Keeping it fresh

by Anonymous Author

One of the benefits of living on a lifestyle block is being able to grow your own food so you can eat fresh, or have additional income with a produce stall at the gate.

However, a Lincoln University expert says eating fresh presents its own challenges while for those who have gate stalls it is important for the produce to stay healthy.

Professor of Toxicology, Ravi Gooneratne, says contamination of fresh produce is emerging as a major food safety challenge.

“Generally, processed ready-to-eat and cold-stored meat and dairy products are considered high-risk foods for L monocytogenes bacterial infections that cause human illness in the form of listeriosis.

“However, recently, several listeriosis outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce contamination around the world.

“Additionally, studies have detected L monocytogenes in fresh produce samples and even in some minimally processed vegetables.” Professor Gooneratne says the greatest risk is when fresh vegetables and fruits are consumed without being washed.

“It is also important to store vegetables under a controlled low temperature that increases shelf-life and inhibits bacterial growth.”

He says the incidence of foodborne outbreaks caused by contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables has increased in recent years.

“Most outbreaks have been reported in the USA, Europe, Canada and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand.”

Various types of fresh produce including cantaloupe, strawberries, mangos, leafy green vegetables, lettuce, salad mixes, sprouts, cabbage, cut celery and radishes are potential vehicles for transmission of pathogens such as E coli and salmonella. 

Professor Gooneratne says there are also risks associated with fresh produce sold by street vendors.

“Potatoes exposed directly to the sun can result in solanine production and consumption of foods containing solanine can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, dizziness and fever. In more severe cases, hallucinations, paralysis and even death can result. When exposed to rain and sun at more than 20°C, salmonella, E coli or L monocytogenes will multiply to toxic levels in cauliflower.”

However, he says consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is important for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. 

“It is important to understand the nature of fresh produce safety challenges, contamination sources, risks to the consumer, and approaches to eliminate or reduce the level of contaminants.

“Scientific understanding is rapidly evolving in this important area of food safety.”