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Cook meat properly and wash fruit and veggies

Staff Report • Sep 10, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Many more people are going to farmers’ markets these days to get fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s important, however, for shoppers to wash that raw produce thoroughly before consuming it.

Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it is free of contaminants. That’s a mistake that sends too many Americans to the emergency room every year. Most of these cases are a result of an E. coli infection.

Health officials say E. coli kills nearly 3,000 Americans each year and lands as many as 128,000 in the hospital.

E. coli is caused by exposure to contaminated water or animal or human waste. Most of the hundreds of types of E. coli are relatively harmless, but a few strains of E. coli are responsible for serious food-borne infections like an outbreak in Oregon last year that was linked to tainted strawberries. That outbreak killed one person and sickened 16 others.

News of such E. coli outbreaks have made some Americans queasy about eating fresh foods that could be contaminated. It shouldn’t. Officials say there are steps consumers can take to prevent E. coli. They include cooking ground beef thoroughly and avoiding unpasteurized milk.

Properly cooking meat and washing raw fruit and vegetables are important steps to preventing E. coli. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed well, but washing may not remove all contamination. Public service announcements on television, radio and in this newspaper will advise you of the foods to avoid in the event of an outbreak in your area.

Washing hands frequently and cleaning cutting boards and cooking utensils with hot, soapy water also help to reduce the risk of food contamination. It also is important to keep raw meat, poultry and eggs separate from vegetables that could become cross-contaminated.

Taking these precautions, as well as getting to know your local farmers and learning how they grow and handle the food you eat, are important steps to making sure a trip to the farmers’ market doesn’t result in a visit to the hospital.

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