Keeping Your Fresh Produce Food Safety

Cut fresh produceThe Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 9 million people every year have a foodborne illness caused by a known pathogen. Approximately 46% of those illnesses, or 4.14 million, are attributed to fruits and vegetables. This information can be frustrating in light of the known benefits of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as well as the push to eat fresh and buy local. Balancing the need for fresh produce with the need for safe food is important.

I was recently at a gathering with a group whom I would consider fairly food savvy, and was very much surprised by their beliefs regarding the care of fresh fruits and vegetables. The following are a few excerpts from the CDC’s “Test Your Produce Safety Savvy” quiz to test your own produce knowledge: (answers are mine)

  1. At the supermarket, it’s important to bag fruits and veggies to keep them separate from meat, poultry, and seafood in your grocery cart.
    1. Answer: True. Whether you are at the grocery store or at home, it is essential to prevent cross contamination of raw produce by keeping it separate from meats, poultry, and seafood. This means bagging produce to keep them separate, storing them separately in your refrigerator, and using separate cutting boards for meat products and fresh produce (or cleaning and sanitizing cutting boards between food items).
  2. Precut fruits and vegetables (like pineapple, melon, and celery for example) can be stored anywhere as long as it is sealed tightly.
    1. Answer: False. Cut fruits and vegetables should be kept cold, so refrigerate them or keep them surrounded by ice.
  3. Bagged, pre-washed produce should be re-washed before it is served.
    1. Answer: False. If the package says it has been pre-washed, it does not need to be washed before eating. In fact, washing it may actually lead to contamination.
  4. It is important to remove visible dirt and wash fruits and vegetables, even the ones you peel, under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.
    1. Answer: True. Wash produce, even those with peels, under running water. The use of soaps and detergents is not recommended.

For more information to keep your produce safe, check out the FDA factsheet “Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely” or the CDC fact sheet “Food Safety Basics for Fruit and Vegetables.”

Author: Christine Kendle, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Tuscarawas County

Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

Resources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Safety Basics for Fruits and Vegetables. Accessed February 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/foodsafety.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Test Your Produce Safety Savvy. Accessed February 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/foodsafetyquiz/

Food and Drug Administration. Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely. Accessed February 2015. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299

Painter JA, Hoekstra RM, Ayers T, Tauxe RV, Braden CR, Angulo FJ, et al. Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, United States, 1998–2008. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2013 Mar [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1903.111866

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