Are your fruits & veggies safe to eat?
Pesticides, molds, bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances can cause health problems when we eat foods contaminated with them. Although the food supply is generally safe when handled correctly at home, many organizations have sounded alarms about the cumulative effect of these contaminants, especially on growing children.
Here's some hints for insuring safer produce:
* Look for the freshest, unblemished fruits and vegetables. Spoilage or blemishes encourage growth of bacteria and molds and makes the washing and sorting process more difficult.
* Don't ever fill the sink to wash produce. Most sinks have germs in and around the drain or rim. Use a separate container such as a plastic dishpan, which can be washed, dried and stored between uses.
* Berries, grapes, tomatoes and other soft fruits and vegetables; spray thoroughly with vegetable wash, and rinse well under running cold water just before eating.
* Scrub melons, hard squash and cantaloupes with a stiff vegetable brush under running water, rinsing well before storage or cutting.
* Spray with vegetable wash and vigorously scrub waxed produce, such as apples, cucumbers and bell peppers, just before use. The wax can trap pesticides and molds, and surely cannot be good to eat. I wash under hot running water if I plan to use them immediately, on the theory that hot water will melt and loosen more wax. If you can't remove all the wax, you're better off removing the peel.
* Scrape carrots and parsnips. Scrub root vegetables such as beets, turnips and potatoes before peeling or cooking. Wash oranges, lemons, grapefruit and other citrus fruit well before juicing, peeling or cutting.
* Machine harvesting of potatoes brings a poorer tuber to the marketplace, often cut and bruised which promotes growth of a harmful mold. If you want to bake or boil potatoes in their jackets (skins), select only the very best unblemished potatoes; realize they'll cost a lot more. Otherwise, peeling is preferable. Gray molds penetrate into the potato wherever there's a little blemish or bruise; these must be cut out for safety, and you cannot see them under the skin until you peel.
* Discard the outer leaves of heads of lettuce, cabbage or other clumped or headed leafy vegetables. Wash the rest thoroughly in running cold water. Use a salad spinner ; not only does this dry the greens, letting the dressing cling for better taste, but more of the contaminants fly off with the water that is removed.
* Endive, spinach, chard, collards, kale and other leafy greens benefit from a three-part washing process. Just before use, fill a container with cool water; add some veggie detergent. Put the greens to soak (don't soak longer than necessary or you'll lose vitamins). Take each leaf out and pass it under running water. Trim if necessary and put into a bowl. When all the greens are washed and trimmed, get a fresh container of water and put the greens in to rinse a third time. This gets rid of a maximum amount of pesticides, molds, germs, sand, bugs and worms.
* Cooking instructions tell you to wipe mushrooms with a dry cloth. I don't buy it. They always have soil and organic material on them (guess which end of an animal that organic material may have come from!). I wash mine under running water just before use, removing soil with a soft brush, then drain and dry with a paper towel.
* Peel! Years ago, during World War II, government agencies in the USA and Britain exhorted people not to peel, or to pare thinly, as "most of the vitamins are just under the skin". That may have been a true belief at the time, or just a sneaky effort to get people to stop wasting food. This old wives tale, however, is untrue. The vitamin content is the same throughout most produce, and the only thing most peels or skin provide is a little more fiber. If you are concerned about your children's or family's total pesticide intake, peel their apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes, squash, and any other fruit or vegetable that has one. Actually, if you are having a difficult time getting your family to eat more veggies and fruits, they may eat more if you remove the peels first.
* When you freeze your own produce, wash and trim ahead of time. Then blanch briefly in boiling water (don't do this to berries). This hot bath not only helps removes additional pesticides and molds, but prevents growth of more, as well as making a better frozen product. If you have a large garden with a lot of freezing to do, change the hot water from time to time.
* Remove stem and blossom ends or fruits and vegetables; they often harbor molds and gather pesticides. Remove the hulls of strawberries before you wash them. Remove cores of pears and apples for the same reason. Wash cherries, stem them, then rinse again.
* Remember to wash your own hands before and after you handle food.
* Make it easy for yourself. Buy a good peeler. One with a handle shaped like a "Y" is an excellent choice; easy and fast to use. Invest in really good quality small paring knives as well. Buy a vegetable wash concentrate and use it. or mix a little . Small and large colanders and a salad spinner will also encourage you to clean your produce adequately. Buy that plastic dishpan and reserve it just for produce.
Be safe; carefully wash and trim your food. You owe it to yourself and your family.