You can help keep produce safe by making wise buying decisions at the grocery store.
• Purchase unbruised or undamaged produce.
• When selecting fresh-cut produce — like a half of a watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens — choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
• Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home.
• Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
• Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Produce looking rotten should be discarded.
• All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
• Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.
• Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
• Scrub firm produce, like melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
• Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce any bacteria present.
What About Pre-Washed Produce?
• Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. This pre-washed, bagged produce can be used without further washing.
• As an extra measure of caution, you can wash the produce again just before you use it.
Proper storage of fresh produce can affect both quality and safety. To maintain quality of fresh produce:
• Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms) can be best maintained by storing in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40º F or below. If you’re not sure whether an item should be refrigerated to maintain quality, ask your grocer.
• All produce purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated to maintain both quality and safety.
Consumer Safety Information
Here is some information on Listeria which is the bacteria found in the latest recall of cantaloupes. Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, about 40º F (4º C). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow.
It is very important for consumers to clean their refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces. Consumers should follow these simple steps:
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
• Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
• Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
• Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the sanitization process.
The FDA advises consumers not to eat the recalled cantaloupes and to throw them away. Do not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.
Listeriosis is rare, but can be fatal – especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include older adults, people with compromised immune systems, and unborn babies and newborns. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness or death in newborn babies, though the mother herself rarely becomes seriously ill. A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches. Persons who think they might have become ill should consult their doctor.
This information was taken from the U.S. Food and Drug website. Please contact your local county Extension office if you have more questions concerning food safety, preservation and/or preparation.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local county Extension office.