Safety Alerts Saves Lives
Safety Alerts  
Home Privacy About Us Contact Us Change Preferences

August 6, 1999

Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

SafetyAlerts - 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 days.

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.

At Home

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 by" date.

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 before eating.

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 on foods.

  • 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.

Top of Page
(To return - Click Back On Your Browser)