COLLEGE STATION – Peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, berries and melons in various sizes, shapes and colors: The summer heat may be scorching, but the produce of the season can make it worthwhile.
Summer’s many and varied produce selections are important to a healthful diet, said Amanda Scott, Texas Cooperative Extension program specialist and state coordinator for Extension’s Expanded Nutrition Program.
Just remember to handle fresh produce with care, she said. Otherwise foodborne illness might ruin the summer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses are reported each year, Scott said, with 325,000 involving hospitalization and 5,000 resulting in death.
“Although not traditionally associated with foodborne illnesses, fresh fruits and vegetables have recently been linked to several outbreaks, including Hepatitis A contamination on green onions and Salmonella on tomatoes,” she said.
That’s because fresh produce is often eaten raw, she added.
“In recent years the proportion of cases of foodborne illness linked to produce has increased,” Scott said.
But six steps suggested by the Partnership for Food Safety Education at the FightBac! Web site (http://www.fightbac.org/ ) might help lessen the risk of illness caused by summer fruits.
- Step 1: Check. Before purchasing, make sure the produce is not bruised, cut or damaged. If purchasing items that are pre-cut, such as melons, or packaged, such as salad makings, buy only the items that have been kept refrigerated.
“Food safety for fresh fruits and vegetables begins at the store,” Scott said.
- Step 2: Clean. Start by washing hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce. Make sure cutting boards, counter tops, peelers and knives are clean before using them on the produce. Fresh produce should be rinsed under running tap water.
That’s true for fruits and vegetables that have rinds that will not be eaten, Scott said.
“People don’t realize they need to scrub the outside of melons with a vegetable brush or rub them with their hands under running water,” she said, “because if any bacteria contaminate the outside of the melon, when you slice into it you have the potential of bringing that contamination into the fruit.”
Clean firm-skinned produce with a clean vegetable brush or rub it under running tap water. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not use detergent or bleach to wash fresh produce.
- Step 3: Separate. In the grocery cart, keep fresh produce away from such items as cleaners and detergents, and raw meats, poultry and fish. At home, that advice also holds true during storage in the refrigerator and during preparation: Keep fresh produce away from raw meats, poultry and fish. Do not use the same cutting board for produce and meats unless it is cleaned with hot, soapy water before and after food preparation.
- Step 4: Cook. If fresh produce has been in contact with raw meats, poultry or fish or their juices, throw it away or cook it thoroughly.
- Step 5: Chill. To prevent bacterial growth, store all cut, peeled or cooked produce in the refrigerator within two hours.
- Step 6: Throw away. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking should be thrown away, Scott said. Also throw away any bruised or damaged portions of fresh produce or any fruit or vegetable that will not be cooked and that has been contaminated by raw meat, poultry or fish.
“If in doubt about the safety of a fruit or vegetable, throw it out!” Scott said.
And one more tip:
“It’s recommended that you wash fruits and vegetables right before they are eaten,” Scott said. “If you wash them ahead of time make sure to dry them thoroughly before storing them in the refrigerator. This can help prevent mold growth.”
Besides, she added, when it comes to berries – such as strawberries, blackberries and blueberries – washing them too soon can damage their delicate skin.
For more information on food safety, visit Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the link to Food and Nutrition.