Keep it Clean: Make Sure Your Fruits and Veggies Are Safe and Healthy

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By Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN

Back in 1959, a toxic herbicide infiltrated some of the nation’s cranberry supply at the onset of the Thanksgiving season. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that the public avoid buying cranberries from the affected areas, which was only two states, cranberry sales plummeted nationwide. In an effort to assuage the public, presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy publicly consumed cranberry products at campaign stops.

The incident marked the beginning of public awareness over toxins in our produce.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are about 76 million foodborne illnesses every year. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid vegetables and fresh fruit. It does mean that you need to understand the potentially toxic risks when your family is picking out its favorite summer fruits and vegetables.

One way to lower your risk of getting sick from pesticides on produce is to eat organic fruits and vegetables. The organization said that more than 60 percent of Americans have tested positive for pesticides and traces of pesticides. Another reason to consider buying organic is that the so-called “dirty dozen” of fruits and vegetables – the produce that ranks highest in pesticide residue – are among the most popular and likely produce that you buy. They are:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers

Fortunately, not all produce is as susceptible to pesticides. Here’s the 2016 list of the “Clean 15:”

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower

Regardless of whether a piece of produce is organic, you should always thoroughly rinse it with water. And make sure your hands are clean first. Firmer items such as melons and cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean brush.

Here are a few other important tips for keeping produce from becoming contaminated:

  • Don’t buy produce that is bruised or damaged
  • Don’t buy pre-cut or peeled produce unless it is refrigerated
  • Know which items need to be refrigerated; all produce purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated
  • Use one cutting boards for meats and other foods that require cooking, and a separate one for fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Consider cutting off the ends of a piece of produce after washing because that is where dirt and bacteria are usually trapped.

About the Author

Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN

Joy specializes in medical nutrition therapy. One of her favorite things about being a Registered Dietitian at Crozer-Keystone Health System is the sense of community and togetherness she experiences within the system.

To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.

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