Food Safety Feature Articles
Steps to prevent foodborne illness when eating fresh produce
Local supermarkets and farmer’s markets have a plentiful supply of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables that can enhance nutrition and health for consumers. According to Lynda Johnson, former nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes become contaminated with harmful bacteria, so it’s important to handle fresh produce safely to reduce the risk of getting food poisoning.
“We encourage consumers to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and to take steps to protect themselves and their family from foodborne illness,” said Johnson.
A study published in Epidemiology and Infection indicates the number of foodborne illness cases involving fruits and vegetables is on the rise. Harmful bacteria in the soil or water where produce grows may come in contact with the fruits and vegetables, resulting in contamination. Fresh produce can also be contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella during handling, storage or preparation. Eating contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness which can cause serious — and sometimes even fatal — infections. Young children, pregnant women, frail elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk for food poisoning.
Johnson offers these steps to reduce your risk for foodborne illness from produce:
- Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. Choose only the fresh-cut produce or bagged salad greens items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- At home, wash your hands for 20 seconds then clean the food preparation surfaces and utensils before handling produce. Use a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water to wipe down and sanitize your sink and counter.
- Produce should be washed before eating. The FDA does not recommend the use of detergents or commercial produce washes for washing fruits and vegetables. The FDA recommends washing produce thoroughly under running water. Peel off and discard the outer layers of leafy vegetables. Bagged produce clearly marked as “pre-washed” does not need to be re-washed at home.
- Scrub firm produce like melons, cucumbers or potatoes with a clean produce brush before slicing or peeling.
- Use separate utensils and cutting boards for preparing fresh produce and raw meats to avoid cross contamination.
- Refrigerate fresh produce within two hours of peeling or cutting.
- Purchase pasteurized fruit juices since pasteurization kills harmful bacteria.
- FDA website, Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely, www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299
- Food & Fitness Advisor, May 2009
- Fight Bac! website, http://www.fightbac.org/
- Epidemiology and Infection, Feb. 13, 2009
Last update: Thursday, September 10, 2015