Beware the deadly cucumber

Although the Health Ministry tests food samples before they reach Israel's shores, here are some preventative steps to reduce bacteria.

Deadly cucumber 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Deadly cucumber 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Vegetables are considered the best and most healthful things to eat. But news of people dying in Europe, allegedly from contaminated cucumbers from Spain, got me nervous, as I eat a lot of fresh vegetables.

How can I protect myself from such contamination, and does Israel import contaminated vegetables?
T.T., Rishon Lezion
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich replies:
The Health Ministry in Jerusalem has said no cucumbers have been imported from Spain for some time. In any case, it says, its inspectors test samples for contamination before they are allowed in for marketing.
The US Food and Drug Administration has concrete advice for consumers of fresh produce: While growing, fruits and vegetables may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water or farm workers with poor sanitary habits. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, thus increasing the risk of contamination, which can occur even after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation or due to improper storage. Choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut veggies and salads are either refrigerated or on ice both at the store and at home.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers.
Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable. The FDA advises gently rubbing produce while holding under plain running water, with no need to use detergent or a special liquid for washing produce, but the Health Ministry recommends using liquid soap or special cleaning rinses, perhaps because gastrointestinal disorders from bacteria are endemic to the region. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present. Finally, discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
I am 87 years old and suffer from an ailment that my neurologist has diagnosed as paresthesia or polyneuropathy. This ailment affects my legs, making walking difficult. I’ve asked around, but no one has ever head of paresthesia or of anyone else having it. Could you please shed some light on this subject?
I.R., Herzliya
Dr. Yakir Kaufman, a behavioral neurologist and head of the neuropsychogeriatric department at Jerusalem’s Herzog Memorial Hospital, comments:
I am sorry to hear of your suffering.
Polyneuropathy (or paresthesia) can cause walking difficulties because of loss of sensation in the legs, causing difficulty keeping balance. It involves a sensation of tingling, pricking or numbness of the skin and is commonly referred to as a hand, arm, leg or foot “falling asleep” or feeling like “pins and needles.” Paresthesia may be passing or chronic; given your age and complaint, your case seems to be chronic.
This type of paresthesia involves a problem with neuron function. In older people, it is often the result of poor circulation in the limbs (this condition is called peripheral vascular disease). The most common cause is atherosclerosis, in which the accumulation over many years of fatty plaque on the walls of the arteries narrows the blood vessels. Without enough blood circulation, nerve cells can’t send signals to the brain properly. Paresthesia may also be a symptom of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and inadequate activity of glands such as the thyroid or hyperthyroid; it may also signal vitamin deficiency.
The herpes zoster virus (shingles) can attack nerves, causing numbness, although it usually causes pain. I suggest you consult with a geriatric neurologist.
When can one safely stop having Pap tests for cervical polyps and cancer? I have been married to the same man for 50 years and never had another sexual partner. All previous Pap tests were normal.
R.D., Hadera
Prof. Amnon Brzezinski, senior gynecologist at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem and director of its Women’s Health Center, replies:
A Pap smear is not indicated for you anymore.
After the age of 64, if women have had three tests with normal results, they can discontinue it.
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to, giving your initials, age and place of residence.