Children ages 5 and below make up third of all who perish from foodborne illnesses. According to a report from the World Health Organization, 420,000 people die from these diseases each year and 125,000 of those are preschoolers or younger.
You might have heard of some of the common bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses like Salmonella and E. coli which do not just contaminate meat, but also fruits and vegetables. “Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting and diarrhea, but in some cases, such life-threatening complications as organ failure occur,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Added the CDC, “Young children, pregnant women, adults over 65, and people with weak immune systems are more likely to get food poisoning, and if they do get sick they might have more severe symptoms.”
Picking nutritious food to serve the kids is important, but so is making sure they’re prepared properly. Health and food safety experts continue to stress the necessity of washing produce, whether they’re to be added in dishes and cooked or eaten raw. Outbreaks have been caused by suspected contaminated fruits and vegetables in the past.
Though chances are low that the fruits and vegetables you’ve bought are contaminated, it’s always better to be safe. “It's a myth that a little bit of dirt doesn't do you any harm,” Dr. Andrew Wadge, chief scientist of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), told the UK National Health Service. “Although food producers have good systems in place to clean vegetables, the risk can never be entirely eliminated.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends all fruits and vegetables to be washed to “to remove soil, surface microbes, and some pesticides,” said Melody Joy Kramer, a writer for NPR, in an article on washing produce. Taking advice from there, here are the expert-recommended ways to clean fruits and vegetables:
For all vegetables and fruits Place the produce under running water and rub it with your hands. “Don't fill your sink with water and let produce sit in there,” Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, told NPR. You don't need to use any special fruit or vegetables washes, soap or detergent. Water and friction will suffice. Leafy, bunched vegetables (like cabbage, lettuce, etc.) Remove the outer layer leaves of the vegetable and then rinse with water, advised Luke LaBorde, an associate professor in Penn State University's Department of Food Science. Wash the vegetable a few times and spin in a vegetable dryer if you have one.
If you’re prepping the leafy greens now but storing them in the fridge for later, dry them first before placing in a container. “Removing the moisture will prevent the growth of bacteria,” said LaBorde. It’s best to wash packaged, ready-to-eat leafy greens as well.
Bunched fruit (like grapes and siniguelas) Place in a colander to lessen the chances of contact with the kitchen sink, and rinse the fruit under running water. You can also opt to pat them dry to wipe off any residual dirt, said Feist. Fruits and vegetables with rinds, grooves, and waxy skin A lot of the produce you eat at home fall under this category including cucumbers, potatoes, oranges, melons and even calamansi. Dirt can cling on to the outer exterior of these fruits and vegetables, so it’s best to scrub the surface before prepping. A brush can do the job better and faster.
Wash until you no longer see any dirt, even if you’re not eating the skin as is the case for citrus fruits and even melons. “When you cut open the cantaloupe,” said LaBorde, “you can transfer bacteria to the fleshy part inside.”