Safe handling tips for fruits and vegetables

With farmers market season just around the corner, the time is ripe for a food safety refresher.

World Health Day 2015 is April 7, and this year the theme is Food Safety. A survey conducted by FDA in 2010 found that 36 percent of respondents believed that raw fruits and vegetables were not at all likely to make them sick. In fact, a ten year study by the CDC found that more foodborne illnesses and hospitalizations were linked to fruits and vegetables than beef and poultry.

With farmers market season right around the corner, now is a great time to review some basics for safely enjoying Michigan’s bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whether you are shopping in the farmers market or grocery store or eating fresh produce right from your home garden, you should thoroughly inspect produce and select only fruits and vegetables that are free from bruising or other damage. If purchasing fruits and vegetables that have been pre-sliced, ensure they have been refrigerated and put them in your refrigerator promptly after purchase.

Always handle fresh fruits and vegetables with clean hands. Proper hand washing technique is to wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. When getting ready to cook or consume raw fruits and vegetables, rinse them under cool running tap water, even those with rinds or skin that you will not eat. Use a clean vegetable scrub brush to get into the nooks and crannies of fruits and vegetables with a firm skin. While rinsing, if you find spots that have been bruised or damaged, cut them out and compost or throw them away. Also, compost or throw away any fruits and vegetables if they have not been refrigerated within two hours after cutting, peeling, or cooking.

Avoid cross-contamination from raw meat, poultry and seafood by separating these items from produce in shopping bags, baskets and carts and in your refrigerator when you get home. Avoid storing produce below raw meat, poultry and seafood as juices from these items may leak onto foods stored below. Throw away any fruits or vegetables that have come into contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood.

If you have two cutting boards, consider designating one for fruits and vegetables and one for meats. If only one cutting board is available, consider chopping fruits and vegetables first and be sure to thoroughly wash it in hot soapy water between cutting meats and produce. Do not forget to wash your knife as well. Sanitizing knives, cutting boards and countertops is also a good safety practice. Make an easy and inexpensive sanitizer for cutting boards, utensils and countertops by adding one tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach to one gallon of water. Cutting boards wear out over time and deep grooves can harbor dangerous bacteria. Inspect your cutting board and replace it when you notice deep grooves.

By simply following these food safety tips, you can significantly decrease the risk of foodborne illness when enjoying this season’s bounty of fresh Michigan fruits and vegetables.

MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh program encourages the purchase and use of locally grown foods. Download a free reference fact sheet on Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables along with other free fact sheets on food safety, food preservation and Michigan-grown products.

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