Nutrition-wise blog

Lettuce gets a bad rap, but cooks need to clean up their act

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 13, 2013

Eat your greens! Just be sure to wash them first.

Food safety is often overlooked. Most of us shop at grocery stores with beautiful presentations of bounties of food. We forget that the food was grown or raised elsewhere, was handled by many hands and traveled through varying temperatures to arrive in our kitchens. Conditions are right for bacteria already present on food to multiple, as well as for new bacteria to join the crew.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report on illnesses and deaths from foodborne illnesses. The statistics are startling and a sobering reminder of the importance of food safety.

Over 9 million people are sickened by foodborne illnesses each year, according to the report. Over 50 percent of the illnesses were from plant foods, with leafy greens being a primary host. A close second is poultry.

Sadly for thousands of people each year, this is more than stomachache or flu-like symptoms. Foodborne bacteria and toxins are serious and can lead to hospitalizations and death for the very young and the very old, as well as people with weakened immune systems.

What can you do to protect yourself? Don't forgo leafy vegetables or lean poultry! Instead, remember these words: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

  • Clean. Before and after handling food, wash your hands, your kitchen surfaces, including your sink, refrigerator, and preparation areas. All produce should be rinsed produce running water (no need for detergents or special washes).
  • Separate. Don't let meat juices leak onto other foods. Keep produce and meat and fish separate in the cart and in the refrigerator. Use separate cutting boards and/or clean prep area and knives for produce and meat.
  • Cook. Use a food thermometer. Heat and reheat food to proper internal temperatures.
  • Chill. Don't leave food at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours. Use shallow containers to quickly allow foods to reach 40 degrees or less in the refrigerator or freezer.

What are your thoughts about food safety? Will you change your food shopping, preparation or storage habits to keep yourself and your family safe from foodborne illnesses?

To your health,


Feb. 13, 2013