Fresh produce is a key component of a healthy diet, and I’m constantly reminding patients to increase their intake. But recent headlines have opened our eyes to the fact that when we eat fresh fruit and vegetables, we may be literally biting off more than we can chew.

In 2007, the featured dish was spinach with a pinch of E. coli. This year, it’s tomatoes ala salmonella. The culprit in the spinach contamination was manure runoff from a neighboring dairy farm, but the source of the tomato contamination has yet to be determined. Some blame the FDA, which, according to a CBS news report, has been lax in its inspections. And it’s no wonder, since they are down some 2,250 inspectors from 2003, leaving fewer than 2,000 inspectors for over 200,000 facilities.

As our food sources expand, we must become even more aware of possible sources of contamination and take steps to prevent disease. Hormones, pharmaceuticals, and other components of sewage sludge (which is used as fertilizer), along with stomach acid-resistant E. coli from the manure of grain-fed cattle (also used as fertilizer), as well as pathogens from human handling, are all contaminants that can end up on your dinner table.

But don’t boycott eating vegetables and fruits. Instead, shop wisely. Always wash your produce – even if it’s organic – with a vegetable wash. Purchase locally grown foods whenever possible. Frequent your neighborhood farmer’s market, join a community supported agriculture (CSA) group or co-op, plant a garden, or, if you’re short on time or resources, plant a patio garden. Finally, having beneficial bacteria in your gut will help fight off any unwanted bugs – so take a high-quality probiotic to establish beneficial intestinal flora.

[Ed. Note: It truly is possible to improve your health just by making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. James B. LaValle, RPh, ND, CCN – founder of the LaValle Metabolic Institute and a nationally recognized expert on natural therapies – can give you easy-to-understand directions for living the healthy life you’ve always wanted.]