Eating fruits and vegetables has many health advantages. For the most part, people assume that there are few food safety issues when dealing with fruits and vegetables. However, if you have been listening to the news this week you will realize that there has been a recent outbreak of salmonella from fresh cantaloupes imported into Kentucky from Indiana.
There's hardly anything more satisfying in the late summer than a luscious, fresh, ripe melon. With this in mind, how do you protect yourself while still enjoying the healthy and good tasting aspects of fresh produce? Follow these tips from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help prevent becoming a victim not only from cantaloupes but from any fresh produce.
- Buy locally. Microorganisms multiply over time, and shorter transportation time means less incubation time. Visit our local farmers markets and roadside stands and ask where the produce originated.
- Wash your hands frequently when handling foods. This means before and after handling fresh produce. Use clean, sanitized knives and cutting boards to cut and prepare produce.
- Rinse produce under cold running tap water, even if it has been "prewashed." Scrub produce with a vegetable brush if skins are thick such as melons, apples, potatoes, etc. Rinsing and scrubbing produce is important even if you plan on peeling the item. As you slice into the food the knife will carry germs from the skin surface into the flesh of the fruit or vegetable.
- To promote longest storage time, it is best to rinse the food shortly before eating it. Washing produce before storing may promote bacterial growth and speed up spoilage, so it is often recommended to wait and wash fruits and vegetables just before use.
- Do not use dishwashing or hand soap to wash produce. These products are not approved or labeled by the FDA for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce. There are some products on the market that claim to further clean vegetables, however, research has not shown this to be true. Washing under cold running water may be best until more is known.
- When preparing fruits and vegetables, cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that cause illness can thrive in those places.
- Immediately refrigerate any fresh-cut produce. Do not keep cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables at room temperature for more than 2 hours, 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees, such as when outside. Consume within a few days.
- Keep produce away from uncooked meat, poultry and fish.
Organic fruit and vegetables are just as likely to be infected with germs as standard produce. Since many American consumers are concerned about the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides, proper handling, including washing and peeling, can reduce the amount of pesticides on produce.
Some consumers are turning to "organically" grown produce as an alternative, thinking it to be safer. However, organic produce is just as likely to be contaminated with bacteria or other microorganisms as conventionally grown produce. Organic produce also needs to be handled with care to reduce the risk of food-borne illness from these germs.
MARSHA O. PARKER is the Christian County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 270-886-6328.