How to Handle Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Safely

By Siew Guan Lee, MS, RDUniversity of Idaho Extension

Fruits and vegetables provide many nutrients that are essential to our health. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. During a pandemic like COVID-19, it is especially important to eat nutrient dense foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables to support our immune system and keep us healthy.

From farm to fork, fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses that make you sick if they are not handled properly. In recent years, there have been several outbreaks of food-borne illness (also known as food poisoning) in the U.S. caused by fruits and vegetables contaminated with bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, and viruses.

How can we safely eat and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables without getting sick? Here are some recommendations for safely handling fresh fruits and vegetables:

Before handling food, always wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds and rinse with warm water. Make sure the counter tops, cutting boards and utensils are clean and sanitized before and after food preparation.

Wash all fruits and vegetables under cool running water just before eating or preparing them. It is best not to use soap or a produce wash because they can leave residues of soap and detergent on the produce. When possible, use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers and sweet potatoes. As a bonus, you get extra fiber when you eat the peel!

Even if you don’t plan to eat the peel, wash and scrub them well so that dirt and bacteria do not get transferred from the peel to the inside of the fruit or vegetable when you peel or slice them.

Dry with a clean cloth or disposable paper towel to further reduce harmful bacteria that may be present on the surface.

Pre-washed and pre-cut fruits and vegetables are ready to eat so they don’t need to be washed again.

Never use the same cutting board or knife to cut fruits and vegetables after cutting raw meat, poultry or seafood. If possible, use a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables that is never used to prepare raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible or within 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 900F) at 400F or below. Do not store them next to or under raw meat, poultry and seafood to prevent cross contamination.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Steps to safe and healthy fruits & vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/pdfs/fruit-veggie-safety-poster-24×36-508c.pdf

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018, June). 7 tips for cleaning fruits, vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/7-tips-cleaning-fruits-vegetables

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