Why Cleaning your Food is so Important
According to the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are annually 48 million people who suffer from food related illnesses in the U.S. It also makes note that there are 3,000 foodborne deaths. While there is only so much one can do to avoid getting sick when eating at restaurants or in the homes of others, they can take steps to prevent illness when preparing food for themselves and their families. An important step is to clean certain food items before eating or preparing them. While not all food items can be cleaned, families should know which items can be, and how to do it properly.
What Foods Need Cleaning
When it comes to cleaning food, it is important to know which food items require cleaning prior to cooking and/or eating, and which do not. The CDC states that fruits and vegetables should always be cleaned before they are used. This means cleaning them even if they are items that will be peeled. Other food items, such a meat, fish, and eggs do not need to be washed before they are cooked. Washing raw meats can contaminate other surfaces if blood or juices splatter. In addition, rinsing does not remove or kill harmful bacteria that is on the meat as this can only be accomplished by cooking to the appropriate temperature.
- Keep Your Food Safe - Clean
- Clean - Wash Hands and Surfaces, Fruits and Veggies
- Washing Food Does it Promote Food Safety? (PDF)
How to Clean Food
Before cleaning any food item, it is important to start with clean hands and to have a clean surface to do any further preparing on. When washing one's hands it should be done using soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Once the hands have been cleaned, place the produce under running lukewarm water, wetting the entire surface to remove all pests, pesticides, and dirt. Rubbing the surface can help loosen any soil or debris that might cling to the food. In food items that have folds or leaves, such as lettuce, make certain to separate them to allow the force of the water to hit all areas. Some produce will have tough skin. This type of food can be scrubbed with a firm brush that is designed for produce. People will want to only use a produce brush that is clean and for that purpose only. Once the item is thoroughly rinsed, it can be dried with a clean cloth or a paper towel. During the washing process do not use any type of commercial dish washing detergent or soap as this can leave a chemical residue on the item. Even commercial products labeled as produce washes are not endorsed by any of the federal agencies.
- How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables
- Best Ways to Wash Fruit and Vegetables
- Home Gardening Food Safety: Washing the Fruits (and Vegetables) of Your Labor Properly
- To Wash or Not to Wash? Recommendations for Fresh Produce
Risk of Eating Unclean Food
Failing to properly clean food exposes oneself and family to a number of health risks. These risks fall under the overall category of food poisoning. This is because of many reasons; starting with the fact that the soil that food has grown in can contain bacteria that is extremely harmful. Food items, such as vegetables and fruit, are also handled by workers who may have extremely dirty hands. Exposure to E. coli is one of the major risks when people eat unclean vegetables. This bacterium can come from the waste of cows, which may be used as manure to fertilize vegetable gardens. In addition, E. coli may also be in the water that was used by the farmers to irrigate the crops. This unintentional contact can leave traces of this bacterium on the food that if unwashed can make a person very sick. Symptoms of infection from E. coli include diarrhea, stomach pains, and vomiting. Children who consume pesticides may not be able to properly remove the chemicals from their system if their excretory system is still immature. The pesticides may also hinder normal growth by blocking necessary nutrients. Consumption of pesticides in adults can cause result in severe health problems such a cancer according to research. In addition, studies have also shown that pesticides may weaken the immune system and cause attention deficit disorder in children.
- E. coli What Is It?
- "Dirty Dozen" Carries More Pesticide Residue
- Health Risks of Pesticides in Food (PDF)
- Preventing E. coli From Garden to Plate
Pesticides Found on Food
It isn't always possible to remove all traces of pesticides from fruits and vegetables. Insecticides and rodenticides are used to keep pests, such as insects and rodents, from vegetables and fruits. Herbicides meant to reduce weed growth may also be found on one's food. To control molds and fungus, fungicides may be sprayed on crops or antimicrobial to control bacterial growth. Certain types of fruit and vegetables, particularly those with soft skin, are more susceptible to having high amounts of pesticides. These foods, such as strawberries, peaches, and kale, for example, must all be properly cleansed before consumption.
- Pesticides and Food: Types of Pesticides on Food
- Questions About Pesticides on Food (PDF)
- Food Safety
Cleaning Contaminated Surfaces
Surfaces, such as counter tops, sinks, and cutting boards are further sources of potential food-borne illness that require cleaning. Surface should be considered contaminated any time they come into contact with raw food items such as meat, fish, raw egg, or dirty fruits and vegetables. Knives used to cut into raw or uncooked foods will also need to be cleaned to prevent the spread of bacteria and potential illness, and should not be used on other food items until cleaned. Wipe down surfaces with hot soapy water after it has been used. These surfaces may be further disinfected by spraying them with a mixture of one gallon water and one teaspoon of chlorine bleach.