May 22, 2008

Keeping Those Fruits and Veggies Safe to Eat

By Elizabeth Ledoux, Dietetic Intern
Bay Pines Health Care System
Pinellas County Extension, Family & Consumers

fresh fruits and vegetablesThe juicy watermelon. The plump blueberries. The sweet corn on the cob. These are the foods and flavors many of us associate with the summer. Not only do these foods taste great, but fruits and vegetables are good for us because they contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. People who consume a diet with generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthful diet are more likely to have a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. However, the recent slew of food borne illnesses associated with produce has discouraged many people from enjoying these health benefits.

Most people have heard about the infamous E. coli outbreak of 2006 in which tainted spinach caused 200 cases of E. coli poisoning, 100 hospitalizations, and 4 deaths. This coincides with an increase in the number and size of outbreaks that have occurred over the last 20-30 years. These tragic episodes should not lead to a stop in eating healthy foods. As you enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables this summer, it is important to handle products safely in order to reduce the risks of food borne illnesses.

The FDA ( recommends the following safe-handling tips to protect yourself and your family from infections:
  • Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.

  • Buy fresh cut produce like half a watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens only if these items are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

  • Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.

  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.
  • Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled to maintain both quality and safety.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing produce.

  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Throw away any produce that looks rotten.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, even if you plan to peel the produce. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent or a commercial produce wash is not recommended.
  • Scrub firm produce, like melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Let them air dry before cutting.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood - and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.

  • For added protection, kitchen sanitizers can be used on cutting boards and counter tops periodically. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.
  • If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after use.

For more tips on produce safety visit:

For more information on fruits and vegetables visit:

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