BAGGARLY: Keep fruits and veggies safe

July 8, 2014 

Fresh fruits and vegetables are important to our health and well-being. We enjoy one of the safest supplies of fresh produce in the world. However, in recent years we have seen foodborne illness outbreaks associated with fresh fruits and vegetables.

As health and nutrition experts continue to recommend we add more fruits and vegetables to a healthy daily diet, it becomes increasingly important that consumers know how to handle them properly.

Although the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, there are organisms (bacteria, viruses and tiny parasites) that you can’t see, smell or taste that are everywhere in the environment.

These microorganisms, called pathogens, can invade food and cause illness -- sometimes severe and life-threatening -- especially in young children, older adults, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.

Handling fruits and vegetables safely is easy. Although an invisible enemy may be in your kitchen, by practicing the following recommendations you can keep your produce safe.

CHECK: Check to be sure that the fresh fruits and vegetables you buy are not bruised or damaged. Check to see that fresh cut fruits and vegetables such as packaged salads and precut melons are refrigerated at the store before buying. Do not buy fresh cut items that are not refrigerated.

CLEAN: Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce. Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap, including cutting boards, countertops, peelers and knives that will touch fresh fruits or vegetables before and after food preparation.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed” need not be washed.

Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under cool running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.

Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.

Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.

SEPARATE: When shopping, be sure fresh fruits and vegetables are separated from household chemicals and raw foods such as meat, poultry and seafood in your cart and in bags at checkout.

Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat, poultry or seafood in your refrigerator.

Do not use the same cutting board for raw meat without cleaning it with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

COOK: Cook or throw away produce that has touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or their juices.

CHILL: Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours.

THROW AWAY: Throw away fresh produce that has not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking.

Remove and throw away bruised or damaged portions of produce when preparing to cook them or before eating it raw.

Throw away any fruit or vegetable that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry or seafood.

If in doubt, throw it out!

Jan Baggarly is Bibb County Extension coordinator with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension working in the field of Family and Consumer Sciences. Contact her at 478-751-6338 or uge2021@uga.edu.

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