NDSU Extension - Sargent County


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Food Safety and Health

Food Safety and Health 5/4/18About two weeks ago, I ate a Caesar salad wrap sandwich during the lunch break at a conference.  That evening I felt a little queasy.  A short while later, I learned of the nationwide outbreak of lettuce-related foodborne illness.  I hoped I wasn’t going to be one of its victims.  Fortunately, I did not develop any other symptoms, and the queasiness went away.

At that time, people such as Julie Garden-Robinson advised everyone to toss out any romaine lettuce in the short-term, until the source and cause of the outbreak could be determined.  Julie is the NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist, and a friend of mine.  Like me, she cringes when the guidance she provides results in food waste and/or advising us to not eat some of the leafy green vegetables.  However, we never want people to risk their health.

As of late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked that recent nationwide outbreak to lettuce grown in Arizona. At least 84 people had been sickened to date at that time, including some illnesses reported in South Dakota. A common grower, supplier or distributor hadn’t yet been confirmed, according to the CDC, so the investigation was on-going.

Even though romaine lettuce may be “out” for a short time, Julie reminds us of other choices that are nutritionally similar, and encourages us to not give up on leafy greens entirely.

Safety is a critical factor we need to consider when we eat. Although throwing away food is a concern, for safety reasons, we sometimes need to toss food to avoid illness. In the case of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli found in contaminated romaine lettuce, the consequences can be deadly.

Contamination of lettuce and other vegetables can occur at multiple places from field to fork.  It can involve water, animals or workers in the field and at multiple points on the way to the final consumer.  For the sake of food safety with produce, keep these tips in mind when choosing and preparing fresh produce of all kinds:

                -  Select only the amount you will use within a short time. 
                -  Look for produce that is free from unusual odors or colors and signs of spoilage, such as mold.
                -  Handle produce gently to reduce bruising because bacteria can thrive in the bruised areas.
                -  If you are at a “pick your own” location, bring your own clean containers or bags in case the
                  grower doesn’t provide them.
                -  At the grocery store, keep fresh produce on top of other foods in a shopping cart and separate
                  from (away from) fresh meat. Set it down gently on the counter at the checkout line.  

                -  Buying under-ripe produce isn't always the best option, especially with peaches, cantaloupe
                  and nectarines.  Those fruits may soften during storage, but they won't ripen.
                -  If purchasing cut produce, be sure it's refrigerated and keep it cold in during transport, using a
                  a cooler with ice if you won’t get it refrigerated in a short time. 

At home, continue to assure food safety by following recommended procedures related to “Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.”  A quick summary of these four core practices is available online at http://www.fightbac.org/

Source:  Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service Food and Nutrition Specialist,  Prairie Fare: Are My Leafy Greens Safe to Eat?  4-26-18

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/lettuce-romaine-greens-vegetable-2468495/ (downloaded 5/8/18)


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