It used to be that you just had to worry about convincing kids
to eat the fruits and vegetables they need to grow healthy and
strong. But recent outbreaks of
and salmonella remind us of another concern - making sure fresh
produce is safe to eat.
Even with the risk of food-borne illnesses, it's important for
kids to eat fruits and vegetables every day to get vitamins and
nutrients essential to staying healthy and developing well. Fruits
like oranges, for example, provide vitamin C that helps heal cuts
and wounds. Vegetables like broccoli contain dietary fiber, which
can help keep cholesterol down and bowel movements regular.
The good news is that it's easy to make sure that the
produce you buy and prepare is safe.
From the Store to Your Refrigerator
Regardless of the variety of produce you pick - whether it's
bagged or loose, organic or traditionally grown - there's
always going to be some chance, however small, that harmful
bacteria may have gotten on the food. It can happen anywhere
between the fields and your kitchen, during picking, transporting,
or packaging the produce.
The safeguards you can take begin when you're selecting
produce at the store. Be sure to inspect fruits and vegetables
before you buy them, and avoid any with visible cuts or broken skin
where bacteria could enter.
Also keep these things in mind:
- With prepared produce, such as bagged salad, select only
items that are stored on ice or refrigerated. Be sure to check
the best-used-by date.
- If your drive home is longer than an hour, consider bringing
a cooler in the car to keep any pre-bagged and pre-cut produce
- At the grocery store, separate raw meat, poultry, seafood,
and eggs from produce and other foods in your shopping cart and
You've probably seen the term "Certified Organic"
on USDA labels indicating that a product was grown or made without
pesticides, synthetic ingredients, or bioengineering. However,
bacterial contamination is possible whether the produce is
certified organic or conventionally grown.
Refrigerating and Freezing
To safely store produce, make sure your refrigerator and freezer
are cold enough to keep it fresh and prevent any bacteria in it
from thriving. Keep your refrigerator set to 40Âº Fahrenheit (5Âº
Celsius) and your freezer to 0Âº Fahrenheit (-18Âº Celsius) or lower.
If they don't have thermostats, consider buying one for
How to Properly Prepare Produce
When you prepare fresh produce, take these steps to help ensure
that it's safe to eat:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 10-15 seconds,
especially after using the bathroom and before preparing or
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from produce and
- Wash utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and
after using them in food preparation.
- Scrub all fruits and vegetables with plain water (even if you
plan to peel them) to remove any pesticide residue or dirt that
could contain bacteria.
- Wash melons, particularly cantaloupes and watermelons, before
eating to avoid carrying bacteria from the rind to the knife to
the inside of the fruit.
- Many types of bagged lettuce are pre-washed. The packaging
will indicate if they are. Even though the produce has been
washed before bagging, you still should wash it again right
before you eat it.
- Dry produce with a paper towel or clean towel to help reduce
- Discard the outer leaves of leafy greens, such as spinach or
- Refrigerate all cut and peeled produce.
- Avoid using wooden cutting boards, which can harbor germs
more than other kinds. Thoroughly wash any cutting board before
use and after. Consider using separate boards for meat and
Though there are commercial produce washes available, the FDA
advises consumers not to use them. Washing your hands, the produce,
and the surfaces in your kitchen should work just fine.
Rest assured that while fresh produce, meat, and fish do carry
some contamination risk, with the proper precautions you can reduce
that risk and enjoy them safely.
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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