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Washing avocados? Why the FDA recommends cleaning the fruit before eating it

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Do you wash an avocado before eating it? According to a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, you should, because the skin of the fruit could contain trace amounts of Listeria monocytogenes.

In a report released earlier this month, the FDA announced the results of a 2014-2016 study where researchers tested more than 1,000 imported and domestic avocado skins for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.

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By the end, the FDA concluded Listeria monocytogenes were present on more than 17 percent of the avocados tested. Less than 1 percent tested positive for trace amounts of Salmonella.

“The findings of this assignment affirm that Salmonella may be present on avocados and that Listeria monocytogenes may be present on or in the fruit,” the FDA said in the report.

Based on the study’s results, the federal agency is urging consumers to thoroughly wash the outside of an avocado before cutting into it — as the knife used to cut into the fruit could transfer the bacteria onto the edible part of the avocado. More specifically, the FDA recommends scrubbing the outside of the fruit with a “produce brush” before drying it with a paper towel or clean cloth.

The FDA also recommends doing the same for other produce, such as melons and oranges.

“Other practices associated with avocado consumption may reduce the risk to consumers as well. Consumers commonly slice avocados and extract the fruit’s pulp prior to eating it, discarding the fruit’s peel as they would a banana peel or an orange rind,” the FDA added. “Consumers also typically eat avocados shortly after slicing the fruit as its pulp tends to brown quickly once exposed to oxygen. These practices generally limit the amount of the pathogen, if present, that consumers may be exposed to.”

Those who are exposed to Listeria monocytogenes could develop an infection called Listeriosis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most people develop the illness after eating food that is contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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“At low levels of exposure, Listeria monocytogenes does not cause severe illness in healthy adults. However, pregnant women, older adults, and persons with weakened immune systems (such as organ transplant recipients, or those with diabetes or cancer) are susceptible to small amounts of the pathogen,” the FDA said.

To read more about how Listeria can affect pregnant women, older adults and those with weakened immune systems, click here.

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