Preventing Foodborne Illness

Senior couple cooking at home

The recent outbreak of food poisoning resulting from contaminated cheese has sickened 29 people and resulted in two deaths. Listeria bacteria is naturally found in soil and can be transferred easily wherever food is prepared. While most people who get infected with listeria experience mild, flu-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all. However, pregnant people and older adults are at highest risk of serious complications from foodborne illness.

Government food safety information departments remind seniors and people of every age that although we often think of foodborne illness as resulting from contaminated meat or dairy products, produce can also be a source of dangerous bacteria. Here are some tips to remember as you purchase and prepare fruits and vegetables:

Buying tips: Avoid produce that is bruised or damaged. When purchasing pre-cut produce, such as half a watermelon or bagged salad products, be sure they are kept cold by refrigeration or on ice. Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood.

Storage tips: Refrigerate all pre-cut or pre-peeled fresh fruits and vegetables. Store perishable fresh fruits and veggies (such as strawberries, herbs, or mushrooms) at a temperature of 40 degrees or below.

Preparation tips

  1. Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  2. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
  3. All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.
  4. Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.
  5. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Listera bacteria can transfer from the outside of the food to the inside when cutting.
  6. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
  7. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
  8. Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Older adults who are at increased risk of foodborne illness may choose to avoid soft cheeses like brie or queso fresco that have increased water content that can harbor bacteria. For more information about avoiding foodborne illness, visit

Source: IlluminAge

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