Monday, May 30, 2011
ARE U.S. CUCUMBERS SAFE TO EAT?
2011 seems to be the year of the cucumber. In food safety terms, that is. Three hazards have surfaced in cucumbers in just the past two months. Where does that leave us with eating raw cucumbers in the U.S.?
First there was the concern about radiation in cucumbers from the Fukushima area in Japan (see post of May 7). Yes, according to the latest government statistics I found (for 2009), Japan is eligible to export cucumber to the United States. But it is a very small player. Besides, as I said in the earlier blog, a small dose of radionuclides in a cucumber or two is not likely to cause permanent damage to your health. Although yes, pregnant women and young children should be extra careful.
The next cucumber-related safety issue that has surfaced this year is our old friend Salmonella bacteria. In early May there was a recall of cucumbers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of Salmonella contamination (see post for May 3). The infective dose for Salmonella bacteria is usually fairly low. Most likely you could just have eaten one of these Salmonella-infected cucumbers, or even a few slices and become ill. But in all, this seems to have been a fairly small outbreak.
Now there is the very frightening E.coli 0104:H4 outbreak in Europe, that appears to have originated in cucumbers exported from two growers in Spain. So is the U.S. importing cucumbers from Spain? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data I found suggests that Spain is indeed eligible to export cucumbers to the U.S. But do we get them from the two cucumber producers in Spain that seem to be implicated in this outbreak? I don't know. But I am trying to find out.
In the meantime, if you are nervous about it, I would suggest that you buy local wherever possible. Personally, I have not stopped eating raw cucumbers. But until we know more, I check to make sure they are not imported from Spain. And as soon as mine are large enough to eat (if the squirrels don't get them first) I'll eat those.
To your good health!