An apple a day will keep the doctor awayÃ¢â‚¬Â¦but only if you clean it first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 percent of all food-borne illnesses are caused by contaminated vegetablesÃ¢â‚¬“thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2.2 million out of 9.6 million reported cases. And produce foodsÃ¢â‚¬“which include vegetables, fruits, and nutsÃ¢â‚¬“sicken 4.4 million people a year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We eat vegetables raw, so if harmful bacteria is present, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no intervention consumers have to ensure theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re safe,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Michael Doyle, Ph.D., director at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.
Scary stuff, right? WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worse is that thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no way to be 100 percent sure that your food, especially produce, is totally safe to eat, Doyle says. Your best bet is to take the precautions to lower the number of harmful microbes that could be present. Here are 5 tips to keep your healthy foods safe.
Check for blemishes Fruits and vegetables with bruises, cuts, and nicks have a greater risk of being contaminated with a food-borne illness, Doyle says. Make sure you inspect every surface of whatever item of produce you intend to buy beforehand so that you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t contaminate other foods in your shopping cart.
Wash before you eat ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tempting to sneak a few grapes between shopping aisles, but hold off until youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re home. Doyle says most of the harmful bacteria are located on the outer skins of produce. For fruits like bananas and oranges, peeling the outer layers will leave you with safe food on the insideÃ¢â‚¬“just make sure your hands are clean. For other foods, a minute of thorough rinsing will reduce potentially dangerous bacteria.
Cook at a high temperature You may prefer your veggies raw, but washing them is only half the battle. Doyle recommends cooking vegetables at 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill most of the harmful microbes. Boiling and steaming will get the job done, but if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re grilling, heat the outer surfaces well.
Practice safe storage DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let your food sit in your fridge uncovered. Place them in closed plastic containers or Saran wrap and cool them in a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Doyle says the life expectancy of vegetables ranges from three to four days, so be sure to eat them in that time frame. Keep these closed foods away from raw meat on a separate shelf or compartment so that juices wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t drip on them.
Use your best judgment When you eat out, you have less control over how your food is picked, cooked, and stored. You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see what happens behind closed doors, so unless the menu tells you how your food is prepared, assume the food is handled properly. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at a buffet-style joint, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re the food inspector. Sometimes food is left out for hours, so avoid things that look brown or wilted.
photo: Baloncici/Shutterstock More from WH:
How to Wash Produce 101
23 Ways to Add Fruits and Veggies to Your Diet
7 Ways to Boost Your Mood With Food
Burn Fat Fast! All it takes is 60 seconds a day to balance your body's chemistry and turn on your fat-burning furnace! Buy 60 Seconds to Slim today!