Avoiding E. coli Contamination At Home

By: Lauren Zakalik
By: Lauren Zakalik

You probably won't find bagged spinach in the produce aisle. But you may find other risky edibles.

"Much of the food that you buy that's raw or that hasn't been pasteurized or sterilized in some way will contain some bacteria or have trace amounts of E. coli," says Dr. Tom Whittam of Michigan State's Food Safety and Toxicology Center.

Washing fruits and veggies typically kills most bacteria, Whittam says, but sometimes a simple rinsing isn't enough.

"Bacteria can stick to the surfaces of the leaves and washing may not remove it. It'll remove maybe 99.99 percent, but the little bit that makes it through can cause a problem."

Food safety experts agree there's some sort of bacteria on all produce. But there is a safety difference between eating from a head of lettuce and from a bag of mixed greens.

"Buying individual plants is a good idea," Whittam says. "If you buy a head of lettuce, you can wash that thoroughly, peel off the outer leaves, that would help reduce your risk. There's much less chance of one plant being contaminated."

Food microbiologist Elliot Ryser says there's some produce that's more prone to bacteria than others.

"Broccoli, cauliflower, things that have a lot of cracks and crevasses-- some of these organisms can burrow down," he says.

Both experts say the risk of getting sick from produce is minimal. But heating any vegetable and keeping a clean cooking space kills most bacteria-- and many stores sell salad cleansers you can spray on your food.

Even admist the spinach recall, Ryser urges people to remember their food is safe.

"By and large, the US has the safest food on the planet."


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