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Handle Your Fruits and Veggies Safely

Outbreaks of illness from contaminated produce are rare, but they do happen. And while that's no reason to swear off fresh fruits and vegetables, there are simple precautions you can take to keep yourself and your family safe.

 Shop smart

  • When buying pre-cut vegetables or packaged greens, be sure they have been properly stored either on ice or in a refrigerated case.
  • Avoid produce that has been bruised, damaged or shows signs of mold.
  • Always place produce in plastic bags, even if you're only buying one piece of fruit, as grocery carts and checkout conveyor belts can hold germs.

 Wash well

  • Don't wash whole fruits or vegetables until you're ready to use them.
  • When washing firm produce, such as apples or tomatoes, use cool running water and your hand or a vegetable brush to rub them clean as you rinse.
  • Wash softer produce, such as berries or spinach, under running water or carefully wipe them clean with a damp paper towel.
  • Always wash produce before you eat it: Even pre-washed fruits and vegetables should be carefully rinsed.

 Store properly

  • Keep room-temperature produce, such as onions and potatoes, in a cool, dry place, but store them separately as they can cause each other to spoil.
  • Don't store fruits like apples, pears and bananas together with other produce: They emit a gas called ethylene that will cause your other fruits and vegetables to spoil more quickly.
  • Store refrigerated produce separately from raw meats or seafood. The crisper is the best place for produce, but be sure to check it often.
  • Cover cut fruits or vegetables with plastic wrap or put them in air-tight containers before storing.

Wash your Vegetables

Do you know where your potatoes, oranges and tomatoes have been? Unless your fruits and vegetables are organic, they grew up in fields covered in pesticides and herbicides. Although the pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables are considered to be at safe levels for human consumption, do you really want those extra chemicals on your food?

Once your fruits and vegetables were ready for harvest, they were handled by several different pairs of hands in the fields and orchards, then in the warehouses, and finally again in your grocery store. Bacteria such asListeriaSalmonella and E. coli may all be lurking on your produce, whether they are organically grown or conventionally grown. These bacteria all cause food-borne illness and need to be washed away.

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

  • Start by keeping your kitchen countertops, refrigerator, cookware and cutlery clean.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing meals and handling fruits and vegetables.
  • Wait until just before you eat or prepare your fruits and vegetables to wash them. They have natural coatings that keep moisture inside, and washing them will make them spoil sooner.
  • Wash all pre-packaged produce, even if the label claims they are pre-washed.
  • Clean the whole thing - even the parts you don't eat. Bacteria can live on the rinds or skins of foods like bananas, potatoes or rutabagas. Though you may peel them away and toss the coverings in the trash, the bacteria can be transferred from the rind to the knife, then on to the part you're cutting.
  • Gently rub fruits and vegetables under running water. Don't use any soaps, detergents, bleaches or other toxic cleaning chemicals. These chemicals will leave a residue of their own on your produce.
  • Commercial sprays and washes really aren't any better than cleaning thoroughly with plain water, so don't waste your money on them.
  • Firmer items, such as apples and potatoes, can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush while rinsing with clean water to remove dirt and residues.
  • Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage heads, and thoroughly rinse the rest of the leaves.
  • Rinse berries and other small fruits thoroughly and allow them to drain in a colander.

You can reduce your risk of food-borne illness

Buying Fresh Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Examine the produce carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.
  • If buying pre-cut or ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables (e.g., cut melons, cut tomatoes, pre-washed salad), be sure they have been properly refrigerated (i.e., at 4°C or below). This means they should be displayed in a refrigerated container and should not just be sitting on top of ice.
  • In your grocery cart or hamper, keep fresh fruits and vegetables separated from other raw foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood and their juices. Make sure fruits and vegetables are also kept separate from these other raw foods when they are packed to take home.

Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

  • When you get home, promptly refrigerate the fresh fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration. This includes all pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce. Ask your grocer if you are not certain whether specific items need to be refrigerated.
  • When you refrigerate fruits and vegetables, keep them separate from meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Keep your refrigerator at the proper temperature (4°C or below). Use a fridge thermometer to check.

Handling and Preparing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

  • Always start by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds using hot water and soap.
  • Make sure your utensils, cutting boards, and counter-tops have also been cleaned with hot soapy water. When cleaning, avoid using sponges or other materials that are difficult to keep clean and dry, as these can spread bacteria around.
  • Before eating or preparing fresh fruits and vegetables:
    • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas. Be sure to clean your knife with hot water and soap before using it again.
    • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. (This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling it.
    • Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces (e.g., oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc.). It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Ready-to-eat, bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. However, pre-cut or pre-washed leafy greens sold in open bags or containers should be washed before eating.
    • Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate or container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
  • Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of peeling or cutting them. Discard any cut fruits and vegetables that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

It is also important to pay attention to food recalls and remove affected food items from your home.


Eat Healthy & Stay Healthy

These present Directives concerns products intended for human or, in exceptional cases, animal consumption listed under the common customs tariff headings set out in Annex I and in or on which are found the pesticide residues listed in Annex II. These Directives does not apply to fruit and vegetables intended for export to third countries.

Definitions of "pesticide residues " and "putting into circulation".

Member States must ensure the free circulation throughout the Community of products containing certain pesticide residues not exceeding the maximum levels laid down in Annex II. In certain justified cases, the Member States may authorize levels higher than the said maximum levels.

Where a maximum level fixed in Annex II endangers the health of humans or of animals, a Member State may temporarily reduce that level in its own territory. In that case it shall immediately notify the other Member States and the Commission thereof.

Member States shall ensure compliance with the maximum levels laid down in these Directives by carrying out official random checks. 

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