It used to be that you just had to worry about convincing kids to eat the fruits and vegetables they need to grow healthy and strong. But recent outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella remind us of another concern — making sure fresh produce is safe to eat.
Even with the risk of food-borne illnesses, it's important for kids to eat fruits and vegetables every day to get essential vitamins and nutrients. For example, fruits like oranges provide vitamin C, which helps heal cuts and wounds. Vegetables like broccoli contain dietary fiber, which can help keep cholesterol down and bowel movements regular.
The good news is that it's easy to make sure that the produce you buy and prepare is safe.
Regardless of the variety of produce you pick — whether it's bagged or loose, organic or traditionally grown — there's always going to be some chance, however small, that harmful bacteria may have gotten on the food. It can happen anywhere between the fields and your kitchen, during picking, transporting, or packaging.
The safeguards you can take begin when you're selecting produce at the store. Be sure to inspect fruits and vegetables before you buy them, and avoid any with visible cuts or broken skin where bacteria could enter.
Also keep these things in mind:
You've probably seen the term "Certified Organic" on USDA labels indicating that a product was grown or made without pesticides, synthetic ingredients, or bioengineering. However, bacterial contamination is possible whether the produce is certified organic or conventionally grown.
To safely store produce, make sure your refrigerator and freezer are cold enough to keep it fresh and prevent any bacteria in it from thriving. Keep your refrigerator set to 40º F (5º C) and your freezer to 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower. If they don't have thermostats, consider buying one for each.
When you prepare fresh produce, these steps will help ensure that it's safe to eat:
Though commercial produce washes are available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend washing produce with them. Following the recommendations above and washing your hands, dishes, utensils, and the surfaces in your kitchen should work just fine. Periodically sanitizing cutting boards and kitchen surfaces can offer added protection.
Rest assured that while fresh produce, meat, and fish do carry some contamination risk, with the proper precautions you can reduce that risk and enjoy them safely.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.|
|Healthy Food Shopping What you put in the grocery cart can affect your child's health and attitude toward nutritious food.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
|Food Poisoning The germs that get into food and cause food poisoning are tiny, but can have a powerful effect on the body. Find out what to do if you get food poisoning - and how to prevent it.|
|Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Botulism Botulism is a rare kind of food poisoning. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.|
|Salmonella Infections Salmonellosis is a foodborne illness caused by the bacteria salmonella. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache.|
|Yersiniosis Yersiniosis is an uncommon infection caused by the consumption of undercooked meat products, unpasteurized milk, or water contaminated by the bacteria.|
|Food Poisoning Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.|
|E. Coli E. coli is a common type of bacteria that can make you pretty sick. Read more in this article for kids.|
|Food Safety for Your Family Why is food safety important? And how can you be sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe?|
|Being Safe in the Kitchen Cooking and baking are lots of fun - as long as you stay safe. Read this article for safety tips before you head into the kitchen.|
|The 5-Second Rule Almost everyone has dropped food on the floor and still wanted to eat it. Does the 5-second rule give you the excuse you need? Or is it just a myth?|
|The 5-Second Rule Did you ever eat something off the floor? Uh-oh. Time to read this article for kids about the 5-second rule.|
|Is It Safe to Eat Food That's Dropped to the Floor? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Salmonellosis People often think of salmonellosis as food poisoning, but food is only one way the bacteria Salmonella can be spread.|
|Salmonellosis Salmonellosis is an illness caused by a bacteria found in raw food, soil, water and the bowel movements of some animals, including reptiles. Find out how to prevent this illness.|
|Why Do I Have to Wash My Hands After Using the Bathroom? Wash after you flush! Find out why in this article for kids.|
|Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands? Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.|
|Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.|
|Food Safety Learn why food safety is important and how you can avoid the spread of bacteria when you are buying, preparing, and storing food.|
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