Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is a great way to stay healthy

Care must be taken with fresh fruit and vegetables so foodborne illness does not occur.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a very important part of a healthy diet. The local grocery stores are full of a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables that are both nutritious and delicious. However, it is very important to handle fresh produce carefully to avoid a foodborne illness.

Harmful foodborne illness bacteria that may be in the soil or water can contaminate the fruit and vegetables where they grow. Another possible source of contamination is during the harvesting of the produce. There are other possible opportunities for contamination during preparation and storage of the produce in the home.

Eating contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness, which can lead to serious and sometimes fatal infections. It is easy to protect yourself and family members by following safe handling tips.

When buying fresh produce, purchase only produce that is not bruised or damaged. Bruised or damaged produce may have been invaded by foodborne illness microbes. When looking to purchase fresh sliced watermelon or mixed salad greens, choose only the ones that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Put fresh fruit and vegetables in bags separate from meat, poultry and seafood products when preparing them for the ride home.

Proper storage can affect not only the quality but also the safety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Perishable fresh fruit and vegetables such as blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms need to be stored in a clean refrigerator at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. All pre-cut or peeled produce should be refrigerated to maintain both quality and safety.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using an appliance thermometer to determine if the refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees F.

Before beginning to prepare fresh produce, wash the hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Before eating or preparing fresh fruit and vegetables, cut away any bruised of damaged areas. If the produce appears to be rotten, throw it away. Remember when in doubt “throw it out.”

All produce should be washed thoroughly before eating. Whether the produce comes from the grocery store or the farmers’ market wash the fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting, peeling, or cooking.

Washing produce with detergent or soap or commercial produce washes is not recommended because of the potential for a chemical residue left behind.

For melons, potatoes or other firm produce use a clean produce brush to remove the surface dirt.

To dry produce use a clean paper towel. Drying the produce can help further reduce surface bacteria that may be present.

Many pre-cut bagged produce items such as lettuce have been pre-washed. If the produce has been pre-washed, it should say so on the package. Pre-washed bagged produce can be used without any additional washing.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a very important part of a healthy diet. By taking care when purchasing, storing and preparing, foodborne illness bacteria will not have the opportunity to grow. Enjoy some fresh fruit and vegetables today.

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