Health: Be careful with your food

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

Summertime is a great time to make healthy lifestyle changes, especially those changes that involve physical activity and diet.Warm temperatures and longer days provide more opportunities to enjoy being active outdoors.

In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables are more abundant including those grown locally or grown in your own or a community garden. Gardening is an excellent way to add physical activity to your daily routine. It also provides a source for more nutritious food.

Whether you grow your own fruits and vegetables, or purchase your produce at a farmer’s market or grocery you must clean, store and prepare the produce correctly. Otherwise, all that “good for you food” can make you sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that over 76,000 cases of food borne disease occur in America each year and result in over 5,000 deaths annually.

The food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world. However, carelessness during growing, cleaning or preparing food can lead to bacterial contamination. Bacteria occur naturally in the soil, air and on raw vegetation. Under the right circumstances, bacterial organisms such as E. coli and Salmonella can contaminate our food and cause illnesses.

Viruses are responsible for 67 percent of annual food borne illnesses. One type of food borne disease is the “stomach flu” or gastroenteritis. It is not caused by bacteria, influenza virus or by parasites, but is the result of food improperly cleaned and handled.

According to the Partnership for Food Handling Safety, there are some easy steps you can follow to ensure safer fruits and vegetables.

Make sure that the produce you buy is not damaged or bruised. Wash your hands for at least 30 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water, scrub firm skinned produce like melons with a clean vegetable brush and dry all produce with clean towels.

Make sure that you clean with hot, soapy water all surfaces and any utensils that will come in contact with the fruits and vegetables. Soap and bleach should not be used to clean the produce itself. These products are not recommended for human consumption.

Separate fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry and seafood at the grocery store and when you store them at home in your refrigerator. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood. Either cook or throw away any fruit or vegetables that have come in contact with those products or their juices.

Refrigerate fruits and vegetables after peeling, cutting or cooking them within two hours. Make sure that pre-packaged vegetables and fruits are stored in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure your refrigerator cools to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you are transporting any food to a picnic or other event, make sure it is kept at the proper temperature. The last tip is “when in doubt, throw it out.”

For more information on food safety, go to the Franklin County Health Department’s website at and click on Environmental Services.

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