As summer approaches, your favorite summer produce follows behind. Fresh produce can harbor bacteria, fungi, and other microbes as well as trace amounts of chemicals. The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve the safety of fruits and vegetables.
- Before preparing fruits and vegetables, always wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds. Make sure to clean counter tops, cutting boards, and utensils with hot, soapy water before using them to peel or cut produce.
- Try purchasing local foods to reduce transport time. Decreasing the transportation distance can limit the chances of contamination and bacterial growth.
- Since most fruits and vegetables can only be stored for two to five days, it is wise to avoid buying large amounts of fresh vegetables at one time. You can also add produce to your shopping list that last longer at appropriate temperatures, such as apples, onions, potatoes, and winter squash.
- Wait until you are about to eat or prepare a fruit or vegetable before washing it. Washing produce prematurely may accelerate bacterial growth and stimulate spoilage, so it is recommended to wait and wash fruits and vegetables just before use.
- Store produce safely. Produce that requires refrigeration should be stored in vegetable bins or on shelves above raw meats, poultry, or seafood to prevent cross contamination.
- If a fruit or vegetable has damage or bruising before eating or handling, be sure to cut away the affected areas before preparing or eating. Cut off the tops and outer portions of celery, lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables that may be bruised and contain more dirt and pesticide residues.
- Rinse produce before you peel it. This prevents dirt and bacteria from being transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
- Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There is no need to use soap or a produce wash.
- Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
- Be diverse and eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This is not only nutritionally beneficial but may help limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.
No washing method completely removes or kills all microbes which may be present on produce, but studies have shown that thoroughly rinsing fresh produce under running water is an effective way to reduce the number of microorganisms. Do not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or bleach solutions. Many types of fresh produce are porous and could absorb these chemicals, changing their safety and taste. The FDA advises against using commercial produce washes because the safety of their residues has not been evaluated and their effectiveness has not been tested or standardized. The safest produce to eat is cooked; the next safest is washed. You can enjoy uncooked fruits and vegetables by taking the above steps to reduce your risk of foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning.
This article is written by Markaye Russell, Area Nutrition Agent, Ouachita, and Union Parishes. This article is referenced by LSU AgCenter, US Food and Drug Administration, CDC, and Colorado State University Extension Service.