Huh? I am talking about farming, not that other job. Food safety on the farm has come under more scrutiny as we have had outbreaks traced back to fresh produce. The exposure to natural contaminants, such as bird droppings, wild pig feces, run-off water, etc is pretty hard to avoid when growing fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce in the raw form has not received a kill step of cooking to reduce bacterial loads.
So what is the answer? As a dietitian, I am all for increased fruit and vegetable consumption. The evidence is pretty clear increases of these foods and decreases of junk foods would mitigate a lot of health issues for Americans. Like many – I like fruits and vegetables that are uncooked or processed – but I take precautions. Washing my hands and washing the product before eating are two simple steps I can take as a consumer. Producers are also scaling up to improve on-farm food safety by using good agricultural practices (GAPs) and appropriate post-harvest handling procedures. An apple a day… hmm, not such bad advice.
It’s summertime and the season for fresh produce – Yea! Like many who love home grown tomatoes, I long during winter for the taste of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. Now there have been some incidences of food borne illness from fresh produce, but don’t let that scare you off. I am guilty of snacking on cherry tomatoes and fresh peas right off the vine. But if planning to serve others, particularly young children, pregnant women, those over the age of 60 or on chronic medication, more caution is needed.
Just remember the W word – Wash! Wash your hands before harvesting or preparing fresh fruits or vegetables. Wash the food item before eating with cool running water, rub lightly if not a fragile item. Wash any knives or cutting boards used. Fresh produce often doesn’t get cooked, so there is not a kill step for any harmful micro-organisms that are naturally part of the soil, or have been transmitted to the produce. So Wash Up!
How lucky can a girl get? While some people get tired of traveling, I enjoy work trips to new cities, maybe it is the change from small town/rural life. Usually there is time to explore the town and sample local fare. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful city of Charleston, S.C.
Granted, I had the tourist perspective – staying in the historic district, taking a horse drawn carriage ride, walking along the harbor, and dining on some great seafood. Farmer’s market season is in swing and there was a huge market (at least when compared to scale of most Iowa towns) in Marion park. The fresh strawberries looked delicious – the raw milk less tempting. Vendors were promoting the benefits of raw milk – while I am sure in their minds these were true, I am concerned about the risks inherent in drinking milk that has not been pasteurized. The quick heat treatment kills the bacteria that can cause illness. There are good bacteria of course – am sure you have seen the commercials about pro-biotics in some new yogurt products. But many states don’t allow the sale of raw milk because the science shows it is not safe. South Carolina obviously is one of several states that allow this product to be sold. Me, I wasn’t interested.
We all know the proper care and handling of fresh produce – wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating. The SafeFood© Police are watching, right? As a SafeFood Advocate, I try to maintain a law abiding lifestyle. Usually, the rule of washing fresh produce is followed. But, like with any rule, there are exceptions I make for personal application, such as for items fresh from my garden.
Here is my confession…
Cherry tomatoes straight off the vine are soooooo good I am guilty of omitting the wash step with these. This wonderful taste first thing in the morning is my reward after exercising, Yes, sweaty hands and all, so make that a double crime! Extenuating circumstances exist: I am cautious in that blemished tomatoes are tossed for the birds. By blemish, I mean any tears in skin or evidence of bird droppings. The torn skin allows opportunity for bacteria to enter the item, and we all know that bird droppings is another name for bird poop – nothing I want to eat.
Strawberries are another item that do not always get a rinse before tasting. My harvest productivity ratio is about 50% (one for me, one for the basket). I don’t recommend this procedure if serving at risk folks or if sharing the garden bounty with a group of people. Yet for a 50-something year-old, I calculate the risk/benefit of life more closely – and taste of fresh produce straight from the garden is definitely a benefit with appropriate caution.
Enjoy the tastes of summer – particularly fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden. Choose wisely. Leave the blemished items behind. They are not worth the risk.