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Should You Buy Organic Produce?

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The FDA approved food irradiation in the late 1970s to kill insects in spices. "It was designed to break up the DNA of bacteria so they don't reproduce," Allred tells WebMD. Since then, irradiation also has been approved for fruits and vegetables -- although very few are irradiated, and they have to be labeled if they are. "I've never seen a label like that," Allred says. "It just isn't done much. But that's just fresh produce. If it's a packaged product -- like canned strawberries -- I'm not sure they're required to put it on the label. "

If any product was exposed to too much radiation, you would know it, Allred tells WebMD. "It loses all its taste," he says. "You wouldn't want to eat it."

Microbial contamination -- as from use of manure in growing -- is a concern for many, says Donald Schaffner, PhD, extension specialist in food sciences for Rutgers University. While testing has shown that 90% of organic produce "is just fine," there have been cases of contamination. Major restaurant suppliers have tried to use organics, but they haven't met restaurant standards, he tells WebMD.

"I've met a lot of people in the organic food industry, and they're committed to good agricultural practices, to solving this problem," Schaffner says. "We need to recognize, too, that everyone has a role to play. Consumers need to wash organic produce carefully, and once you cut it, make sure you're careful there, too. We've seen cases of Salmonella contamination that occurred when the knife cut through the cantaloupe, bringing bacteria from the outside in. Once you break the integrity of the skin, that food becomes susceptible to microbial contamination."

To make sure you are getting the best organic produce, make sure it looks good, Schaffner tells WebMD. "If it's damaged, if it doesn't look too good, if it's been out awhile, if it's been dropped too many times, it may be more likely to have dangerous levels of microorganisms," he says. "Wash it well. And realize that once you cook or cut it, you need to treat it like any other food that requires refrigeration."

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