Vegetables - Health Food Or Killers

Susanne Myers

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With the recent outbreak of e-coli traced back to bagged spinach of all things, the FDA now suggests consumers thoroughly wash all bagged produce (including salad) before consuming it to avoid the extreme diarrhea e-coli bacterial can cause.

The e-coli bacteria can be found in any raw or undercooked foods. Most often outbreaks are linked to undercooked meat, or unsafe handling of raw meat, particularly ground beef. What was up until now less well known is that e-coli can also be found on fresh produce like fruits and vegetables.

E-coli bacteria cause severe diarrhea often with bloody stool and can cause kidney failure and possible death. The old and the young are particularly prone to extreme cases of the infection. If you suspect you have been infected with e-coli, contact your physician right away.

E-coli naturally occurs in the intestines of animals like cows and chickens. As these animals are slaughtered and processed, traces of the bacteria can come into contact with the meat. Ground beef seems to be especially prone to getting contaminated. To kill any e-coli (or other bacteria for that matter) that may have “snuck in", cook all meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 F.

So, how does this same bacteria get into our salad, veggies and fruit? Manure is often used as a natural fertilizer and gets’ stuck on the outside of the vegetables and fruits as they grow and are harvested. Produce is cleaned off before it’s bagged and shipped to you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the bacteria are gone.

In particular vegetables including salad that are bagged provide a perfect growing environment for the e-coli bacteria. The bag ensures that there is always some moisture around the produce that allows the e-coli to multiply.

The recent outbreak of e-coli in bagged spinach along with previous outbreaks in bagged salad mixes and even containers of strawberries makes you wonder if we should just avoid all prepackaged and bagged produce. Fortunately we don’t have to go that far, but we should get in the habit of properly preparing those foods.

Salad and vegetables mixes in bags are often pre-washed and sold as “ready to serve". Take a few minutes and rinse them with warm water, followed by a splash of cold water to avoid cooking the spinach or salad. Use plenty of warm water on hardier vegetables such as tomatoes or carrots and don’t forget to wash fruit with plenty of water as well, especially strawberries. Strawberries grow very low to the ground and are often fertilized with manure or are grown on soil that was previously fertilized that way. Since the berries grow practically directly on top of the soil, it is easy for the e-coli to catch a ride on the fruit directly into your home.

Washing raw fruit and vegetables with plenty of warm water should get rid of most of the bacteria, making it safe to eat. Make it a habit to wash your produce whether the packaging indicates it’s pre-washed or not. It will only take a few minutes and could prevent you from getting sick in the long run.

Susanne Myers is the co-publisher of the Healthy Menu Mailer, a weekly recipe and menu mailer that’s all about eating healthy. Join us for a free 7-day sneak peak at


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