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In Our Field: Safe-handling tips for fresh fruits and vegetables

June 14, 2001|By Paula René-Fitch, Nutrition, family and consumer science adviser, University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension

Summer is once again upon us and we are beginning to see a larger variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to select from at the grocery store. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy lifestyle, but care must be taken in storage and preparation to assure that produce does not become contaminated with harmful bacteria. Various foodborne illnesses have been traced to eating raw fruit or vegetables.

Proper care of fresh produce starts at the supermarket. Be sure to separate fruits and vegetables from meat, poultry and fish to avoid cross-contamination. Use separate plastic food bags, which are provided to consumers to bag all fresh fruits and vegetables. Use separate plastic bags to bag each individual package of meat, poultry and fish.

For safe home storage, most fresh fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator produce drawer or on a refrigerator shelf. Bananas should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and heat.

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Store meat, poultry or fish in a clean meat drawer or on a tray on the bottom shelf below other refrigerated food. This prevents meat juices from dripping on other foods.

Extra care is needed in preparing the kitchen for cleaning and cooking fresh produce. Clean the sink with hot soapy water or cleanser before and after washing and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. If possible use a different cutting board and preparation area for meat, poultry, fish and fresh produce. Always wash cutting boards and preparation areas before and after food preparation. Wash especially well between the preparation of meat and animal products, and the preparation of foods that will be eaten without cooking.

Washing cutting boards with detergent removes soil and food but only some bacteria. For additional safety, always sanitize cutting boards and food preparation areas. The various methods include pouring boiling water over clean wood or plastic boards for 20 seconds or rinse clean wood and plastic cutting boards with a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in a quart of water. Plastic or acrylic boards can also be placed in the dishwasher, using the normal cleaning cycle.

Utensils such as knives, peelers and corers should also be washed with hot soapy water before they are used on other food products.

Personal hygiene is important in all phases of food preparation. Always wash your hands with hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables.

Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables, including organically grown and homegrown produce. Wash produce just before cooking or eating. Wash under running water. When possible, scrub fruits and vegetables with a clean scrub brush. For melons, scrub the rind with a brush under running water before cutting or peeling. This removes bacteria before it is spread by the knife when slicing. Dry fruits and vegetables with disposable paper towels.

Do not use anti-bacterial soaps or dish detergents to wash fresh fruits and vegetables because soap or detergent residues can remain on the produce. If you choose to use a commercial produce wash, follow the manufacturer's recommendations and rinse thoroughly.

Ready-to-eat, prewashed and bagged produce can be used without further washing if kept refrigerated and used by the "use-by" date. If desired, produce can be washed again. Precut or prewashed produce in open bags or containers should always be washed before using.

The Cooperative Extension Program serves all residents of the Imperial County.

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