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_ Don’t just wash a melon. Scrub it under running water to rinse off any dislodged germs, and let it dry. If you cut it while it’s still wet, “you may be sliding the pathogens more easily from the outside to the inside” on the knife, DeWaal said.

_ Keep the fridge cold, 40 degrees or lower. Higher than that can let germs grow.

_ Don’t get a false sense of security if you buy organic produce. That just means less pesticide _ not necessarily fewer germs.

_ Consider dropping especially risky foods from your diet. Bean sprouts are not safe for children, pregnant women or people with weak immune systems and certain diseases, but that doesn’t mean they’re OK for everyone else, said Michael Doyle, a microbiologist who heads the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety.

Doyle also consults for a lot of food companies, including a major spinach producer that sought help after outbreaks involving that vegetable. He has chaired a food safety advisory council for McDonald’s for many years.

“I don’t eat sprouts at all,” he said. If harmful bacteria are in the seeds “they grow in the sprouting process, and there’s nothing to kill them unless you cook them.”

You can go too far with this, though. Even Dr. Robert Tauxe, the CDC’s top food-germ sleuth, once confessed over lunch that he refused to live in fear, and that there were only a few foods he absolutely wouldn’t eat, such as raw oysters and unpasteurized milk.

Beyond that, safe handling and cooking can generally keep most foods safe, he said.

The big picture is important, said Robert Gravani, a food scientist at Cornell University.

A gazillion pounds of produce are consumed each day, and only a tiny fraction cause problems, he said.

“I have a hard time saying, `Don’t eat produce,’ because of all of the health benefits,” he said. “Everything we do has some degree of risk attached to it.”

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Online:

Food safety tips: www.cspinet.org, http://www.fightbac.org

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