How to keep fruits and vegetables safe
Mary Schroepfer, MED
Nutrition & Health Education Specialist
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Careful handling of these products reduces the risks of foodborne illness.
Recently there have been cases of fresh melons, prewashed spinach, raspberries, herb mixtures, and green onions being contaminated with germs (bacteria, viruses, and parasites), usually from the intestinal tracts of animals. Harmful bacteria may be in the soil or water where produce grows. Or fresh produce may become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during preparation or storage.
Consumers can take steps to avoid contamination of fruits and vegetables.
Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When selecting fresh-cut produce— such as half a watermelon or bagged, mixed salad greens—choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
Put fresh fruits and vegetables in separate bags from meat, poultry and seafood products when carrying them home from the store or farmer’s market.
Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees F or below. Refrigerate all pre-cut or peeled produce to maintain both quality and safety.
Keep your refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to check.
Wash hands frequently when handling foods. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh
Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating produce. Discard produce that looks soft or rotten.
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. This includes produce grown
conventionally or organically. (Organics are grown without pesticides, but may still have bacteria.) Rinsing or scrubbing produce is important even if you plan to peel it. Do not use dishwashing soap or hand soap to wash produce. Commercial produce washes are not recommended.
Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. This may further reduce bacteria that may be present.
Precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are often pre-washed. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pre-washed, bagged produce can be used without further washing. As an extra caution, wash the produce again just before you use it. Precut or pre-washed produce in open bags should be washed before using.
Avoiding cross contamination
Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and soap between preparation of raw meat, poultry and
seafood and preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
Use kitchen sanitizers periodically on cutting boards and countertops for added protection. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one
quart of water.
Run plastic or other non-porous cutting boards through the dishwasher after use.
Safe Handling of Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Fruit and
Vegetable Juices. (Updated July 12, 2006). FDA, Center for Food
Safety and Applied Nutrition. www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/prodsafe.html
Fruits and Vegetables: Food Safety. (October 2006). FN-JSK.159.
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. www.ca.uky.edu/fcs/FACTSHTS/FN-JSK-159.pdf