Eating contaminated produce (or fruit and vegetable juices made from contaminated produce) can lead to food-borne illness, which can cause serious - and sometimes fatal -illnesses. Protect yourself and your family from illness by following safe handling tips.
Buy produce that is not bruised or damaged. These areas are great places for bacteria to hide and spread rapidly to the rest of the fruit.
When selecting fresh-cut produce - such as a half a watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens - choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Melon halves, or other pre-cut produce should have a plastic or other covering on the exposed part.
It is best to avoid the free samples of cut produce often set out in store aisles.
Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.
Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. To maintain both quality and safety, refrigerate immediately any pre-cut or peeled produce.
When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparation.
Many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed and ready to eat. Generally, if the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed and ready to eat, you can use the product without further washing.
If you do choose to wash a product marked “pre-washed”
Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Throw away produce that looks or smells bad.
Thoroughly wash all produce before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market.
Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. It is not necessary to wash fruits and vegetables with anything other than cold, clean water. You may need to use a small vegetable brush for some vegetables such as cucumbers and potatoes.
Even though you will cut or peel melons or other produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first in clean water. Dry with a paper towel or clean towel. This may help to further reduce bacteria that may be present. .
Sprouts carry a risk of food-borne illness. As seeds and beans need warm, humid conditions to sprout and grow, these are ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. Rinsing will not help remove bacteria. There is danger even from home grown sprouts if they are eaten raw or cooked only lightly.
Fruit juices and cider should be purchased pasteurized. They will be labeled if they have been treated with this process that kills any bacteria.
Keeping these food safety tips in mind when buying and preparing produce will help keep you and your family safe from food-borne illnesses possibly associated with any fresh fruits, vegetables, and juices.
Lee Jackson, CFCS
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