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When Good Food Goes Bad: How To Prevent A Foodborne Illness

January 11th, 2012

When produce like celery and cilantro are recalled due to Salmonella (read a full list here), and after one of the deadliest outbreaks of E. coli this year killing 19 people in Europe and sickening thousands; many of us have become increasingly concerned about what could be tainted next, and if it could directly impact our families. Although we normally associate both Salmonella and E. coli with undercooked beef and poultry, contaminated foods can include eggs, milk, herbs and produce. In fact, produce can become a hazard when they are fertilized with animal manure, and if the manure is contaminated with Salmonella or E-coli.  Yet, it’s irrational to avoid all foods that could pose a threat, especially when there are so many health benefits in each tasty fruit and vegetable we eat. Luckily, there are a few tips that can minimize the risk of a hazardous pathogen ending up on your plate.

Prevention In Your Garden: Colorado State University recommends building your own garden, allowing you more control over safe gardening practices. To reduce the propensity of foodborne illness; locate your garden away from animal pens or manure, and keep your pets and animals away from the garden during growing season.  Also, cover your bases by checking for a neighbor’s run-off that may have be exposed to manure.  When watering, try using drinking water or water from a deep well, as these sources are less likely to contain Salmonella and E.coli.  Also, it’s good practice to never apply manure directly to the edible parts of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Prevention In Your Kitchen:  Thoroughly washing hands and tools that may have been exposed to manure in your garden will prevent foodborne illness from being spread in your home.  While in the kitchen, washing your hands, cutting boards, utensils, fruits and vegetables in warm soapy water will also prevent sickness.  To further remove dirt, pesticides and bacteria, use a brush or peel the skin off of fruits and vegetables before eating them.  Although, contrary to what many assume, washing meat in your sink can actually splash more harmful bacteria in your kitchen. The Food Safety And Inspection Service recommends cooking poultry to at least 165 degrees F., and all beef, pork and lamb to 160 degrees F. to kill all known pathogens.  Also, store your leftovers at 40 degrees F. or below in the refrigerator, and 0 degrees in the freezer.

In The Case Of A Suspected Foodborne Illness:  If you suspect a food-related illness, first securely wrap up the potential food,-mark it “DANGER” and place it in the freezer. Saving the tainted food and any wrapping, cans and labels associated with it, can be useful in tracking the illness back to its source.  Also, seek treatment if you experience bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or a high temperature.  Call the Health Department if the food was served from a local restaurant, or the USDA Hotline (1-888-MPHotline) if the suspected food was packaged in the United States.

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Guest Blog: It’s Dinner Time – Do You Know Where Your Food Has Been?

July 29th, 2010

When you buy a sweet pepper at your local market, do you know how many people have touched it?  Even bagged apples had to be sorted and put in that bag. What did that banana go through before you picked it up, or worse, what was in that cart before you put your bananas in there?

Many people see the obvious reasons to wash an apple bought loose at the market-they see others pick up the fruit, sometimes even place to their nose, and then put it back. Gross; okay, wash the apples. What about fruit that you don’t eat the peel like oranges or watermelons? Suppose there are some bacteria on that watermelon. You slice with a knife and now the bacteria are on the knife. Keep slicing, keep spreading the germs. Well, what if I grew that melon myself. I’m the only one who touched it; I know where it’s been. Safe? Not necessarily.

Food grown on the ground is susceptible to bacteria often found in the soil. What about prewashed veggies, like salad mixes and fresh spinach – safe? Again, maybe not; if the water used was contaminated, as has happened on occasion, you can get sick from it, or worse.

Now I’m not going to tell you what to do, it’s your life. Heck, I’ve seen people handle money (which has more germs on it than anything) and then handle food; and I saw my husband get very sick from someone doing just that. If you care about what you are eating, or even more so what you might be feeding others, the precaution is simple-Before you eat it, wash it, all of it – from the asparagus to the zucchini, whether you eat the peel or not. I use dish soap or hand soap, a little goes a long way.

Simple to keep it safe.

~Gardening Jones

About Gardening Jones-

GJ has been gardening and preserving my family’s food for many years (25+). Recently new to raising free-range chickens for the eggs and blogging. GJ is a Master Gardener through Penn State Cooperative Extension; HAACP licensed in Safe Food Handling, a former restaurant owner and also a formerly licensed home food canner.

GJ can be found at:




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