By and large, America’s food supplies are fairly secure, but food safety specialists keep an eye on certain pathogens, both bacteria and viruses, that have been linked to dangerous outbreaks. E. coli O157: H7, for example, a bacterium found in the intestines of cattle and other animals, is also found in leafy vegetables and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Certain groups, such as the very young and the very old, are particularly susceptible to developing severe symptoms and potentially fatal kidney failure.
“We are seeing a number of outbreaks caused by viruses in products,” said Dr. DiCaprio. “So when we talk about foodborne viruses, it’s primarily the hepatitis A virus and the norovirus. We see that these viruses cause a number of outbreaks in softberries as these raw materials are often harvested by hand, so we as humans can cross-contaminate these berries during harvest. “
If you see dirt, sand, or grit on your product – for example in the grooves of a celery stalk – you definitely want to remove that material. But it’s also important to rinse off any dust and other small debris that you might not see, but which can also contain harmful germs.
Early fears about the possible transmission of the coronavirus to food have not been confirmed, although other viruses can be spread through other customers’ dirty hands. So wash any fruit or vegetables that you pull off the shelves or produce, including leafy greens, whole fruits, and raw vegetables. Washing won’t completely decontaminate a product, said Dr. DiCaprio, but generally 90 to 99 percent of the microorganisms are removed. Ingesting fewer microbes will make you less likely to get sick.
Green items or other items that are “prewashed” on the packaging do not need to be washed again. In fact, washing could increase the risk of cross-contamination with other foods, such as raw meat, that you might be preparing – a problem when washing food, so be sure to keep countertops clean.