August 6, 1999
Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and
According to a report issued by the National Academy's Institute of Medicine, Some 9,000
deaths and 81 million illnesses each year have been attributed to consumption of
contaminated food in the United States. Some of these illnesses may be prevented through
proper handling of food. If food isn't carefully handled, germs can grow to levels
that make people sick.
Although it is rare when fresh fruits and
vegetables are linked with such illness, there are tips you can use to help reduce the
risk of contamination and pesticide residue.
At The Store
When shopping, trust your senses. Look for
fresh-looking fruits and vegetables that are not bruised, shriveled, moldy, or slimy.
Don't buy anything that smells bad. Don't buy packaged vegetables that look slimy. Some
fruits will have their own juice and some vegetables are packed in water--that's OK.
Buy only what you need. Most fresh fruits and
vegetables are not "stock-up" items. Some, such as apples, potatoes, and most
citrus can be stored at home, but most items should be bought to be used within a few
Handle produce gently at the store. Keep produce
on the top in the cart (putting groceries on top of produce will bruise it). Set produce
gently on the checkout belt so it doesn't bruise. Some items that seem hardy, such as
cauliflower, actually are very delicate and bruise easily.
Put produce away promptly. Keep most of your
produce in the crisper--it has a slightly higher humidity than the rest of the
refrigerator, which is better for fruits and vegetables. Remember to keep all cut fruits
and vegetables covered in the refrigerator.
Throw away any produce you have kept too long - -
if it is moldy or slimy, if it smells bad, or if it is past the "best if used
Once you're ready to eat your fresh fruits and
vegetables, you need to handle them properly. Germs can adhere to the surface of produce
and can be passed to the flesh when the item is cut or handled. Therefore, the most
important thing you can do is wash all fruits and vegetables in clean drinking water
This applies to all fruits and vegetables, even if
you don't eat the rind or skin (such as melons and oranges). Remember to wash produce just
before you use it, not when you put it away. The one exception is leafy greens, such as
lettuce, which should be rinsed before refrigerating to maintain their crispness.
You should not use detergent when washing fruits
and vegetables because you might eat detergent residues. Produce items are porous and can
absorb the detergent. Detergent is not labeled by the Food and Drug Administration for use
- In addition to washing, you should: Peel and
discard outer leaves or rinds. Scrub hearty vegetables such as potatoes and carrots if you
want to eat the fiber- and nutrient-rich skin.
- Clean surfaces, utensils, and hands after touching
raw meat and poultry and before you use them on fresh produce.
- Keep refrigerators clean and cold. Cover and
refrigerate produce you have cut.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the
bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing food.
- Read and follow label instructions such as
"keep refrigerated" or "use by (a certain date)." This information is
on most items precut for you at the store.
- Hold prepared fruit salads and other cut produce
items in the refrigerator until just before serving. Discard cut produce items if they
have been out of the refrigerator for four hours or more.
Most importantly, enjoy your fresh fruits and
vegetables--a great-tasting way to good health.
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