10 April 2013

How make sure fruit and vegetables are safe

One of the real challenges of expat life is finding food to cook your own home recipes.  What is on sale in the shops is often not quite like what you are used to having at home.  One thing that rarely changes, however, is fruit and vegetables.  Fresh produce is normally available in one form or another in most postings.  Sadly, however, such produce is not always safe to eat and can be infected nasties such as E.Coli and other things.  Almost every expat will, therefore, as a matter of course, have their own preferred cleaning and sterilising method.

 My years in the tropics have left me with a sterilising tic.  Whenever we were outside of Northern Europe my mother would soak all fruit and vegetables in Milton baby bottle solution before we could think about eating it.  It has since become something of a habit with me that everything is cleaned, sterilised and then peeled before use. 

Following an e-coli scare for European and American grown produce I even sterilise our vegetables in more mainstream postings, this has the combined benefit (for people who are concerned about such things) of removing any remaining pesticide residue from the produce.   I have been very lucky that the available selection of fruit and vegetables in all four of my recent postings has been very diverse but nevertheless I sterilise everything (especially organic produce) very very carefully.

Milton is probably the best baby cold water steriliser to use on fruit and vegetables as it does not need to be rinsed off.  If you cannot get Milton most solutions can be used but many require the vegetables to be rinsed in clean water after sterilising (check the instructions on your chosen tablets).  An alternative is a mix of vinegar in water (approximately 20% Vinegar solution but you may wish to make it stronger in the event you are in an area with a high contamination risk).  In some countries it is possible to buy a proprietary vegetable wash solution that can either be diluted for soaking large quantities or applied directly to single items.

Whether or not sterilising is necessary depends, to a great extent on the water used to irrigate the crops.  If the water is safe to drink and the vegetables irrigated with potable water a good wash a scrub to remove all soil is probably enough.   I have a friend who uses soap to clean her vegetables but if I am ever in any doubt at all, I get out my Milton tablets.

I have a sliding scale of vegetables.  Salad, cucumber, tomatoes, watermelons and the like take up a lot of water and I am very careful of them.  Even if I sterilise them to deal with the risk of external infection I will only eat them where I know that they have been irrigated with potable water and I always peel cucumbers.  If in doubt I would eschew the ones from the shops and grow my own.  I am slightly less concerned with cooked vegetables where local water is potable.  As long as they will be boiled or roasted for at least 15 minutes, all the soil is washed from the surface and they are peeled I am mostly happy for them to be left untreated.   Where they are grown in non potable water or I am only going to blanche them I always insist on sterilising.

In Nigeria the water was very dangerous.  It had to be boiled for 15 minutes and then filtered before it was safe to drink and all fruit and veg was sterilised for at least 60 minutes before rinsing in clean water.  In Venezuela the water was not as bad in the cities but we took a lot of care with the fruit and vegetables, sterilising them for 20 minutes.  In Turkey too, because we were a long way from the main cities we took a lot of care with the greens and, after a particularly nasty experience that I had after eating some untreated cucumber at a picnic, only ever ate the salads that we grew ourselves, our location was famous for its watermelons but the water used to grow them was so dirty that we did not ever eat one.  

In Astana the water from the tap was potable with just a filter and no need to boil so my guess is that washing in filtered water would render most vegetables safe, certainly that is about all that most of my friends did.  I did not bother sterilising anything that was to be cooked, letting a good wash and peel do the job.  Fruit was always sterilised and rinsed but I did let the children then eat their apples unpeeled.  I treated salad and anything else eaten raw  just ahead of eating by soaking in Milton in my salad spinner, draining and then rinsing in clean, filtered water.

In Malaysia  I sterilised everything that was to be eaten fresh and all cooked vegetables that were not to be peeled.  Although the tap water was meant to be safe and potable I never used it, preferring to use the water from the dispenser instead.  In KSA most (well pretty much all) of the fresh produce is imported and I treat it pretty much as I would in Astana with the exception of the water, I don't trust the tap water at all and don't use it for any preparation.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat cooking.

Ersatz Expat

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  1. Always good to be on the safe side.
    A very thorough guide, which I'll refer to on future postings I'm sure.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing such an Awesome
    really i like your site.
    i enjoyed...
    vegetable wash

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. will try as very useful .When visiting my sis in Turkey she used vinegar method as well as cleaning I was amazed at how much longer fruit lasted.

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