It is very important that vegetables and fruits are washed clean before consumption. Some people think that they are difficult to poison, but this is not so. There are many harmful bacteria in the soil, and although food manufacturers try to clean vegetables, the risk cannot be completely eliminated. For example, in 2011 there was an outbreak of E. coli in the UK. Its source was soil from leeks and potatoes, and 250 people were affected.
How should vegetables and fruits be washed?
Washing removes bacteria, including E. coli, from the surface of fruits and vegetables. Most bacteria are found in soil that has stuck to food. It is especially important to remove all soil when washing.
First you need to rinse the vegetables under the tap, then place them in a bowl of fresh water. You need to start with the most contaminated products. Bulk vegetables and fruits tend to be dirtier than packaged ones.
Tips for safely storing, handling and preparing raw vegetables
Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw foods, including vegetables and fruits.
Keep raw vegetables and fruits separate from ready-to-eat foods.
Use separate cutting boards, knives, and utensils for raw and cooked foods, and wash them separately during cooking.
Check the label: if it doesn’t say “ready to eat”, the food must be washed, cleaned and prepared before eating.
How to avoid cross contamination?
It is preferable to wash vegetables and fruits in a bowl rather than under running water. This will reduce splashing and the release of bacteria into the air. The most contaminated products should be washed first and each one should be rinsed thoroughly.
Cleaning off dry soil before washing makes it easier to wash vegetables and fruits.
It is important to wash cutting boards, knives, and other utensils after preparing vegetables to prevent cross-contamination.
Should people vulnerable to infections eat raw vegetables?
There is no reason to believe that all vegetables are contaminated with E. coli or other bacteria. People vulnerable to infections – pregnant women, the elderly – should carefully follow hygiene recommendations. There is no need to completely avoid raw vegetables and fruits. Children should be taught to wash their hands after handling raw vegetables in the store or kitchen.
Should I avoid buying vegetables with soil on them?
No. Some vegetables may have soil on them that needs to be removed when cooking. Loose vegetables will require more thorough cleaning than packaged vegetables, but there is no reason not to buy them. It just might take longer to process them.
The cause of the E. coli outbreak in the UK is still under investigation. Before there were cases of infection with salads from raw vegetables. The disease is much less often associated with root vegetables, since most of them are boiled before consumption. The risk of developing harmful bacteria on vegetables and fruits appears when they are not stored and processed properly.