You Really Should Be Washing Your Avocados

The FDA has issued a warning.

Some avocado wholes and halves.


Some avocado wholes and halves.

Photo by: eugenef ©eugenef

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Are avocados the world’s most dangerous food? Sure, they’re superfoodishly healthy, packed with vitamins and nutrients, etcetera, etcetera, but they’ve also been linked to everything from ER-trip-prompting hand injuries to the inability to afford a house. There were even some recent (likely overblown) whisperings that avocados were coming to steal your sleep.

Now, lovers of the perfect toast topper are confronting a new concern: bacteria on the avocado skin that could transfer to the delicious pulp within.

In December – while you were probably busy trying not to eat the raw cookie dough the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had just warned you about -- the FDA issued a report noting that it had proactively and preventively sampled a bunch of “whole, fresh avocados,” both imported and domestically grown, starting in 2014, to see if the pathogens Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes could be found on or within them.

And? The agency’s investigators found Listeria on the skins of about one out of every five avocados. The inside-the-avocado news was better: Less than 1 percent of the 1,615 avocados sampled tested positive for Listeria or Salmonella in the part we actually eat.

While low levels of Listeria don’t tend to make healthy adults seriously ill – and no outbreaks or illnesses have been associated with avocados – they may cause illness in pregnant women and people who are older or have weakened immune systems, the FDA warned.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution: Wash your avocados.

In fact, the FDA report indicates that we probably should all have been doing that all along, linking to longstanding advice about produce safety on the website. (Who knew?)

“Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking,” the Foodsafety site recommends. “This includes produce grown conventionally or organically, grown at home or purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.”

What’s more, according to Foodsafety, “Even if you plan to cut the rind or peel off the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.”

Using a “clean produce brush” to scrub “firm produce” like avocados and a clean towel (cloth or paper) to dry it are also suggested.

But even as you integrate washing into your regular avocado-consuming routine, don’t freak out too much. The FDA says the way we prepare avocados in general – cutting through the peel to scoop out the pulp and eating it fairly quickly, before oxygen exposure turns it brown, and chucking the peel -- lowers the risk of getting sick from pathogens.

That’s good news worth (avocado)-toasting.

Photo: iStock

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