Safe produce for older adults

Proper care of fruit and vegetables can help prevent bacteria from causing foodborne illness, especially in older adults.

Fruit and vegetables are a key part of a healthy diet. Enjoying this produce, which is high in fiber and many vitamins and minerals can provide nutritious food to enhance your diet as well as assist with digestion. As we age, older adults become more susceptible to the risk of a foodborne illness occurring. Older adults are identified as an at-risk population. One way to ensure that older adults are not consuming unsafe foods is to be sure proper steps are taken when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. By reminding yourself of the basic safety steps for keeping your produce safe, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing a foodborne illness. Michigan State University Extension recommends that you follow the steps below:

  • Check- Inspect the produce before purchase or picking to ensure it is not damaged, bruised or spoiled.  When purchasing pre-cut produce, they should be on ice or in a cooler to be safe.
  • Clean- Wash hands before and after handling produce for at least 20 seconds. Thoroughly wash all surfaces, cutting boards and utensils that will come into contact with your fresh produce. 
  • Rinse- Rinse your produce under running water, using a vegetable scrub brush on firm skinned items and dry with a clean cloth or single-use paper towel. Even wash produce when you will not eat the rind or skin, like watermelons.
  • Separate- In the grocery cart, grocery bags, during transport and in your refrigerator, keep all produce separated from raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Cross-contamination can easily occur otherwise and spread potential illness-causing bacteria. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs should never come into contact with fresh produce. Make sure to prep these items at different times and to thoroughly wash cutting boards and other items that come in contact with raw meats.
  • Chill- Do you know what your refrigerator temperature is? It should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Purchase a refrigerator thermometer to check your temperature and store all cut, peeled or cooked produce in the refrigerator within two hours of prepping.
  • Throw Away- When in doubt, throw it out. If any fresh produce is contaminated by raw meats, throw it away. If cooked, cut or peeled produce has been out of refrigeration longer than two hours, discard. 

These tips can help everyone enjoy safe produce all year long, but especially for older adults who have a greater risk of developing a foodborne illness, these simple steps can go a long way in keeping you healthy.

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