Cleaning your local produce is the first step in any good meal

Washing techniques are an important part of food safety for institutions sourcing locally.

Following recommended washing procedures will reduce the risk of serving contaminated produce to those eating your meal.
Following recommended washing procedures will reduce the risk of serving contaminated produce to those eating your meal.

Many Michigan residents and businesses are taking advantage of the bounty of our produce harvest in August through October. Farmers markets, food hubs, distributors and stores are all selling a wide variety of delicious local produce this season. As you purchase and cook with Michigan produce, it is important to practice safe washing techniques. This will reduce food safety risks and ensure that you are serving the tastiest and safest local meal possible.

Michigan State University Extension has a number of tips for thoroughly washing your local produce prior to using it in a meal:

Prior to washing

  • Properly wash your hands before handling any produce.
  • All materials and surfaces that will be used to prepare produce, or that produce will come in contact with, should have been washed, rinsed, sanitized and allowed to air dry. This includes cutting boards, knives and sinks.

Special considerations for washing local produce

  • Locally sourced products purchased from a farm or a distributor, like any produce, can be contaminated when you receive them or through improper handling. Following recommended washing procedures will reduce the risk of serving contaminated produce to those eating your meal. All raw vegetables and fruits are to be washed before combining with other ingredients, including:
    • Unpeeled fresh vegetables and fruits that are served whole or cut into pieces
    • Vegetables and fruits that are peeled and cut to use in cooking or served ready-to-eat
    • Depending on whether your produce was washed before it arrived in your facility, the product may have soil on its surface. If there is a lot of soil, you may want to do a pre-wash or spray off the soil in a separate area from your normal produce washing station.

Recommended washing procedures

  • Always wash under cold running water or use chemicals that comply with the FDA Food Code and are labeled for the use of “fruit and vegetable washing”. If using chemicals, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not wash produce by dunking or soaking in standing water, as this can spread bacteria.
  • If the fruits or vegetables have a firm skin (like apples or potatoes) they can be scrubbed with a clean and sanitized brush designated for this purpose.
  • If the skin will be peeled, rinse the produce before peeling and again after peeling
  • Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled as being previously washed and ready-to-eat are not required to be washed.
  • Exceptions and special considerations:
    • Tomatoes: Should be washed with water that is at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the internal temperature of the tomato, otherwise the tomato will absorb the water.
    • Dry onions (like yellow, white or red bulb onions, not fresh green onions or chives): Do not need to be washed prior to use. Instead, discard the outer peel prior to placing on a cutting board.

Information in this article was adapted from the Institute for Child Nutrition at the University of Mississippi, formerly called the National Food Service management Institute.

A special pilot series of the training Making Michigan Recipes Work is being offered regionally in Michigan this summer and fall through Michigan State University Extension. This training for school nutrition professionals has been supported by USDA funding and is free, though pre-registration is required. 

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