• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences

Wash that produce We’ve seen the number of foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls associated with fresh produce increase over the last year. And it’s not just leafy greens like romaine lettuce and spinach. Tomatoes and cantaloupe have also been linked to outbreaks in years past. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated during the growing season, after harvest, during preparation or while being stored. Contamination can even occur during the shopping process from other shoppers’ hands. You’re not the only one to pick up every apple in the bin before selecting the perfect three or four. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. However, harmful bacteria in the soil or water can contaminate them. Fresh produce might also be contaminated with pesticide residues. Whether you grow the produce yourself, purchase it at a farmer’s market or buy it from a grocery store, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends washing all produce right before eating or cooking. It is not recommended to wash it before storing it in the refrigerator because moisture can encourage bacterial growth and accelerate spoilage. The FDA also advises against washing pre-washed, ready-to-eat, bagged salad mixes and other leafy greens as you could unintentionally cross contaminate them in your own sink or countertop. A simple rinse and hand rub under running water is good for most fruits and vegetables. Even drying with a paper towel helps to reduce any bacteria that could be present. Fruits and vegetables with a rough exterior, like cantaloupe, pineapple and cucumbers, should be gently scrubbed with a soft brush under running water in order to remove surface contamination. The FDA advises that it is not necessary to use soap or a produce wash. Running water along with gentle rubbing or scrubbing with a brush is sufficient. Washing is also important if the skin will be removed or the produce will be sliced. This will prevent contamination from the outside spreading to the inside when you cut into it.

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