monitors national outbreaks of foodborne pathogens. Sign up for their e-newsletter to receive on-the-spot alerts.