Avocados are one of nature’s superfoods, but if you don’t take a minute to wash your avocado before eating it, you could become seriously ill, results of federal food safety tests indicate.
Nearly 18 percent of avocados tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2014 were positive for Listeria monocytogenes on the outer skin. While the outer skin is inedible, cutting into an unwashed avocado can transfer the germs to the inside of the fruit, potentially leading the consumer to develop listeriosis, a form of food poisoning that can be very serious, even deadly, to some.
The FDA also found Listeria inside some of the avocados it tested, but fortunately less than a quarter of one percent of the samples tested positive for the pathogen.
While Listeria isn’t a leading cause of food poisoning, it is among the deadliest of foodborne pathogens. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Listeria sickens 1,600 people each year in the U.S., causing about 255 deaths – just under 16 percent of the total.
The people most at risk are older adults and seniors, pregnant women, organ transplant patients on anti-rejection drugs, and people with weakened immune systems or other health problems, such as HIV/AIDS and other autoimmune diseases, cancer, end-stage renal disease, liver disease, alcoholism, and diabetes.
The agency also tested the avocado samples for Salmonella bacteria, one of the most common foodborne pathogens. Researchers tested the outer skin of the avocado only and found Salmonella present on less than one percent (.74 percent) of the samples.
The CDC says that Salmonella sickens about 1.2 million people in the U.S., resulting in 450 deaths – a death rate of about .0375 percent.
People begin showing symptoms of a Salmonella infection in six to 72 hours after exposure. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, fever, and headache. Most people will partially recover without treatment after a couple of days, but symptoms may linger in a milder form for a week or even months. Researchers have linked Salmonellosis to the development of arthritis in about two percent of patients.
The people most at risk of serious complications are the same as those most affected by Listeria.
The FDA said all of the avocados that tested positive for Salmonella were grown domestically. Nearly equal numbers of domestic and imported avocados tested positive for Listeria – 33-31, respectively.
Simply taking a few moments to wash avocados before eating them can virtually eliminate the risk of illnesses associated with Listeria and Salmonella bacteria, as well as other harmful pathogens.