Do I have to wash produce that is marked ready to eat?

Pesky short term bacterial-based food illnesses, or collectively called “food poisoning” are less likely to affect you and your family through animal products (think, mad cow) and more likely to sneak up on you through your apples and oranges. The affordability and availability of ready to eat foods has increased with the demand in the last two decades as they provide a convenience to the on the go eater.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, if a food is labeled as “pre-washed” or “ready to eat” then one should not worry about the cleanliness of the product and can go about eating it. These foods, typically bagged or boxed leafy greens, are processed with cold, chlorinated water, rinsed thoroughly, and regularly tested for E.coli, shigella, and salmonella. The bacteria found on any produce product, pre-washed or not, usually is a result of contamination through irrigation, as neighboring livestock feedlots generate pollutant-rich runoff that may flow into the next door berry patch farm. This type of contamination is highly monitored for when it actually does happen the factory-washed food may still be dirty when it leaves the facility and washing the bacteria infested food at home won’t do much good either.

However, the real danger with eating these foods is not from the fields or the factory, but rather from within the home. The cross-contamination that can occur if your pre-washed salad bag comes into contact with dirty utensils is far more likely to occur and can be equally detrimental to your health. At-home chefs should always be conscious of the cleanliness of their dish-ware and cooking surfaces. Mistakes such as using the same cutting board to chop raw chicken and prepare vegetables happen every day in careless homes. But these at-home errors can be avoided with subtle attention to detail. Regularly sanitizing countertops and the leaky milk spot in the refrigerator will ensure that you can set down produce on any surface without the increased worry of contamination. Clean all utensils with warm soapy water, or use a dishwasher for the best sanitization. Produce should be washed only right before eating with cold water to prevent any existing bacteria from growing, and to guarantee freshness. Safely preparing foods starts within the home; protect you and your family from food illness by properly caring for your ready to eat foods in a clean household.

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