No matter which season it is, there’s one thing you probably always have on hand: avocados. You know, when panic-driven shortages aren’t making headlines, of course. But it you cut open and scoop out that creamy green goodness without first giving the fruit’s skin a nice scrub, you could be putting your health at risk.
Washing produce like tomatoes and broccoli is one thing, but avocados? The protective skin seems like it should be more than enough of a barrier to keep any harmful bacteria from getting inside. Unfortunately, according to mindbodygreen, when testing a big batch—both those grown domestically and those imported—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found they weren’t so safe after all. When analyzing the skin of 361 avocado samples, 64 of them (18 percent) contained Listeria—a serious infection that causes 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths every year. In 1,254 samples of the pulp you actually eat, 3 (less than one percent) were positive for the same species. That’s not all, though. Between both the skin and pulp samples, 12 of them (nearly one percent) were found to be positive for Salmonella. Talk about losing your appetite.
Even though the percentages might be low, the risk is still there—especially since it’s not common knowledge that avocados need to be washed in the first place. According to the FDA’s foodborne illness expert Glenda Lewis, that’s because produce—whether it’s fruit or vegetables—can easily become contaminated by everything from the soil it grows in and harmful substances in the water to poor worker hygiene. Just think of how many hands those avocados are in before they get into your reusable grocery tote. To make sure you don’t get sick from your favorite food, Lewis recommends first washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, then gently scrub your avocado under running water with a clean vegetable brush. Afterward, dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel before slicing.
Avocados aren’t the only surprising food you should be washing. To prevent transferring dirt and bacteria on the outside of the item to the inside, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says you should also be washing lemons, bananas, and grapefruit—basically any produce that has a peel you don’t normally eat—as well as cans and jars before opening them so harmful bacteria doesn’t get into the food from the lids.
It might take a little more time—and willpower!—to wash before you eat, but having a delicious, bacteria-free avocado spread on your toast is definitely worth it.
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