We've probably all heard about the food poisoning scare with vegetables in parts of Europe, and since the source has not actually been determined, this got me wondering about precautions we can take. Summer is upon us here in Canada, and so, hopefully, we're all eating more raw fruits and vegetables, but I wonder how many of us are being mindful of proper cleaning and handling? We all get educated somewhere along the line about food safety in handling meats, but when is the last time you heard anything about food-borne illness in produce, or something about proper cleaning of fruits and vegetables.
After doing a bit of reading, it seems that raw fruits and vegetables are in fact a serious potential source of food poisoning, especially in countries like Canada where much of our produce is imported from far off places, for much of the year. It also seems that washing them does not necessarily prevent food poisoning because some bacteria can make their way through the skins and leaves. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that washing does reduce the incidence, and this article on About.com makes the icky point that by the time your produce gets to you, it's been handled by many pairs of hands.
So, wash those fruits and veggies, and then wash them again. I am a firm believer in soaking, actually. I have a very big stainless steel bowl that I use for this purpose only. I fill the bowl with cold water and a few drops of vinegar, and then I add the produce. I especially love using this method for spinach, lettuce and all kinds of greens, because while the leaves float, the dirt and grime sinks to the bottom. I soak some things like berries for up to an hour, but most things are soaked for a 5-10 minutes, rinsed in my colander under cold water, and either left in the colander to dry, or dried with paper towel. If you do this with your lettuce, wrap it in paper towel (or keep a dish towel for this purpose only which you wash in hot water and bleach after each use), your lettuce will stay fresh and crisp for over a week. I learned this from Nik Manojlovich on Savoir Faire years ago.
By the way, enjoy local produce while we've got it. Buy lots, buy often, and if you need some inspiration, Foodland Ontario has a wonderful of selection of recipes.