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BLOOMINGTON - While mom's advice to "eat your vegetables" remains right on target, it should come with a caution.

Make sure fresh produce is properly washed.

Because fresh produce isn't always cooked before consumption, it's susceptible to contamination.

This includes fruits and vegetables with protective skins like tomatoes and cantaloupes. Tomatoes can become contaminated through a break in the skin and cantaloupes through cracks in the rind.

Experts say a rise in produce imports may contribute to contamination.

The Web site www.postgraduatemedicine indicates that as of the late 1990s, as much as 17 percent of all cantaloupes, 52 percent of green onions, 36 percent of cucumbers and 34 percent of tomatoes sold in the U.S. were grown in Mexico.

"The growing incidence of sporadic diarrhea illnesses in the United States may reflect 'traveler's diarrhea' transmitted through these foods, even though the consumer has traveled only to the grocery store," the Web site said.

Although increasingly popular, pre-cut salads may offer an increased risk of contamination as well. This is because of the increased number of steps from farm to table.

Robin Bagwell, a nutritionist with the University of Illinois Extension Office, said proper packaging of pre-cut produce is essential to prevent contamination.

If a package advertises that it's pre-washed it doesn't need to be washed again, Bagwell said.

If the consumer prefers to wash the produce again, however, it should be washed only with water.

"No chlorine, detergents or soap," Bagwell said.

Mary Kay Holloway, a dietician at Community Cancer Center in Normal, agreed.

"Turn the water on hard," Holloway said.

Both wanted to make something else very clear

Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy as long as they are clean.


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