It’s finally summer time, so it’s out with the stodge and in with the fruit and salad!
When you’re preparing lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and the like, you might encounter the odd creepy crawly. However, these can be removed easily. it’s the microscopic bacteria you can’t see that can cause serious food poisoning. That’s where having food safety and hygiene knowledge is important.
Contaminated fruit causes death
There were reports in the news recently that eating contaminated fruit had killed a 64 year-old woman in Australia. She and 24 others had contracted Hepatitis A from consuming frozen pomegranate seeds. The virus takes around 15 to 50 days to develop. Symptoms include nausea, fever, vomiting and yellowing of the skin.
Hepatitis A and other types of illness linked to fruit and vegetables is often caused by traces of faeces. These can be transferred to the food from a number of sources. Generally it is in the water used to wash the produce. It can come from manure which has got into the water stream if fresh water has not been used. Alternatively it can come from the hands of staff at the processing facility.
Continual re-use of processing water can result in a build-up of microbes (including pathogens) which have been left behind in the water from the previous load. Therefore final rinse water should always be of drinking quality.
The importance of personal hygiene
Good personal hygiene is vital if you are involved in processing, packing or handling produce – and also if preparing it at home. You should wash hands thoroughly including under your fingernails and between your fingers. Cough or sneeze away from food and always cover your mouth. Then wash your hands immediately.
If you have cuts, sores, or lesions on your hands, make sure that they are effectively covered and wear clean gloves. Finally, if you are suffering from a virus or diarrhoea, don’t handle food – it’s just not worth the risk.
One fruit which seems particularly prone to harbouring food poisoning bacteria is cantaloupe melon. It has been responsible for numerous cases of Listeria food poisoning, especially in the USA. Reasons why include the number of times they are turned during maturation. Another is the potential for human pathogens reaching the flesh via the stem scars.
If you’re preparing a melon you should clean the skin using fresh water and a clean scrubbing brush. This is to prevent bacteria from the outside from reaching the flesh when you cut into it. In fact you should wash all fruit, even if you plan to peel it.
If you can’t scrub the skin of a fruit, for example berries, the best thing to do is rinse then in fast-running water. This is better than soaking them since the friction helps to remove bacteria more efficiently.
It goes without saying that you also need to follow the usual food safety rules. Wash your hands. Prepare it with clean utensils on a clean surface which has not been in contact with raw meat to avoid any danger of cross-contamination and potential illness.
For more information about food safety and hygiene, please click here.