Fresh produce is particularly susceptible to bacterial contamination and can easily cause food borne illness if not handled properly. The following are some basic practices for safe handling of fresh produce to prevent contamination and illness.
Purchasing and Storing
When purchasing fresh produce, be sure to keep fresh items separate from raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood may have bacteria on the surface of their packaging or leak bacteria filled juices. Keeping fresh produce separate from raw meat and seafood is perhaps one of the most important steps to keeping fresh produce safe.
Be sure to choose items that are not heavily damaged or bruised. Damage allows bacteria access to the interior of the fruit or vegetable, where it can find the moisture and nutrients needed to thrive.
Precut produce should be kept in refrigerated coolers or surrounded by ice to keep the temperature below the danger zone (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit). Do not purchase precut fruit or vegetables if they are not stored or displayed at the proper temperature.
Upon arrival at home, all precut or peeled produce should be placed in the refrigerator as soon as possible to minimize the amount of time spent in the temperature danger zone. Although most produce compartments in refrigerators are at the bottom, make sure no raw meat, poultry, or seafood is stored directly above them. This will prevent leaking juices from contaminating the fresh produce.
Before handling fresh produce, wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the possible transfer of harmful bacteria.
If your produce does have cuts, bruises, or other damage, be sure to remove these areas prior to preparation, in case bacteria have proliferated there.
Because many types of natural environmental bacteria can be hazardous if consumed, all fresh produce should be washed prior to eating. Wash produce with clean, cool, running water. Detergents should be avoided as they can be absorbed by the produce and unwillingly ingested. Produce that will be peeled before eating or squeezed for their juice should also be washed first. Bacteria on the surface of the peel is easily transferred to the interior while peeling or squeezing, causing contamination.
If drying your produce, be sure to use a clean towel or cloth. Bacteria reproduce quickly on used dish towels and can be transferred during drying, thus recontaminating the produce.
Fresh produce should be cut or prepared on a clean cutting board that is dedicated to produce only. Transfer of harmful bacteria happens easily through cutting boards that are used for both meat and produce. If only one cutting board is available, it should be sanitized between use with raw meats and the preparation of fresh produce. Likewise, utensils should be properly cleaned and sanitized prior to use with fresh produce.
Leftover uncooked produce should be refrigerated as soon as possible to reduce the amount of time spent in the temperature danger zone. Uncooked produce that has been cut or peeled should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent bacteria growth.