The recent avocado warning from the Food and Drug Administration couldn't have come at a worse time. While avocados are available year-round, we are heading into a popular time for them: February's Super Bowl, when more are consumed than at any other time.
And in the weeks ahead, you will start seeing them on sale a lot.
The report released by the FDA in early December found that about one in five avocados tested positive on the outer skin (or peel) for Listeria monocytogenes, whose infection listeriosis can cause a variety of health issues, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The bacteria was also found in less than one percent of avocado flesh. During the reporting period (2014-2016), they also found salmonella, but in less than one percent of avocados sample tested.
Why does this matter if you don't consume the skin?
The potential issue is that when you cut through the avocado's pebbly skin, bacteria could be transferred to the knife. And then the knife could contaminate the avocado flesh.
“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,” warned the FDA.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1,600 people are sickened from listeriosis each year. Of those sickened, the CDC says about 260 people die.
HOW TO BUY AVOCADOS
Avocados ripen after they are picked, not on the tree. A ripe avocado will yield to gentle pressure when you push into it. The skin will be pebbly and purplish-black. Once ripe, you can store uncut avocados in the refrigerator for about three days. The skin of an unripe avocado will be hard and green. Buy these if you don’t plan on using them right away.
HOW TO WASH AVOCADOS
Treat avocados them the same way you do melons: washing them under cool water before slicing into them. Because avocado skins are pebbly — as are some melons — use a vegetable brush to scrub them. Once scrubbed, pat them dry with paper towels. And always make sure you are preparing them on a clean work surface.
HOW TO SLICE AVOCADOS
Once washed, hold the avocado in a clean dish towel. Insert the tip of a knife through the skin, flesh and to the pit/seed. Cut around the seed, rotating the avocado with one hand and holding the knife with the other. Once you’ve cut around the whole avocado, twist to separate it in half. At this point you can scoop out the flesh, slice or dice it.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF AVOCADOS
Avocados are a darling fruit noted for their high good fat content — monounsaturated. This is the fat noted for helping to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Avocados are also a good fat source for those following a ketogenic diet.
MINI CRAB CAKES WITH AVOCADO DIP
Today’s recipe for crab cakes with an avocado dip is one of my favorite appetizers. They are easy to put together, and you can make them in advance. Guests love the crab and avocado pairing. They are also light, so you don’t feel like you’ve overindulged.
Makes: 30 mini crab cakes/ Preparation time: 15 minutes / Total time: 45 minutes
FOR THE DIP
1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup packed freshly chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt or nonfat sour cream
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper to taste
FOR THE CRAB CAKES
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 pound special lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning to taste, optional
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Place all the dip ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Adjust the seasoning as necessary. Cover and refrigerate up to two hours.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites, crabmeat, bread crumbs, Dijon, salt, cayenne and, if using, Old Bay seasoning. If the mixture seems too loose, add more bread crumbs to bind it. Shape the mixture into 30 mini crab cakes, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the crab cakes and cook until they are golden, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove them to a paper towel to drain. You also may place them on a baking sheet and broil 6 inches from the broiler about 8 minutes. Arrange them on a serving platter, and top each cake with a dollop of the avocado dip.
Adapted from "Gourmet's Fresh Menus" by Gourmet Magazine (Random House, $27.50) for Heart Smart and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
Analysis per 2 crab cakes.
77 calories (35 percent from fat), 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 4 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 244 mg sodium, 21 mg cholesterol, 30 mg calcium, 1 g fiber. Food exchanges: 1 lean meat.
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