The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (about 48 million people) gets sick due to foodborne diseases. About 128,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die.
Although not traditionally associated with foodborne illnesses, in the recent past, fresh fruits and vegetables have been linked to several illness outbreaks.
Six steps suggested by the Partnership for Food Safety Education (www.fightbac.org) could help you reduce the risk of illness caused by fresh produce:
• Check for quality. Before purchasing, make sure the produce is not bruised, cut or damaged. If purchasing items that are precut, such as melons, buy only the items that have been kept refrigerated. Do not buy fresh-cut items that are not refrigerated.
• Clean frequently. Wash your hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce. Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap before and after using them with fresh produce. All fresh fruits and vegetables, including those with rinds, should be rinsed under running tap water.
To help prevent mold growth during storage, wash fruits and vegetables only right before they are eaten.
Scrub the outside of melons with a vegetable brush or rub them with your hands under running water. Unless the melon rind has been washed, any bacteria present on the outside of the melon have the potential of bringing that contamination into the fruit when you slice into it.
Clean firm-skinned produce with a clean vegetable brush or rub it under running tap water and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Do not use detergent or bleach to wash fresh produce. These cleaning products are not intended for human consumption.
• Separate. Keep fresh produce away from raw meats, poultry and fish during storage and preparation. Do not use the same cutting board for produce and meats unless it is cleaned with hot, soapy water before and after each step in your food preparation.
• Cook. Heat thoroughly or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meats, poultry, seafood or their juices.
• Chill. To prevent bacterial growth, store all cut, peeled or cooked produce in the refrigerator within two hours.
• Throw away. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking should be thrown away. Throw away any bruised or damaged portions of fresh produce, or any fruit or vegetable that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry or seafood.
If in doubt about the safety of a fruit or vegetable, throw it out.
For more food safety information, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 888-674-6854, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional food-handling tips and recommendations, you can also visit www.fightbac.org, www.cdc.gov or www.foodsafety.gov.