AUBURN, Ala. – Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Local markets carry a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are both nutritious and delicious. However, harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows may come in contact with fruits and vegetables and contaminate them.
“Fresh produce may also become contaminated during preparation or storage. Eating contaminated produce or fruit and vegetable juices made from contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness, often called food poisoning,” said Angela Treadaway, a regional food safety agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
As you enjoy fresh produce and fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, follow these safe handling tips to help protect yourself and your family:
You can help keep produce safe by making wise buying decisions at the grocery store or farmers market.
- Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- When selecting pre-cut produce, such as half a watermelon or bagged salad greens, choose only refrigerated items or ones on ice.
- Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.
Proper storage of fresh produce can affect both quality and safety.
- Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms, in a clean refrigerator at 40°F or below. Ask your grocer if you’re not sure whether to refrigerate an item to maintain quality.
- Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled to maintain both quality and safety.
Separate for Safety
- Keep raw fruits and vegetables meant for eating separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry or seafood products and the preparation of produce that you plan to not cook. If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation of any fresh produce.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Discard produce that looks rotten.
- Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or purchased from a grocery store or farmers market. Don’t, wash fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or use commercial produce washes.
- Wash produce even If you plan to peel the produce. Washing prevents dirt and bacterial from transferring from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
- Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
What About Pre-Washed Produce?
When packaging indicates that produce is pre-washed and ready-to-eat, it is safe to use without further washing. If you wash a product marked pre-washed or ready-to-eat, use safe handling practices to avoid any cross contamination.
If you have any food safety or preservation questions call Treadaway at 205-410-3696 or your County Extension Office.