Produce Safety 101

by in Food Safety, August 7, 2012

washing peppers
You know you should be eating your fruits and veggies. But it’s just as important to your health to make sure your produce is clean and free of harmful pathogens. Luckily, there are simple tips you can follow to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Foods Involved
The culprits include raw fruits and veggies and fresh juices made from them. Choosing organic or sticking to the clean 15 can help decrease the amount of pesticides in your produce but it won’t change the possibility that harmful microorganisms may be present.

At the Store
Whether you’re buying from your local supermarket, farmers’ market or belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) keep these tips in mind:

  • Purchase in-season fruits and veggies, especially in the summer when so much is available.
  • If you’re heading to your local farmers’ market, go early! You don’t want to buy fruits and veggies that have been sitting out in the heat for many hours or that have been touched by lots of people.
  • Buy only what you need for the week. You’re better off making several quick trips to the market rather than stocking up and risking having the excess go bad.
  • Choose produce carefully. Look for signs on spoilage such as mold, bruises, mushiness or cuts.
  • Instead of buying pre-packaged produce, choose loose produce. It gives you a better opportunity to check for signs of spoilage.
  • When buying fresh juice, be sure it’s pasteurized (treated with heat to kill harmful germs). If you’re not sure, ask or don’t buy it. Remember, young kids, pregnant and lactating women, older adults and those with a compromised immune system should lay off unpasteurized juices.
  • If you’re bagging your produce in reusable bags, be sure to wash the bags regularly.

At Home
There are also steps you can take to keep produce safe at home.

Storage

  • Store your produce promptly. Refrigerated items should be stored within 2 hours of purchase.
  • Know where you produce belongs. Produce like onions, whole melons, potatoes and tomatoes don’t need refrigeration while lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and asparagus should be refrigerated.
  • Fruit or veggies that do require refrigeration should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Any type of produce should be refrigerated within 2 hours of slicing.
  • If sliced fruit or veggies sit out for over 2 hours, toss them. If it’s above 90 degrees, then make it 1 hour.
  • Cooked fruit and veggies should be tossed after 3-4 days.

Prep

  • Before eating or cooking with fresh fruit and veggies, wash them in cool water and dry with a disposable paper towel or CLEAN cloth.
  • It’s not necessary to use soap or produce wash to clean your produce. For tough produce like melons, use a stiff bristled brush. Other produce like spinach takes more effort to wash in order to remove excess dirt and grit. To wash spinach, place  in a large bowl of cold water, swish around to remove grit, and drain in a colandar. Taste test a leaf to check if grit still remains– if so, repeat process.
  • Wash produce before you peel or slice it to remove any dirt and bacteria that can make its way into your produce.
  • Cut off any bruised or damaged areas of the produce before eating or using.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meats, poultry and fish.
  • Avoid eating raw sprouts as they oftentimes carry dangerous bacteria. If you really want to eat them, be sure to cook them first.

For more information about produce food safety, visit Home Food Safety.

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