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Monday, June 16, 2008

Steps to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses in Fresh Tomatoes

Information Update
2008-92
June 14, 2008
For immediate release

OTTAWA - Health Canada would like to remind Canadians of the importance of proper handling and preparation of fresh tomatoes in order to prevent foodborne illness.

Tomatoes can be part of a nutritious diet and are a great source of vitamins and minerals, according to Canada's Food Guide. Tomatoes are fruits and are commonly red but can also come in a variety of other colours, such as yellow, pink and purple. Tomatoes are often eaten fresh or used as an ingredient in recipes. Popular types of tomatoes include beefsteak, plum and cherry tomatoes.

How can tomatoes become contaminated?

Fresh field tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables don't naturally contain bacteria that can make you sick.

Since tomatoes are grown close to the ground, the fruit can become contaminated in the field by soil, contaminated water, wild and domestic animals or improperly composted manure. Bacteria may also be transferred during and after harvest from handling, storing and transporting.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes, can also become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria when they come into contact with raw food items such as meat, poultry, seafood and their juices. Such contaminations can happen at the grocery store, in the shopping cart, in the refrigerator or from counters and cutting boards at home.

How do I select tomatoes at the grocery store?

When you buy tomatoes, you should look for any signs of bruising or cuts on the skin, and flesh of the tomato. Because they continue to ripen once they are picked, you should always purchase tomatoes that are firm but not hard.

Storing tomatoes

Store whole tomatoes unwashed and uncovered at room temperature. Make sure that they are stored out of direct sunlight. When the tomatoes are ripe, they should be stored in the refrigerator and should be used within a few days.

Cut tomatoes should always be refrigerated at 4ºC (40ºF) or less and can be kept for up to three days. If the cut or peeled tomatoes have been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, you should throw them away.

Since tomatoes can become contaminated by coming into contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood, be sure to separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods in the shopping cart at the grocery store, and in the kitchen and refrigerator at home.

Cleaning and preparing tomatoes

You should always wash your hands before handling any fresh produce. Wash your tomatoes under fresh, running water. Make sure you throw out any tomatoes that are bruised or spoiled. Don't soak tomatoes in a sink full of water because the sink can harbour bacteria that can be transferred to the tomatoes.

There is no need to use anything other than water when washing tomatoes. Produce washes may not completely remove or kill bacteria, viruses and parasites. Washing tomatoes under fresh, cool running water gently is as effective, if not more so, as using cleansers.
When you are finished washing your tomatoes, cut out the scar where the stem was, and throw it away.

Foodborne Illness and Symptoms

Foodborne illness or food poisoning happens when a person gets sick from eating foods that are contaminated with microorganisms like bacteria, parasites or viruses. Bacteria most commonly linked to tomato foodborne outbreaks is Salmonella.

The most common symptoms of foodborne illness include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

It is estimated that there are as many as 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

What is the Government of Canada doing about the safety of fresh produce?

The Government of Canada and industry work together to help identify best practices that can be used to help prevent contamination of fresh produce throughout the food system, from the field to the store. In addition, inspection and enforcement activities conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency work to ensure that steps taken by producers, manufacturers and importers have been effective and that the foods available to Canadians are safe.

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