Making the most of your u-pick experience

Have a family adventure, save a little money and avoid foodborne illness.

Taking the family to a u-pick berry farm can be an adventure and create wonderful memories. The idea is to have fun as a family, pick the freshest produce and save money in the process.

It is also important to take into consideration food safety practices before and after your adventure to keep you and your family safe. It is possible to come in contact with bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause foodborne illness when picking, handling and consuming fresh produce if it isn’t done properly.

One of the easiest lines of defense is handwashing. It should be done often and properly. Anyone should wash hands before and after picking fruit, after going to the bathroom, after eating and after any hand-to-face contact, such as coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. If there is not a handwashing area available, use hand wipes to remove surface dirt, following up with a hand sanitizer. Keep in mind this should not be substituted for actual handwashing, the process of hand washing has been proven to remove more germs and clean hands better.

Other food safety practices to put into action include:

  • Avoid picking fruit that has fallen on the ground.
  • Use clean containers to put your fresh picked fruit into.
  • Leave the dog and other pets at home. Those of us who have dogs and other pets know they can’t be expected to mind their manners when they are exploring outside.
  • Have a cooler filled with ice packs or ice to begin the chilling process once you have picked your fruit. Picked produce should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if it is hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Avoid eating or drinking while you are picking, farmers may or may not have signs posted with these rules, but most will want to keep their fields clean and free of food debris.
  • As tempting as it is, avoid sampling the fruit while you are picking, it should be rinsed before consuming.
  • Don’t pick or touch produce that is rotten or has bird excrement on it, even if you do not plan on taking it home.

Once home, the fruit should be rinsed under running water (never soak in water) and stored in the refrigerator. If you have plans to preserve, Michigan State University Extension recommends using the Michigan Fresh bulletins as a reference for appropriate preservation times and syrup suggestions.

Nothing says summer like Michigan berries – picking them yourself is an accomplishment that adds to the feeling of a job well done and provides wonderful food items to enjoy year-round. Following a few food safety guidelines will keep everyone healthy.

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