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Know your farmers, protect your family

Staff Report • Mar 25, 2013 at 8:48 AM

As we’ve noted before in this space, the best way to get fresh, organic food is to grow it yourself. Not everyone, however, has a green thumb. For those of us who aren’t blessed with that gift, the second-best way to get organic fruits, vegetables and cheeses is to purchase them from someone who does.

One meaningful guarantee of organic integrity is to get to know the farmers in your community to learn how they grow the fruits and vegetables that end up on your dinner table. Patronizing a local farmers market is one good way of doing that.

It’s also important to remember that 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.

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.

Researchers from North Carolina State University are working with scientists from the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture to improve the safety of organic produce. They hope to develop natural treatments to reduce food-borne illnesses caused by E. coli, listeria and salmonella. Most commercial produce-washing systems now involve chlorine, which doesn’t meet organic standards.

Properly washing raw fruit and vegetables at home is an important step for 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 your organic fruits and vegetables are safe to eat.

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