When salad becomes dangerous

BIG question for you.

Are cucumbers a fruit or a vegetable?

Most people say ‘vegetable’ but in fact they are botanically classified as a fruit.

Either way, most people would consider them harmless.

An essential addition to a salad!

That is, until there is an E. Coli outbreak – which is when they can sometimes become public enemy number one!

For instance, an E. Coli O157 outbreak in the UK in 2021 was linked to a food product containing imported cucumbers from the Netherlands.

Ten years earlier, it hit the headlines when there was a massive increase in E. Coli bacterial infections in Germany.

Worryingly, the strain at the centre of the outbreak was particularly virulent and resistant to common antibiotics.

By the 30th of the month 14 people had died, and there were many more cases in Sweden, Austria, The Netherlands and the UK.

Reports started to link the outbreak with organically grown cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines and cited Spain as the likely source.

These products were withdrawn from sale in several countries including the huge German market.

As a result, prices plummeted and Spanish growers were being forced to destroy all of their produce, whether it was organic or not.

This in turn led to a media frenzy across all of Europe where cucumbers in particular stopped being sold.

By the 5th June the suspicion had shifted to bean sprouts grown in northern Germany, ironically.

But by then the damage had been done, and huge quantities of cucumbers were rotting in dumps. The Spanish immediately filed for reparation from the EU to support their growers and all hell broke loose.

The numbers of deaths continued to rise, especially amongst women reaching 25 lives lost – all cases were directly linked to recent visits or habitation in Germany.

But are cucumbers so bad?

The case for the humble salad fruit…

Without any evidence to prove that there is any greater risk of catching E. Coli from cucumbers than any other foodstuff we need not fear.

Just take the precaution of giving everything a good wash before use, the chlorine in tap water will kill bacteria. If you are lucky enough to live in an area which is free from chlorine, use a solution of salt to wash them over then rinse in fresh water.

Cucumbers are often thought of as just a water-filled mush that has little nutritional value, but the truth is they are a valuable source of several key elements.

For a start, they are rich in silica; a mineral which is really important for healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone.

It is this, along with the high-water content, which has a hydrating effect, which makes slices of cucumber or cucumber juice so effective in helping various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn.

The flesh of cucumbers is primarily composed of water but also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling, in addition to being anti-inflammatories.

When you add all these characteristics together you can see how slices of cucumber laid over tired and puffy eyes is a real boon.

The cucumber skin is also rich in health-giving properties, not least because of a high fibre content.

This means a few slices of cucumber in a salad really do make a contribution to your daily fibre intake. In addition, the pre-package’s high-water content helps the body digest it. A true one-stop solution to getting enough dietary fibre.

With the water content being about 98% of the weight of the vegetable it also means it is a highly effective way to sate a thirst – and it is naturally isotonic. So, if you are the sort who likes a jog in the park don’t buy expensive bottled water that leaves you with a container to dispose

of – buy a cucumber instead and munch your way to hydration!

Finally, these green marvels have good levels of magnesium and potassium in them which along with the fibre has been shown to have positive effects for sufferers of high blood pressure.

Still not convinced?

Here are 5 more surprising benefits of cucumber…

  • Improvement in aggressive phases of gout and eczema
  • The high magnesium content helps relax muscles and calm nerves, as well a smoothing blood flow. This means it is a very useful food to have in the diet of those who are anxious or depressed.
  • The silica, potassium and magnesium help build stronger nails and thus prevent splitting.
  • The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help those with arthritis, and other rheumatic conditions are also aided due to the reduction in uric acid.
  • A high potassium content helps in proper regulation of blood pressure and promotes flexibility of muscles.

I hope this restores your faith in one of my favourite summer foods.

You could even grow your own this spring. All you need is a pot and a sunny spot in the garden with a pole or frame for the creeper to grow up.

A single plant will furnish you with enough clean, fresh and healthy produce to keep you in cucumber all summer long.

This way you’ll know it is safe!