April 12, 2012

Study reveals consumer produce-washing habits

Researchers who thought they would see an increase in the prevalence of consumers who wash cantaloupe before slicing were surprised by what they learned.

Results from an FDA “Consumer Vegetable and Fruit Washing Practices in the United States” survey published in the April issue of Food Protection Trends indicate that in 2010, fewer people were rinsing cantaloupe than in 2006, when an earlier survey was conducted. Those contacted were asked questions about strawberries and tomatoes in addition to bagged salads and cantaloupe.

The data also showed an increase in the number of people who wash bagged, pre-cut lettuce, along with a decrease in the number of consumers who believe that bagged, pre-cut lettuce is washed.

“Ironically, rewashing bagged, pre-cut lettuce introduces the potential for cross-contamination from the consumer’s kitchen and would therefore be a more risky behavior than not washing the product,” the study states. “In addition, washing would not further decrease contaminants if they were localized within the food rather than on the surface.

The survey revealed that more women than men wash cantaloupe, and more men than women wash bagged, pre-cut lettuce. Cantaloupe washing declined from 2006 to 2010 for men, while lettuce washing increased for women in the same period. Female cantaloupe buyers who prepare the main meal were 1,417 times as likely to wash cantaloupes, as compared to women who do not prepare the main meal as often.

The study recommends targeted education campaigns to emphasize the importance of washing produce, especially those with hard rinds, because “although the skin of the cantaloupe is not typically eaten, a knife passing through the skin can carry dirt or other contaminants from the rind to the flesh.”



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