Are you sure you want to be eating that? Ever looked at something and thought… yeah, maybe I won’t be trying that today. Maybe it was the smelly oysters, maybe it was a piece of chicken that was dripping blood. In the end it doesn’t matter, because your intuition told you ” whatever you do, please do not put that in your mouth!”. But sometimes you eat a perfect looking meal and less than 6 hours later you and the toilet have become best friends. More often then not, there are no obvious signs telling you to put your fork down. Which to me, is what’s the scariest!
Ultimately, you want piece of mind. You should be able to know that you won’t have diarrhea or be vomiting from something you ate. So how does one stay safe and not conduct an epidemiological study of food borne diseases? You have to know the basics. Let’s start with something I think everyone should know.
What is the riskiest food item to eat? aka what has the highest probability of making you sick?
Is it a) chicken b) fruits & vegetables c) hamburgers or d) seafood…
So what’s the answer? … B) Fruits & Vegetables.
So why are fruits & vegetables the cause of most food borne illnesses? It’s due to a number of reasons…
1. Fruits and Vegetables are often eaten raw
Eating a product raw means there you can’t directly kill microorganisms through heat like you can with any other product. You may imagine that meat is more unsafe, but at least you cook it! Bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli cannot survive high temperatures. Without the heat, you are letting the bacteria roam free in your food. Thus making produce especially risky.
2. They are often not cleaned well enough
When you don’t clean your food properly you are eating anything and everything. Next time you see a clamshell full of blueberries, think twice before popping them into your mouth. Gross, clean it first! Problem is some fruits & veggies are harder to clean than others. raspberries and blackberries? Good luck! My best suggestion is to leave them in a sink full of warm water & food safe soap. But even then, it’s pretty unlikely your going to get everything out. Another common mistake is to forget about the fruits with an outer layer that you won’t be eating. For example melons, oranges and bananas. Even the skin of a fruit you don’t eat should be cleaned. It’s because when you cut it open, you are bringing all of the bacteria from the outside into the middle. Unless the package says “pre-washed” you’re just asking to get sick.
3. They have direct contact with poop
Did you know there are LOTS of bacteria in your small & large intestines? Fecal matter contamination is the cause of a lot of food borne illnesses. This comes into play when you start to think about how often people go to the bathroom & how often they actually wash their hands. But most vegetables have direct contact with poop and not just because farm hands don’t wash their hands, but because of fertilizer. This causes an issue when you try to limit contamination with fecal matter. In the end, it’s just another great reason to wash ALL of your fruits & vegetables.
4. It touches a lot of contamination points before it gets to your plate
Every time your food product comes into contact with something it is a critical control point for contamination. Unless you live on or near a farm, your produce has to travel a long way to get to you. This of course, is more true in the winter than summer. Your food has many hands to pass before getting to your fridge, and are you sure all of those hands were washed?
Every food has a level of risk associated with it. You just have to be smart and limit your chances of becoming ill. This means, washing your fruits & vegetables. That may include soaking, scrubbing and investing in food safe soap. Try not to cross contaminate your plates & utensils, keep your working surface clean and sterile and of course wash your hands!
In addition, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or CFIA regularly posts the a list of the most recent public advisories for high-risk food recalls. If you’d like to check it out, click HERE. A food can be recalled for a number of reasons, bacteria, allergens or non-food particles like glass, wood or plastic. Find out if something in your fridge has been recalled pronto!