Handling fresh fruits and vegetables safely

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, August 7, 2013

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This summer I have had several conversations with Wise County consumers concerning fresh produce and food safety. It is important to keep in mind that fresh produce may become contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites at any point during its farm-to-table journey.

Below are procedures consumers should follow to ensure food is safe to eat.

  • Wash hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce.
  • Wash all fresh produce under cool, running, drinking water before peeling, cutting or eating.
  • Fragile items and soft fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can be washed using a sink sprayer or running water from the tap. Place fruit in a colander, and gently turn the fruit as you spray or run with water.
  • Scrubbing with a clean brush is only recommended for produce with a tough rind or peel (i.e. carrots, potatoes, cucumbers and squash) that will not be bruised or scratched by the brush bristles. Fruit/vegetable brushes should be pl
  • aced in the dishwasher or washed with hot, soapy water then rinsed and sanitized. Brushes can be sanitized by soaking for one minute in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart water.

  • Throw away outer leaves of leafy vegetables like lettuce and cabbage before washing.
  • Do not wash fruits and vegetables with bleach or soaps. It can absorb into the product and change the taste. Detergent was not made to be eaten and is not approved for use on food by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Wax coatings are used on some produce to keep in the moisture and keep good quality. These are safe to eat, or you can cut it off.
  • Leafy, green salads in sealed bags labeled “washed,” “triple washed” or “ready-to-eat” do not need additional washing at the time of use unless specially directed on the label.

Keep in mind that the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables outweigh the possible presence of pesticides. The FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency strictly control pesticides. If there is any pesticide residue on the fruit or vegetable, it should be under the regulations and safe to eat. A lot of the pesticides are water-soluble and will come off with water, which is another reason to wash fruit and vegetables before you eat them.

Drying produce with a paper towel may further reduce bacteria that is present. Drying is not necessary for items that will be cooked. Greens like spinach, chard, kale and collards should be cooked wet as drying them may affect the quality of the cooked product.

For additional information on safe handling of fruits and vegetables, as well as safe preparation techniques, call the Extension office at 940-627-3341.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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