When it comes to fruit and vegetables, the first thing that comes to mind is their innumerable and indisputable benefits. From vitamins to mineral salts, many nutrients allow us to feel good by eating. Yet, sometimes vegetables can hide silent and invisible “pitfalls” that, if not eliminated before consumption, could trigger stomach aches or worse.
We know that, during pregnancy, attention must be even greater because the immune defenses weaken and the body is easily attacked. It is, therefore, right to ask ourselves: is washing fruit and vegetables enough, or is there something more we can do to protect the mother and the child? Yes, something more can be done: disinfect. Let’s see how.
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Why Eat Fruits And Vegetables
We are not saying anything new, but we would like again to list a thousand virtues of fruit and vegetables.
- Few calories. Vegetables have a low energy density, i.e. they are not particularly caloric (with some due exceptions, for example, avocado, coconut and some types of dried fruit). This aspect is fundamental in pregnancy when it is desirable not to accumulate too much weight.
- High in vitamins and minerals. There are many, and we list only a few: B vitamins (especially folate), vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, potassium, and iron. They reach the fetus through the placenta, guaranteeing an optimal supply of all these substances.
- A large amount of fiber. They are one of the main remedies for constipation, one of the most frequent pregnancy ailments. Among the products that contain the most are kiwis, prickly pears, pears, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots.
- Good satiating power. Who said fruit and vegetables should only be eaten during main meals? Vegetables, for example, are excellent snacks, perfect “hunger breakers” with and without a belly.
Thanks to all their properties, vegetables are highly recommended by the main health institutions, first and foremost the World Health Organization. 5 servings a day are recommended, at least 400 grams between breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks. How to choose what to eat? Two basic criteria are personal taste and seasonality, a guarantee of freshness.
How Fruits And Vegetables Get Contaminated
As we mentioned at the beginning, sometimes fruit and vegetables can cause some ailments or transmit more or less serious infections. If you are expecting a child, your first thought is certainly that of toxoplasmosis, right? And that’s not a bad idea. Especially if it is contracted in the first trimester, toxoplasmosis can have very serious consequences on the unborn child and should not be taken lightly at any stage of pregnancy.
But toxoplasmosis isn’t the only food-related problem. About 250 types of food poisoning are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, chemical substances (such as pesticides) or toxic foods (for example, some poisonous and, therefore, inedible mushrooms). The dangers to the consumer can be subtle. The contamination of fresh products can occur in various ways.
- Water. Farms or factories close to crops, wastewater or sewage discharges, and access by wild or domestic animals to water sources can contaminate the water with which the land and plants are then irrigated.
- Soil. The land could be polluted by various factors: irrigation with contaminated water, feces or carcasses of infected animals, proximity to polluted land or highly populated areas.
- Fertilizers and chemical fertilizers. Fertilizers of animal origin could carry any pathogens, while the chemicals used to fertilize are certainly not a panacea for health if they are not eliminated.
- Infections of personnel handling food. Those who, for work reasons, touch the food that arrives in our homes should not do so if they are not physically well, particularly if they experience problems attributable to food poisoning, such as vomiting or diarrhea. However, the use of gloves is always recommended.
- Cross-contamination. They are the involuntary transfer of microorganisms from contaminated food to healthy food. Cross-contamination is common in the kitchen, for example, if you need to clean utensils or surfaces that have been in contact with food or wash your hands thoroughly when preparing food.
The Main Causes Of Foodborne Infections
There are many people responsible for foodborne infections. In some cases, the “culprit” is a virus, in others, a bacterium, and in still others, a parasite. Depending on the triggering cause, the symptoms can be more or less annoying, and the treatments differ. For example, antibiotics are useless if a virus causes the problem, while they are fine if the origin is bacterial. We could not review all the pathogens surrounding us: a medical treatise would have come out! Let’s explore 4 of them: Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, norovirus, and Escherichia coli.
What Is Listeria Monocytogenes
Listeria monocytogenes is the bacterium that causes listeriosis. It is less recurrent than Salmonella but is quite “famous” in Western countries. In the most fragile subjects, listeria monocytogenes can have important repercussions. This category includes the elderly, infants, immunocompromised, and pregnant women. Listeria monocytogenes is very resistant. Its preferred habitats are soil, water and vegetation.
Consequently, therefore, we can also find it in vegetables (particularly in prepackaged ones), as well as in smoked fish, meat products, soft, blue or lightly seasoned cheeses, and unpasteurized milk. The symptoms of listeriosis are different: they range from high fever to more serious manifestations in the case of severe and systemic forms. The latter, during pregnancy, can cause abortion, intrauterine fetal death, premature birth, and neonatal infections. Incubation can last up to 70 days for systemic forms. Antibiotics are used to cure it during pregnancy. If administered early, avoid maternal-fetal transmission.
What Is Salmonella
Salmonella is also a bacterium and is the one most often found in foodborne infections. Think that there are over 2,000 variations. The “containers” of Salmonella are animals, and the vehicles of transmission are their derivatives (meat, eggs, milk if they are raw or unpasteurized) and non-drinking water. Food can be contaminated by Salmonella during its production, preparation or cooking, for example, due to improper handling.
In this regard, please pay attention to the eggs: wash them before cooking them because small lesions on the shell are enough for any infectious agent to pass inside. Fruits and vegetables may also be contaminated with Salmonella during cutting. Among the “riskiest” ones, the Higher Institute of Health mentions watermelons, tomatoes, seed sprouts, melons and salads, unpasteurized cider and orange juice.
Symptoms usually appear between 6 and 72 hours after ingestion and last 4 to 7 days. They include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The symptoms can lead to more serious forms, especially in at-risk subjects (again, we mention pregnant women). Usually, salmonellosis goes away on its own. The therapy includes hydration, lactic ferments and probiotics. Antibiotics are reserved only for the most serious cases.
How To Prevent Foodborne Infections
Preventing foodborne infections is essential during pregnancy and at any other stage of life. For all 4 pathogens we have analyzed, the “golden rule” is hygiene. So here is some advice from various points of view.
- Wash your hands very well before touching food.
- Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables under running water to remove soil residues, chemicals, viruses or bacteria. However, do not wash them if you intend to keep them.
- Do not touch food if you are unwell, especially if you have gastrointestinal disturbances.
- Meticulously wash the utensils used for cooking.
- Disinfect kitchen surfaces that have been in contact with food.
- Buy fruits and vegetables that are in good condition and look good, without bruises, mold or bad smells. Handle the products with delicacy.
- Use disposable gloves when choosing fruits and vegetables.
- Do not buy packaged vegetables (e.g. salads) if there is liquid in the bag (one question is a little normal condensation, another is if there is water).
- Only use foods of certified origin.
- Place the vegetables in the refrigerator immediately. You can keep those that need to ripen a little longer, such as bananas or tomatoes, at room temperature.
- Read the labels of packaged products carefully and follow the instructions, for example, “keep refrigerated”, “consume after cooking”, “best consumed within 3 days”, etc.
- Cover the prepared dishes with cut fruit (fruit salad) and keep them in the fridge until you consume them.