Wednesday, June 8, 2011



My sister-in-law starts every day washing bananas. No kidding. Before she even makes coffee, she washes bananas, oranges, apples, and whatever other fruit she's going to display in her three tier fruit stand. If the fruit isn't there, it's not to be eaten. Her four sons know that. They're only to eat the fruit that's been washed. They eat a lot of fruit (and veggies). And they are all healthy and handsome and full of energy. Dianne believes strongly in the benefits of raw foods. Seeing how great she and her kids look, you can't argue with her.

I couldn't remember what type of soap she used or if she used soap. So I emailed her, "Dianne do you use soap when you wash fruit and veggies?"  and this was her response:

I do not use anything besides water with the exception of fruits and some veggies with hard/impermeable skins which I will wash with water and a little dish soap, just to get the outsides clean such that when you're handling them and peeling/cutting them, you're not getting any bacteria that's on their outsides into the inside area that you eat.  Examples of these fruits/veggies are bananas, watermelon, other melons, squashes.  Otherwise, for things like apples, grapes, cherries, celery, carrots, etc., etc., I just rinse the hell out of them while rubbing them with my hands. Things like lettuces and herbs, I rinse the hell out of while "fluffing" the contents over and over and over again ad nauseum :-) so as to reach all the surface area as possible then spin the lettuces a lot and paper towel-dry the herbs.  When I am cutting something like a watermelon or other melon or a pineapple (remember, these are the babies that got the dish soap too), I will then rinse under water (briefly) the newly cut face (the inside fruit) as it has now made contact by virtue of the knife with outside hard skin that may not have had all bacteria removed by my neurotic first-washing efforts.  :-)  Potatoes??  Oh those babies get a long-ass old scrubbing as I generally do like the skins in my recipes.

What got me thinking about ways to wash produce is the E.coli outbreak in Germany which as of this writing has killed 24, sickened 2400 and left many of those with permanent kidney damage. The source is supposedly produce, but they still haven't determined which produce.

I've learned a lot about E.coli following this story. Here are some things I didn't know before:

1. Everyone has hundreds of types of E.coli in his/her digestive tract. You're not born with E.coli, but it gets there within the first 40 hours of life.

2. All mammals have E.coli in their digestive tracts. So do birds. Different animals have some different E.coli and some E.coli is common to all.

3. Most E. coli are harmless, many are beneficial. But there are 6 deadly ones (maybe 7 if they count the German one as a new one... they haven't decided that yet). These are called STECs (but I forget why).

4. Because E.coli lives in the digestive tract, mostly in the large intestine, it is spread through feces. That means if it's in your food your food had contact with feces. The feces might have been in the field, in the water used to wash the food, or on the hands of the food's handler. (Ever notice those signs in  restaurant bathrooms saying employees are REQUIRED to wash their hands?)

5. E.coli is not spread by coughs and sneezes.

6. Heat kills E. coli. There's a lot of it on meat (particularly hamburger), so that's why you want to cook it well. Washing works for produce.

7. If you get sick from food, there's no point going to the doctor unless you have bloody diarrhea. You're not supposed to take antibiotics, so there's not much a doctor can do except tell you to rest and drink fluids to flush the E.coli from your system. But once you've reached the bloody diarrhea stage you should be in the hospital and isolated from other people because that's when the thing can easily get out of hand and start spreading to family members, etc. and you'll need to have your fluids replaced via IV.

8. One of the strongest arguments against factory farmed animals is that they must be fed antibiotics because they are in such close quarters that it's impossible to keep them from being contaminated by feces. The antibiotics cause strains of E.coli to mutate into antibiotic resistant E.coli. It's an antibiotic resistant type of E.coli that's making people sick in Germany.

Of course E.coli is not the only reason to wash produce well. There are many other types of germs, not to mention pesticides and herbicides. But no matter how well you wash your food, remember, you are probably not doing a better job than my sister-in-law.


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