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It’s natural but is it safe? Why ‘natural or organic’ does not mean you can ignore food hygiene

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The second most likely source of food poisoning

We seem to be shooting down myths about food hygiene a lot in these blogs recently. Not that we are apologising for that because most of them need to be exposed. One of these is the odd belief that vegetables and salad do not have the potential to cause food issues.

Poultry is, as hopefully we all know, the largest cause of food poisoning in the UK. It may well be versatile and easy to prepare but it is also host to a number of potential hazards such as campylobacter and salmonella. Don’t wash it (to avoid splashing around the contamination) and make sure it’s thoroughly cooked though, and chicken will be perfectly safe. Raw, is definitely not an option because the cooking process reduces the pathogens to a safe level.

I suspect if you asked the general public what the second most common source of food poisoning was you would get a range of answers probably leading with fish and shellfish as the main culprit and a dairy perhaps as the second rank.

In fact, the second most common source is more likely to be leafy greens and vegetables. Fruit is also a culprit when it comes to contamination induced food poisoning, although not as high on the list.

We tend to see fruit and vegetables as ‘healthy’ by default. Granny told us to eat our greens because they were good for us and we all know an apple a day keeps the doctor away. This is, of course, true to some extent. A good dose of fruit n’ veg in your diet will help you keep your vitamin levels up and many of the vegetables we eat contain a big dollop of roughage. If you want to keep healthy, you need a variety of sources of nutrition.

Dangerous Toxins

With the odd exception such as red kidney beans and soya which must be cooked to get rid of the dangerous toxins they contain, most fruit and vegetables can be eaten raw or certainly lightly cooked. Salad vegetables are almost universally consumed raw of course. So, if greens are so good for us why are they a source of food poisoning? Well, for once, undercooking is not likely to be the culprit.

Salad, vegetables and fruit can contain surface contaminants including such nasties as e-coli and clostridium. The reason they are such a cause of food poisoning is a simple lack of hygiene. In short, not washing them properly.

Of course, that means anything that comes with an outer skin, such as an avocado will be safe inside then? Yes, but the outer layer is not. When you cut through the outer skin you are introducing anything the blade comes into contact with into the insides.

So, while your fruit and vegetables are certainly good for you, they are potentially not good for you if you pick them and pop them right in your mouth or drop them in the salad bowl without washing.

Vegan and Vegetarian may be growing in popularity and are indeed a healthy lifestyle, but it does not mean that you can ignore food safety. Just as chicken needs cooking, fruit, vegetables and leafy greens need washing unless they are clearly marked as ‘washed and ready to eat’ to ensure you are avoiding a potentially nasty case of food poisoning.