Here are 10 tips, gathered from a variety of food safety sources, for handling produce safely:
- Purchase produce as minimally processed as you can find it. Buy whole heads of lettuce and bunches of leaf lettuce and spinach rather than bags and boxes.
- Don't buy produce that has been cut at the store. Grocery stores often don't store cut fruit at the proper temperature, below 40 degrees, allowing bacteria to multiply on it rapidly.
- Look for produce that is free from blemishes. Broken skin provides a place for bacteria to enter and increases the chance of contamination.
- Wash your hands before handling produce so as not to cross-contaminate it.
- Wash the outsides of produce under cold running water, even if you won't be eating the skin.
- Scrub the outside of produce like melons, cucumbers and apples with a brush under cold running water, even if you plan on peeling them. The bacteria on the outside of a melon will be on the inside with the first swipe of a knife that cuts through the skin and into the flesh. Don't forget to properly sanitize your scrub brush too.
- Treat produce like you would raw chicken: Clean all surfaces after cutting raw produce.
- Watch out for cross-contamination. Make sure packages of raw meat aren't packed in the same grocery bag as fresh fruits and vegetables. Store meats on the lowest shelves of the refrigerator to decrease the chance that they could drip onto other foods.
- Wash reusable grocery bags frequently. Is the bag you used to carry raw chicken home today the same bag that you'll carry your leaf lettuce home in tomorrow? If so, make sure it is washed in between.
- For the elderly, the very young and those with weakened immune systems, cook greens like spinach and sprouts to a temperature of at least 165 degrees to kill any bacteria before eating. The greatest percentage of deaths from salmonella happen among the elderly.
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