Avoiding Food Illness: Wash Hands, Produce and Reusable Grocery Bags
Killer cucumbers, E. Coli and pesticides: what’s not to worry about? The news is filled with scary stories about people getting sick or dying from contaminated produce. According to federal health officials in the US, nearly 48 million people are sickened by food contamination each year.
However, some of the reasons people get sick may not be cases like all the major headlines report. Glenda Lewis, an expert on food-borne illness from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says contamination can be passed to fruit and veggies in many ways.
While foods are in the growing phase, there could be concerns about animal contamination, as well as the hygiene of workers. After harvesting, think about how many hands that food gets passed between! Wash produce with a clean brush under running water, as well as washing any utensils used to peel off outer layers of skin. Forgetting to do so could spread bacteria from the skin to the inside of the food and is common “user error.”
The FDA also prompts people to wash their hands both before and after handling produce in their homes. And as far as washing is concerned, it doesn’t stop there. Reusable grocery bags can also be a culprit in spreading food-related illness.
Harmful bacteria may likely be growing in your unwashed grocery bags, according to new studies. Researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found 97 percent of shoppers don’t wash their bags regularly, and all but one of the participant’s bags had microorganisms breeding in the damp, dark spaces.
Three fourths of shoppers in the study reported not using separate bags for vegetables and meats. Accordingly, E. Coli was found in 12 percent of the grocery bags. This may not be the case all the time, however. The Environment and Plastics Council published a different study where absolutely no E. Coli was found in the participant’s reusable bags. What they did find, though, was yeast and mold in 30 percent of them.
After the bags were washed by either hand or machine, the levels of bacteria were brought down to practically nothing. Personally, I had never thought about washing my bags. The scary thing is, I use those bags for everything under the sun, not just groceries. I may throw gym clothes in there, books, or even stuff for my baby when I don’t want to carry a diaper bag.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say most food-borne illness happens at home. It’s easy to forget we can be our own worst enemy; wash your hands, your produce and your grocery bags for the best chance of avoiding contamination.