It's Your Health
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Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and Canadians are encouraged to eat multiple servings of these foods every day. When eating fresh fruits and vegetables, you should be aware that improper storage, handling, and preparation of these foods can result in food-borne illness.
Fruits and vegetables make up the largest arc of Canada's Food Guide rainbow. A healthy diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables regularly may also lower your risk for heart disease and can contribute to your overall health and vitality. According to Canada's Food Guide, having at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal and as a snack will help you get the amount of fruits and vegetables you need each day.
Fresh fruits and vegetables do not naturally contain microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses and parasites) that can cause food-borne illness. However, fresh produce can become contaminated in the field through contact with soil, contaminated water, wild or domestic animals, or improperly composted manure. Fresh produce can also come into contact with harmful microorganisms during and after harvest if it is not properly handled, stored, and transported. In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables can become contaminated through contact with raw food items such as meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices. This can happen at the grocery store, in the shopping cart, in the refrigerator, or on counters and cutting boards in the kitchen.
Eating contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables can lead to food-borne illness. In Canada, there have been outbreaks of food-borne illness tied to eating cantaloupes, tomatoes, leafy greens (i.e., iceberg lettuce, spinach, and pre-cut ready-to-eat salad) and fresh herbs, such as basil. For details, see the link to Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts (Canadian Food Inspection Agency Web site) in the Need More Info? section below. Keep in mind that the fresh fruits and vegetables available in Canada (including those named above) are generally very safe to eat, as long as they have been stored, handled, and prepared properly.
The most common symptoms of food-borne illness include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and fever. These symptoms can start several hours or even days after you eat contaminated food.
Most people recover completely from food-borne illness, but on rare occasions, some may suffer more serious effects. The groups at higher risk for serious health effects include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65, and people with weakened immune systems.
You can reduce your risk of food-borne illness by following these safety tips when buying, storing, handling, and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables:
It is also important to pay attention to food recalls and remove affected food items from your home.
The Government of Canada works with industry 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, Health Canada sets policies and standards governing the safety and nutritional quality of all food sold in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) enforces the policies and ensures that necessary warnings are released quickly to the Canadian public.
As a founding member of the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education, Health Canada also participates in public awareness campaigns about safe food practices. An example is the Be Food Safe Canada campaign, which encourages consumers to follow four basic food safety steps (Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill) to help prevent food-borne illnesses.
See the following:
Also, see the following on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Web site:
For more information or a copy of Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide or call 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232). The call is toll-free in Canada.
For articles on such topics as Listeria and Food Safety, Risks associated with Sprouts, Salmonella, and Unpasteurized Fruit Juices and Cider, visit the It's Your Health Web section on Food and Nutrition
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section.
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*.
Original: January 2009
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2009