Fruit and vegetables are not always germ-free

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Changed on: 24.04.2019
Strawberries

Also vegetable food can cause disease outbreaks again and again: Just think of the EHEC outbreak caused by shoots in Germany in 2011; one year later, the largest disease outbreak caused by noroviruses was also registered in Germany, caused by frozen strawberries. From the beginning of 2013, food-borne outbreaks caused by hepatitis A virus infections occurred repeatedly throughout Europe. Microbiological and epidemiological investigations by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and national authorities indicated that frozen berries could be the source of the outbreak.

Berries can come into contact with noroviruses or hepatitis A viruses at various points in their production, for example through improper irrigation or fertilisation. Furthermore, people infected with these viruses may transmit the virus to the berries during harvesting or packaging. In the case of deep-frozen berries, viruses can also reach the berries via contaminated water added during the freezing process.

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assesses risks from salmonella and noroviruses on berries

Against this background, berry fruit, pre-cut melons, cut vegetables (lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, sprouts), pathogenic (pathogenic) germs such as salmonella, listeria, noroviruses, hepatitis viruses and hygiene indicator germs were tested in Austria as part of monitoring campaigns in 2014. A total of 115 samples were tested. One sample of rocket was found to be harmful to health due to salmonella.

Tips for consumers

1. from the shop to the fridge

  • Pay attention to freshness.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables (such as berries and sprouts) that are insensitive to cold should be stored in the refrigerator compartment provided for these foods.
  • Sliced melons should be stored refrigerated continuously or eaten within 2 hours.

2. wash well, peel well - reduce germs on fruit and vegetables

Wash raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly with running water before consumption (at least 30 seconds, if possible: rub vigorously, use warm water) and peel if necessary. Washing and peeling reduces the number of germs and thus the risk of infection.
However, both do not completely eliminate the germs. After washing, dry fruits and vegetables for raw consumption with kitchen paper.

3. preparation and blanching

  • A germ reduction can be achieved by brief blanching (1 minute immersion in boiling water).
  • Particularly sensitive persons should consume sprouts and frozen berries only thoroughly heated.

4. cleanliness is the trump card

The risk of food-borne diseases can be reduced with simple rules:

  • When cooking, make sure that appliances and work surfaces (chopping boards) are clean. Change or boil wipes and sponges frequently.
  • Use clean dishtowels.
  • Keep the refrigerator clean and at the right temperature (+4°C).
  • Wash hands and dry well! This prevents the transmission of germs.

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