With the USDA's most recent push for us to consume more produce (www.Choose My Plate.gov) we are encouraged to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, to shoot for a goal of covering one half of our plates with fruits and vegetables, and then eating them up of course.
But with increased intake of produce, especially raw produce, it is inevitable that there will be accompanying increases in foodborne illness incidents caused by harmful bacteria that are naturally present on agricultural products.
Consumers must follow safe handling guidelines for produce at home (www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm114299) but first, at the market consumers need to become more vigilant about the conditions and surroundings of the produce they purchase.
The Buy Fresh and Local movement is a good one. We are supporting local growers of produce while reaping the benefits of consuming produce that has been recently harvested at closer to the peak of ripeness and has not been exposed to extended travel conditions and the accompanying increased likelihood of contamination. But consumers should not be naive. Any produce, organically or conventionally grown, can be contaminated if it is not handled properly while in the field, during harvest and packaging, or on the way from the farm to market.
Growers or processors are responsible for preventing bacteria in the soil or water from contaminating fresh fruits or vegetables where they're grown or processed. Consumers should ask some common sense questions of the seller/grower (likely the same person in local markets).
Whether at a local farmer's market or a supermarket, be choosey.
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