Selecting and Serving Produce Safely
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Your local markets carry an amazing 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 after it is harvested such as 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." 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 a 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 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 a temperature of 40 degrees or below. If you’re not sure whether an item should be refrigerated to maintain quality, ask your grocer.
Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled to maintain both quality and safety.
Keep your refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below. Use a fridge thermometer to check!
Separate for Safety
Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood – and from kitchen utensils used for those products. Take these steps to avoid cross-contamination:
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products, and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.
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. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
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. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred 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?
Many pre-cut, bagged or packaged produce items such as lettuce are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. If the package indicates the contents are pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use the produce without further washing.
If you do choose to wash a product marked "pre-washed" or "ready-to-eat," be sure to use safe handling practices to avoid any cross contamination.
If you have any food safety or preservation questions, please call me at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office. You can find that number by going to www.aces.edu and click under the "Offices" tab near the top. You can select your county and find out all the contact info there.
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.