The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that about 48 million people each year get sick from eating contaminated food.
While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually —the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
In recent years, foodborne disease outbreaks have been caused by bacteria on cantaloupe, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach. People who eat contaminated fresh vegetables and fruits can get sick and even require hospitalization.
Let’s take a look at some reasons washing fruits and vegetables before eating (including cleaning up pesticides and possible contamination) is important.
First of all, washing fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of illness from food contamination, therefore, we should wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cooking or eating them. However, products that have been pre-washed by the manufacturer do not require further rinsing.
There are two main risks of eating unwashed fruits and vegetables: bacterial contamination and pesticides.
In recent years, many foodborne illness outbreaks have been associated with contaminated cantaloupe, spinach, tomatoes, and lettuce.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated a listeriosis outbreak resulting in 19 hospitalizations and one death in mid-2016.
More recently, Trusted Source, CDC, FDA, and health officials from multiple U.S. states and Canada investigated an outbreak of E. coli infection caused by contaminated romaine lettuce in January 2019.
The outbreak has affected 62 people in 16 states fortunately no deaths have been reported.
While pesticides can help farmers grow more food, they also have many health risks. Avoiding pesticides can be challenging, however, since many non-target crops are exposed to these chemicals.
Almost 70 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables have pesticide residues even after washing, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
Agricultural products can be infected with harmful bacteria at various stages. During the growth phase, contamination can occur by:
Harmful substances in soil or water
Post-harvest can also be contaminated. Even in our homes, fruits and vegetables can become contaminated due to improper storage and food preparation.
Sometimes, fresh agricultural products contain harmful bacteria. For example, Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria.
These bacteria can make people seriously ill. Some people are more prone to foodborne illness than others.
People at greater risk for food poisoning in agricultural products include:
Children under 5, pregnant women, adults over 65, and people with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of foodborne illness may include:
Stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting that may be bloody, fever, headache, and muscle pain.
Severe listeria infections can also cause stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, etc.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a report on pesticide residue findings in food products. Even after washing, most products still contain pesticide residues.
Investigators noted that more than 99 percent of the products they sampled had residues below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits.
In the 2017 Pesticide Data Program(PDP) annual summary, the USDA reported that US agricultural products produced levels of pesticides that exceeded EPA tolerances.
These products include asparagus, fresh cranberries, cucumbers, kale, onions, peas, sweet potatoes, and more.
In addition to these fruits and vegetables, the USDA found there is no EPA tolerance or an FDA action level for the detected residue in the tested products. The USDA considers the samples to violate pesticide tolerance.
These fruits and vegetables include:
Cranberries, asparagus, peas, lettuce, mango, cucumber, sweet potato, grapefruit, onion, etc.
How to wash?
Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella can be present in agricultural products. In recent years, people have developed foodborne illnesses from fruits and vegetables. Cooking produce before eating is the safest way to eat fruits and vegetables, but people should still wash them beforehand.
The FDA recommends washing hands before and after eating any agricultural products and preparing food, cutting off damaged areas of fruits and vegetables, and rinsing them before peeling to prevent the transfer of dust and bacteria to edible parts. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water, and scrub hard-skinned fruits and vegetables such as melons and cucumbers with a vegetable brush; dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth or paper, removing the outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage.
We should store fresh, perishable agricultural products in the refrigerator at or below 4°C. Pre-washed agricultural products do not need to be washed again, and there is no need to wash agricultural products with soap or other cleaning products. Other recommendations include using separate cutting boards for fruit and vegetables, raw meat, poultry, and seafood; using separate cookware for uncooked food; keep cooked food away from raw meat, poultry or seafood.
WASHWOW can be used to remove pesticide residues on the surface of fruits and vegetables.
Escherichia coli removal rate >99.9%
Staphylococcus aureus removal rate >99.7%
Candida albicans removal rate >99.9%
Pesticide removal rate: >98.6%