Leaving your cut fruits and vegetables overnight in the fridge — does that sound familiar to you, mummies and daddies? However, because your little ones are exceptionally vulnerable to germs, you might want to think twice about doing this. It’s important to exercise caution about storage methods of fruits and vegetables, even in the fridge.
Take that from Zhang, who unfortunately suffered from a severe case of stomach pain — or so he thought.
Man eats overnight watermelon, loses a portion of his small intestines
Zhang, very sick in hospital. Image source: Apple TV screengrab
According to Apply Daily, a seventy-year-old man who lives in Xiangxiang city, Hunan, China, consumed a watermelon on the evening of 25 July 2018. The watermelon was kept overnight in the fridge.
What seemed like a harmless snack led to a searing pain in his stomach two hours later. Zhang only visited the local hospital the next morning.
He was referred to Changsha Hospital for further treatment on 28 July 2018 where a laparotomy was performed on him.
Zhang was later diagnosed with necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a medical condition where a portion of the bowel rots and dies.
Doctors had to remove 70cm of his small intestines which had already started necrotising, after which they reconstructed it.
They also believe that the cause of this frightening incident was due to a bacterial infection he got from consuming the watermelon. Doctors have reminded everyone not to assume that just because you keep food in the fridge, that it’s safe to consume later.
Mums and dads, do you know what the scariest part of this incident is? Necrotising enterocolitis is a severe condition that often affects babies, especially preemies. If it can be triggered by the improper storage of watermelon in the fridge, then, we really need to think twice about our own food storage methods.
In Zhang’s case, could he have stored the melon near raw meat? Was it half-eaten already, therefore contaminated with his saliva? Did he wash his hands before handling it? How about using recycled cling film to wrap it? Did he cut it on a dirty surface? Maybe it was contaminated even before he bought it. We don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that it’s crucial that food is stored properly to protect your family’s health.
Health Risks of Improper Storage Methods of Fruits and Vegetables
Wrapping food in cling film and popping it in the fridge is just not enough. We need to take more care when it comes to the proper storage methods of fruits and vegetables and food handling.
Here’s what can happen when you don’t store food in the fridge properly:
- Foodborne illnesses (or commonly called food poisoning)
- Bacterial growth/cross contamination
- Other consequences (for those running professional food businesses, even one case of food poisoning may put your reputation in jeopardy)
Foodborne illnesses may be severe and fatal, especially in young children, pregnant women or the elderly. Food poisoning is the worst consequence that can come from improper food handling, leading to death in severe cases.
What causes foodborne illnesses? And who is affected?
Harmful bacteria and viruses (such as salmonella and E.coli) cause the majority of foodborne illnesses.
Anyone is at risk, but certain groups are more susceptible to developing foodborne illnesses than others.
- Infants and young children
- Pregnant women and their fetuses
- Older adults
- People with weak immune systems
Young children are at high risk of contracting foodborne illnesses because their immune systems are still developing. As compared to adults, their systems are not as effective in fighting off bacteria and viruses. Also, pregnant women have compromised immune systems, so they need to be extra careful too.
Common food poisoning symptoms may include:
- Stomach cramps
- Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
Tips to Keep Your Food Safe for Kids
- Do not dismiss basic hygiene practices such as washing your hands properly before handling any kind of food.
- Store fresh fruits (except bananas) and vegetables in the refrigerator.
- Store fruits and vegetables in separate compartments. When fruits ripen, they can cause green vegetables to turn yellow.
- Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood products.
- Ensure that your fridge is cold enough, typically between 0ºC and 4ºC. This increases shelf life and decreases bacterial growth.
- Protect your food from pathogens .Always READ the label for storage instructions.
- Store cut fruits and vegetables in sealed plastic bags or clean and properly-covered containers in the refrigerator. This helps to prevent cross-contamination.
- Store hardy root vegetables (e.g potatoes, but discard them if they’re green) and fresh fruits that need ripening, at room temperature.
- Always ensure you have clean hands when handling fruits or vegetables for raw consumption (e.g. salads or garnishes). Ensure that anyone else in your home who handles food (e.g. your helper), follows the same rule.
- Use separate chopping boards and utensils when handling other kinds of raw foods such as meat products.
That’s not all mummies and daddies, food safety starts from the moment you choose to make a purchase.
To avoid any form of contamination from pre-cut fruits and vegetables, such as cut watermelon or salad mixes, do ensure that they are closely wrapped and refrigerated.
Safe Storage Methods of Fruits and Vegetables
- Do not refrigerate tomatoes. You should refrigerate only sliced or bruised tomatoes.
- Avocados do not require refrigeration.
- Store apples at room temperature, away from other produce. They give off ethylene gas, causing other fruits to ripen faster.
- Remember to refrigerate your melons after slicing — melons continue to ripen if not refrigerated. Otherwise, they do not require refrigeration.
- Hot peppers will dry well without refrigeration — crush them for some pepper-flake goodness. If storing them long-term, freezing them is the way to go.
- Tree fruits like peaches, apricots, plums, and pears do not necessarily need refrigeration. If kept in the fridge, they will ripen more slowly.
- You should not refrigerate mangoes until they are ripe. Store them at room temperature between 18-22°C, away from the sun until then.
Pro tip: If your mangoes are not ripe enough, place a few of them in a paper bag to quicken the ripening process.
According to researcher Danielle Goodspeed, different storage methods of fruits and vegetables may even boost the health benefits of our produce.
Ultimately, mindfulness is key. You can make better decisions to help keep you and your family safe. After all, when your kids are happy and healthy, you mummies and daddies will be too!
Perhaps now, you will think twice before tossing that half-eaten fruit into the refrigerator only to consume it another day.
Source: Food Standards Agency, Apple Daily, Elsevier