Cooking vegetables safely

a bunch of raw vegetablesVegetables are extremely versatile; most can be eaten raw (as crudites served with dips, or grated into salads), and they can be cooked by virtually every method.

But for some vegetables, cooking is a necessary part of making them edible.

Storing vegetables

Most vegetables are grown and harvested in a relatively natural environment where they can be exposed to bacteria from soil or water. The risks associated with eating vegetables are low. Nevertheless, some sensible steps should be taken when preparing and storing vegetables:

  • Store away from other raw foods, not below meat in the fridge where juices may drip. Although it is not necessary to store vegetables in the fridge, colder temperatures can help retain their nutritional value
  • Wash vegetables before eating, by rubbing or brushing under the cold running tap before cooking or eating. Washing or peeling vegetables is not required as a protection against pesticide residues; however, it is good food safety practice to wash vegetables before eating. It is very important to wash any vegetables when soil is present to prevent contamination from bacteria in soil.
  • Remember to clean chopping boards and knives thoroughly between use.

It's usually best to prepare vegetables just before cooking to prevent vitamin and mineral loss. When cooking vegetables, try microwaving or steaming instead of boiling or frying and avoid the addition of salt, sugar, cream and sauces. Alternatives to salt during cooking include lemon juice, garlic, ginger, pepper, and herbs and spices.

How long do you cook vegetables for?

  • This is really down to personal taste, but bear in mind that the longer you cook them the more nutrients will be lost. Nowadays most people prefer to cook vegetables lightly, leaving them brightly coloured with a little "bite". 
  • Check to see if vegetables are done by piercing them with a knife or tasting them. Drain them and serve at once.
  • If you want to serve them later, plunge them into cold water to stop them from cooking further then cook again very briefly in boiling water when you're ready to serve.