Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I have just enjoyed a delicious cucumber salad, prepared the way I prefer it: with non-fat yogurt and fresh dill. It was left over from a party on the weekend, but still delicious.

Yes, I am continuing to eat raw cucumbers in spite of that outbreak of "cucumber illness" in Europe, mainly centered in Germany. But I live in North America, not in Europe. True, a couple of Americans returning home from travel to Germany have become ill with similar symptoms, but as far as we know at present, none of the suspect cucumbers from Spain are actually being sold in the U.S. or in Canada.

But I do take some precautions, not just to avoid any pathogenic E.coli, but also those common Salmonella bacteria, and parasites.

First, I buy carefully, not just checking to see how the cucumbers were grown (organic/conventional) but also where they came from. This information should be available. Mandatory "Country-of-Origin" (COOL) for fresh produce went into effect in the U.S. in 2008. If it's not actually on the cucumber, I look for information on the crate.

Secondly, I make sure the cucumbers I pick are firm and the skin is undamaged, which would allow easier entry of contaminants.

Thirdly, once in my home and before I let a knife anywhere near them, I wash the cucumbers well. Unless you are buying cucumbers in a farmers' market, these days most are covered with a layer of wax rather than dust or dirt, but I do it anyway.

Thirdly, I peel the cucumbers. Years ago, I used to eat them with the peel on, but now I remove it - pleasanter to eat with any waxed produce, and safer, although I am aware that I am losing some of the nutritional value.

Will this avoid any dangerous bacteria in my cucumbers, including those deadly E.coli 0104 that are popping up in Europe? No, but it is likely to reduce how many are present in what I eat. Realistically, some may be left in the actual flesh of the cucumber, and so may the toxins they produce.

Let's face it, as I stress in The Safe Food Handbook, raw is always riskier than cooked - including in the case of vegetables such as cucumbers. But at least you can reduce your risks a bit by making some smart decisions and actions.

To your good health!

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