(PCM) Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli may be lurking on your fruits and vegetables, whether they are organically grown or conventionally grown, covered in a thick or thin skin, and believe it or not: even if they are pre-washed and ready-to-eat.
When it comes to preparing produce to eat, there are a few guidelines you should follow. The FDA recommends:
1. When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.
2. Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended. Instead, add a little bit of lemon to a rinse to more thoroughly sanitize it.
3. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
4. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
5. Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
What about pre-washed produce? Well, that’s your call. The FDA says you don’t have to wash ready-to-eat lettuce, carrots, or other produce again, stating: “If the package indicates that the contents are pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use the produce without further washing.”
But can you trust this label? According to Health, there have been six separate recalls of bagged lettuce since April. Most of the recent recalls have been due to contamination with listeria, a type of bacteria ubiquitous in the environment that actually thrives in the colder temperatures in your fridge. “It reproduces and increases in colony count,” Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York tells Health. If listeria has been thriving in your refrigerator, both a head or bag of lettuce may provide enough pathogens to cross a nasty threshold, experts say.
Tierno recommends buying pre-washed over loose lettuce, and washing it again at home. Bagged pre-washed lettuce likely has fewer bacteria than loose lettuce, as it usually is triple washed (one cycle with chlorine) and customers haven’t been touching and feeling it all day. However, while the triple-washing process usually kills about 90 percent of potential organisms, that can still leave a lot behind, he adds.
Bottom line: pre-washed is cleaner and than regular. However, you may want to consider washing that, too, just to be on the safe side.
Remember: You can’t see bacteria or chemicals. No matter how clean or perfect that apple may look, it should always be washed. And NEVER put produce in the sink – or anything else you plan on eating or eating off of, for the matter. The sink and drain contain millions of bacteria per square inch, which makes your sink the dirtiest place in your house (yes, dirtier than your toilet). Always thoroughly clean anything you place in the sink with warm water and soap.