A List of Vegetables at High Risk of Bacteriaby Sara Ipatenco, studioD
Bacteria tend to have a bad reputation, but you come into contact with the tiny organisms on a daily basis and most don't cause any harm. Certain strains of bacteria, however, can be dangerous, and contaminated food is one way that humans ingest potentially harmful organisms. Vegetables are one of the most nutritious foods in your diet, but certain varieties can harbor illness-causing bacteria.
Bacteria and Foodborne Illness
Foodborne illness can occur from any number of bacteria, viruses or parasites, though bacteria and viruses are more likely to cause you to get sick. Bacteria can contaminate many types of foods including fresh produce, as well as meat, seafood, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products. When these harmful bacteria are ingested, they migrate to your intestines and digestive tract and cause symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria through the soil or by improper handling, storage and preparation. Certain vegetables are more risky than others.
Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce and kale, are among the most commonly contaminated varieties. The vegetables can become contaminated in the field if they come into contact with soil or animal feces that contain bacteria such as E. coli, which causes bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting, according to the FoodSafety.gov website. Raw leafy greens can also harbor Hepatitis A, which causes diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, dark urine and jaundice, the "Nutrition Action Healthletter" reports. Leafy green vegetables can also become contaminated with salmonella, a bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhea.
Raw sprouts, such as bean, radish or alfalfa, are responsible for many bacteria-related illnesses each year. Sprouts need warm and moist environments to grow well, but these same environments are perfect for the growth of bacteria, too, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes. The most common bacteria to contaminate sprouts include salmonella, E. coli and listeria. The danger with raw sprouts is that rinsing them doesn't destroy or remove the bacteria. Children and pregnant women shouldn't eat raw or lightly cooked sprouts at all, though fully cooking sprouts will destroy the bacteria.
Raw tomatoes and scallions, or green onions, are among the most common vegetables to become contaminated with bacteria, according to the "Nutrition Action Healthletter." Any vegetable, however, has the potential to become contaminated if it's grown in soil that harbors bacteria or comes into contact with bacteria during the preparation and cooking processes. Home-canned vegetables, such as green beans or tomatoes, that haven't been prepared correctly can harbor bacteria, as well.
Choose fresh vegetables that aren't bruised or damaged. Cut away any bruised or damaged parts before eating the vegetables, too, the FDA cautions. Wash fresh vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Keep fresh vegetables away from areas where you prepare raw meat, and use a separate cutting board for chopping vegetables. Pre-cut vegetables should always be stored in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria from growing on the cut surfaces. Buying organic produce doesn't mean you won't get sick because even organically grown vegetables can become contaminated.
- Washington State University: Food Safety Information for Consumers
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Foodborne Illnesses
- Nutrition Action Healthletter: Fear of Fresh: How to Avoid Foodborne Illness From Fruits and Vegetables
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely
- FoodSafety.gov: Salmonella
- FoodSafety.gov: E. Coli
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