Be sure to follow these safe handling tips for your raw produce.
Local farmers markets have popped up all over the place and most grocery stores have an abundant supply of produce that more and more are beginning to buy locally as well. This is great because now more than ever we all are encouraged to eat a wider variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, and the fresher the better. Whether you buy local from the farmers market or from the grocery store, you will want to take some steps to prevent some of the harmful bacteria produce may carry from the soil and water where they were grown, where they have been stored after harvest, and that can be picked up from improper storage or handling before consuming. Several foodborne illness outbreaks have occurred the last several years linked to produce, so the following are some ways of helping to prevent a possible foodborne illness.
First: Buy Right
You can help keep produce safe by making wise buying decisions.
Choose produce that is not bruised or damaged.
When buying pre-cut, bagged or packaged produce – such as half a watermelon or bagged salad greens – choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from raw meat, poultry and seafood when packing them to take home from the market.
Second: Store Properly
Proper storage of fresh produce can affect both quality and safety.
Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, fresh corn, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check!
Produce such as apples, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, pears, peaches and onions will change taste when refrigerated.
Refrigerate all produce purchased precut or packaged.
Third: Separate for Safety
Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood – and from kitchen utensils used to prepare those products.
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry or seafood and preparing produce that will not be cooked.
If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.
Fourth: Prepare Safely
When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.
Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Throw away any rotten produce.
Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating, including produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent or commercial produce wash is not recommended.
Even if you do not plan to eat the skin, it is still important to wash produce first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting produce.
Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
What About Pre-washed Produce?
Always refrigerate prewashed bagged produce.
Many pre-cut, bagged or packaged produce items are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging, and you can use the produce without further washing.
If you choose to wash produce marked as prewashed or ready-to-eat, be sure it does not come in contact with unclean surfaces or utensils. This will help to avoid cross contamination.
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.