Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for a healthy body.  People who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancers, and Type 2 Diabetes.  Many fruits & vegetables are rich in fiber which can help reduce obesity and maintain a healthy digestive system.  Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of certain nutrients that contribute to health; for example, vegetables and fruits rich in potassium may help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.  Typically, fruits & vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories; none have cholesterol and all are important sources of many nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

Customers who shop for produce in natural food stores are typically concerned about the source of the product, whether it is organic or sustainably grown, and if it is safe to consume.   Country of Origin Labeling laws requires all food retailers to notify their customers with information regarding the source of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.  These laws have been effective since March 2009 and are administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

Organic produce may carry the USDA Organic seal or other organic labels originating from specific states’ organic certification programs including Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey,  New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Washington.  California, a forerunner of the organic movement, has specific organic requirements and administers the enforcement activities of the USDA National Organic Program.

Produce that has been sustainably grown but is not organic, typically conforms to a set of agriculture standards that emphasizes protecting and enhancing natural resources, using alternatives to pesticides, and caring for the health and well-being of farmworkers and rural communities.  Some states, such as Oregon, have non-profit organizations such as the Food Alliance that set standards for production and provide certification.

Over the years, consumers’ concerns about safety have grown due to reported outbreaks of listeria, salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens that can come from contaminated fields.   The Center for Produce Safety (CPS) is one non-profit organization that uses the expertise of industry, government, and the scientific and academic communities, to provide the research needed to improve food safety.   The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serve important roles in ensuring food safety in the United States.   Recalls of contaminated produce and other foods can be found at Foodsafety.gov.

Why This Matters:

Fruits and vegetables contribute essential nutrients for health and prevention of disease.  The ways that fruits and vegetables are grown, the amount of pesticides they receive during the growing process and the way the fruits are processed and shipped impact on their nutrient content and their safety.  Consumer concerns about these issues have grown over the years and, as a result, natural product staff members are likely to receive more questions than usual from customers.  Customers look to retail staff to be informed and accurate. 

 
 

Words to Remember

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN

The country in which the produce was grown or the raw materials were produced. Label laws for produce passed in 2009 require that produce that is sourced from outside the United States must be identified on a sign clearly displayed for consumers’ information.

 

E.COLI

Is a bacterium commonly found in the intestines of humans and other animals, where it usually causes no harm. But some strains of E. coli can cause severe food poisoning, anemia, or kidney failure, especially in old people and children. Typically, humans come into contact with harmful E. coli from water or food that has been contaminated by feces. Infected meat must be cooked to 160 F to kill the bacteria. Raw milk, dairy products, and fruit fruits and vegetables can also become contaminated with E. coli if not handled properly.

 

LISTERIA

The short name for the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated with Listeria from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals can also carry the bacteria and can contaminate meats and dairy products.

 

SALMONELLA

A bacterium that can cause food poisoning, gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, and other illnesses. People become infected with these bacteria through contaminated water or contaminated meats, poultry, and eggs.