Smart tips to keep produce food safe

Eating more fruits and veggies is important for good health, but taking proper care of the produce is also important for good health to prevent food poisoning.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education has created a new campaign to help consumers and retailers become more aware of fruit and vegetable food safety. It is called “Fight BAC®! Like a ProducePro”

We all know eating more fruits and vegetables is important to our good health, but taking proper care of the produce is also important to our good health to prevent food poisoning. Keep in mind that food poisoning often affects our most vulnerable populations, including young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. There are many easy steps you can take at home to reduce the risk of food poisoning that could be linked to fresh produce.

Bruising or cuts make a piece of fruit more susceptible to growth of microbes that can cause illness. Remember you cannot see, smell or taste the microbes that can cause food poisoning. Check your produce before purchasing, looking for any damage. When purchasing pre-cut fruits and veggies, like salads and sliced melons, make sure the product is refrigerated or on ice. Pathogens multiply rapidly under certain conditions, especially in temperatures between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

Pathogens from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables, to reduce illnesses and the spread of infection to others. Cleaning and sanitizing all work surfaces, cutting boards and knives before and after food prep will also help prevent cross-contamination.

Rinsing produce under running water is an important practice prior to consuming; this includes produce that has skins or rinds that may not be eaten too. Evidence shows that washing vegetables and fruit by running water over them is associated with reducing microbial loads. Researchers also found that when cantaloupe and honeydew melons were scrubbed with a clean vegetable brush under running water, optimal microbial removal was achieved. Scientists with expertise in microbial safety of fresh produce have concluded that additional washing of ready-to-eat greens is not likely to enhance food safety and may possibly increase the potential of cross-contamination. The practice of patting dry produce with clean paper toweling will further help reduce microbial loads. It is not recommended to use soap or bleach to wash fresh fruits and vegetables, these products are not intended for consumption. Researchers also determined that fresh running water was just as effective as any veggie wash, vinegar solution or detergents in getting rid of microbial loads.

It is important to remember to keep your fresh produce separate from raw foods or drippings from other raw foods, this can cause contamination. In your refrigerator, keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from all meat and eggs. When preparing food, keep the fresh produce separate from meat and eggs; do not use the same cutting board or utensils without cleaning and sanitizing them in between uses.

One of the easiest ways to prevent food poisoning at home is to control the temperature of your refrigerator. Remember bacteria grow most rapidly between the temperatures of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of your family becoming ill.

Throw away any produce that has not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking. Remove and throw out any bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables as you prepare to cook them or before eating them raw. If any produce comes in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood or egg, it must be thrown away. And finally, Michigan State University Extension recommends, “If in doubt, throw it out!”

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