Yes, you should wash avocados and these other fruits and vegetables

Chances are, you probably don’t wash your avocados.

But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s a pretty good reason you should. In a report published earlier this month by the FDA, experts found more than 17 per cent of avocados had listeria monocytogenes on the skin.

Even though you would never eat an avocado’s skin, the FDA noted this foodborne pathogen can be transferred by a knife. “Even if you plan to cut the rind or peel off the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit,” the report added.

The report explained there are other things people do that already reduce the risk of pathogens.

“Consumers commonly slice avocados and extract the fruit’s pulp [or the edible portion] prior to eating it, discarding the fruit’s peel as they would a banana peel or an orange rind,” experts said.

“Consumers also typically eat avocados shortly after slicing the fruit as its pulp tends to brown quickly once exposed to oxygen. These practices generally limit the amount of the pathogen, if present, that consumers may be exposed to.”

If you haven’t been washing avocados (or don’t plan on doing it even after these figures), there is some good news. The sample the FDA looked at had only .24 per cent of listeria in its edible pulp, reported.

Washing fruits and vegetables

With the recent news of E. coli warnings, many grocery stores have pulled romaine lettuce, as well as lettuce and cauliflower off their shelves. Food safety comes down to how we handle our food, and washing it is a big part of it.

Health Canada noted melons, for example, a fruit that doesn’t have edible skin, should still be washed to avoid food poisoning. “While melons do not naturally contain bacteria that can make you sick, their outer skin or rind can become contaminated because melons are grown close to the ground,” the site explained.

Melons can be contaminated in the soil, contaminated water or improperly composted manure. Contamination by bacteria can also happen during handling, sorting or harvesting.

“Before cutting the melon, thoroughly wash and scrub the entire melon with warm water using a clean produce brush. Bacteria from the outer rind can transfer to the inner flesh of the melon if you cut into it before washing.”

Like avocados, the same rules of washing before eating should apply to other fruits with inedible peels like citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), tropical fruits (banana and pineapples) and squashes.

Experts recommended washing all fresh fruit and veggies with cool tap water before eating — there’s no need to use soap or produce wash. And when you are washing, rub the skin or use a produce brush.

Even pre-cut fruits and vegetables can raise the risk of a variety of illnesses like salmonella, listeria and E. coli. 

“The problem with processed produce is that much like when you get a scratch on your skin, once it’s been cut, it loses a layer of protection and is exposed to [possible contamination],” Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, previously told Global News.

“Melons, in particular, are an extreme example because their flesh is the best growth medium for salmonella.”

While there is a potential risk for listeria or other bacteria when it comes to handling fruits and vegetables (even if the risk isn’t high), experts urge consumers to always be safe than sorry.

— With files from Marilissa Racco

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