How to Prevent Food Poisoning From Leafy Greens and Other Contaminated Foods

February 7, 2013 | Kait Fortunato

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We rarely ever hear anything negative about eating leafy green vegetables. They have few calories, are nutrient dense and should be the foundation of a healthy diet. So why do athletes have to think twice when serving up leafy greens? A government study found that leafy greens and spinach are the leading sources of food poisoning. In fact, nearly half of those who suffered from food poisoning contracted it from produce.

Earlier this month, the FDA proposed new rules for produce safety to "set new hygiene standards for farm workers and for trying to reduce contact with animal waste and dirty water." However, most problems are caused within our own kitchens. With all foods, but especially fruits and vegetables, we must pay proper attention to make sure food safety is addressed in our homes.

According to, here are four steps to ensure the safety of your food.


It's important to clean foods—as well as the surfaces, utensils and hands that touch the food. Wash your hands before handling a new food item and when switching between foods. Make sure your surfaces, cutting boards and knives have been sanitized. Even if you are planning to peel your produce, wash the entire fruit or vegetable with cold running water, and dry it with a clean towel. Soap and detergent are not recommended.


This starts when you are in the store. Bag your meats and produce separately and keep them apart in the shopping cart. Look for produce without bruises or marks. If the fruit or vegetables are pre-cut, make sure they are stored in ice and sealed properly. At home, use separate cutting boards and knives for produce, meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. It's a good idea to get different colored cutting boards and designate them for individual food items. Also, keep produce and meat separate in the refrigerator, and store meat on the bottom shelf so it doesn't leak onto other food items.


Do not rely on appearance or time when cooking foods properly. Use this chart to identify the proper internal temperature to aim for when cooking. For mixed dishes, make sure to reheat to a proper temperature of 165°F before serving.


Refrigerate foods promptly and correctly. Fruits and vegetables need to be 40°F or below. Make sure produce is covered well, and do not keep items past their expiration date.

Check out this video for more tips on safely eating leafy green vegetables.


Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
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