This type of plant, especially alfalfa sprouts, has been linked with E. coli and salmonella. It grows in wet, humid environments that make it easy for bacteria to thrive. The more bacteria on a plant, the greater your chances of getting sick.
Rinsing well may lower the bacteria count but not eliminate it. "If you're healthy, your immune system can fight off small amounts of pathogens," says Dr. Diez. He recommends those most susceptible to food-borne illness avoid sprouts, which includes children younger than 8, people older than 65, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. If you eat sprouts, keep them refrigerated between 35 and 40 degrees to curb bacteria growth.
Though it's not exactly clear why it may be more susceptible to contamination, one explanation is that the textured surface of lettuce leaves makes it easier for microbial cells to attach compared to smoother leaves, such as cabbage.
Remove the outer leaves on a head of lettuce before eating, and wash it thoroughly. You should submerge the entire head in a bowl of water and soak for a few minutes to loosen any soil, and run under regular water to help rinse away remaining particles.
The juicy red fruit has been linked with regular but small outbreaks of salmonella, and experts aren't sure exactly why. "Some people argue that the tomatoes might have been pre-washed with contaminated water that then got into the produce," says Dr. Diez. "I wouldn't recommend eliminating tomatoes from your diet because you can take precautions to prevent possible infection."
If you're eating tomatoes raw, be sure to wash thoroughly in plain water and use a towel to help to wipe away any remaining bacteria. Also, don't buy tomatoes that are at all cut or bruised. When the skin of any vegetable is damaged, there's more of a chance for bacteria to get into the product, and then there is no way to eliminate it unless you cook it to ensure pathogens get killed.
Melons have a rugged surface, and pathogens may be more easily trapped in nooks and crannies. Plus, people often forget to wash this fruit since the fleshy part that you eat isn't readily exposed to germs.
How to stay safe: Bacteria gets transferred inside the flesh by knives when people cut through the rind of unwashed melons. Before you enjoy your summer cantaloupe or watermelon, be sure to thoroughly wash and scrub the outer surface with a soft produce brush.
Like lettuce and melons, spinach leaves' crinkly surface may make it more susceptible to bacteria. Also like other produce grown close to the ground, it may come into contact with contaminated animal feces.
How to stay safe: Submerge spinach leaves in water and dry with a paper towel before eating to reduce your risk of pathogens, or serve cooked as a healthy side dish.
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