Handling Produce Safely
When You Shop · When You Store · When You Prepare · When
When You Serve · When In Doubt, Throw It Out
Adapted from material by Dr. Luke Howard,
Institute of Food, Science and Engineering, University of Arkansas and Dr.
Pamela L. Brady, Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
When You Shop
- Choose undamaged fruits and vegetables. Avoid produce that is cut or
- Separate produce from meats in your shopping cart. Meat juices may contain
bacteria. These bacteria are harmless after meat is cooked but may cause
problems on raw produce.
When You Store
- Store fresh produce properly for highest quality and safety.
- Store fruits and vegetables, except tangerines, in the refrigerator
- Store tangerines in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Place ripened melons in a plastic bag to protect other foods from melon
odors. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
- Allow bananas to ripen at room temperature. After ripening, bananas will
keep longest in the refrigerator. The cold temperature will cause the skin to
darken but the fruit will keep longer.
- Most vegetables keep best in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
However, some fruits give off a gas called ethylene during ripening. Exposure
to ethylene can lower the quality of some fruits, vegetables and leafy greens.
For example, it can cause yellowing of green vegetables and bitterness in
carrots. This does not make the produce unsafe, just lower in quality. For best
quality, store ethylene-sensitive items separately from ethylene-generating
ones. A good rule of thumb is to store vegetables and leafy items separately
- Store onions in loosely woven or open mesh bags at room temperature or
slightly cooler temperatures.
- Keep potatoes in a dark, dry, well-ventilated place at temperatures between
45°F and 50°F. Store hardrind squash, eggplant, rutabagas and sweet
potatoes at 55°F to 60°F for up to one month. Do not refrigerate
because lower temperatures may cause chilling injury. If these vegetables are
kept at room temperature, plan to use them within one week.
When You Prepare
Wash hands in hot, soapy water
- before handling food.
- after using the bathroom.
- after changing diapers or helping a child use the bathroom.
- after touching hair or face, blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
- if you come in contact with juices from raw meat, poultry or fish.
- after tending to someone sick or injured.
- after handling pets.
To wash hands, follow these steps:
- Use warm water.
- Moisten hands; apply soap.
- Wash wrists, palms, back of hands, fingers and under fingernails
- Rub hands together for 20 seconds.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Dry hands using a clean or disposable towel.
- Bacteria can live on kitchen towels and sponges. Wash towels often. Replace
sponges every few weeks.
- Never cut produce on a cutting
board used for meat, poultry or fish until the board is washed thoroughly in
hot, soapy water.
- Wash all fresh produce in cool, running water, even those with hard shells
like melons and winter squash. Do not allow produce to soak in standing water
and DO NOT USE SOAP. If fruits and vegetables are very dirty, use a vegetable
brush to scrub the surface. Carefully clean around stems and crevices. If
desired, peel after washing.
- To prevent fruits like apples and peaches from turning dark when cut,
sprinkle with lemon juice or ascorbic acid.
When Youre Cooking
Unlike most animal products, fruits and many vegetables are frequently eaten
raw. However, cooking is often used to soften the tissue making the item easier
to digest and allowing use in a wider variety of ways.
- The length of time required to cook a given fruit or vegetable differs
with the product, its variety and maturity, the temperature of the product when
heating begins and the size of the pieces being cooked. Meat, poultry and fish
must be thoroughly cooked to assure safety, but length of cooking time for most
fruits and vegetables is a matter of personal taste not safety.
- When cooking ahead, divide large portions into small, shallow containers.
This ensures safe, rapid cooling.
When You Serve
- Keep cooked fruits and vegetables at room temperature for no longer than
two hours. Microorganisms that cause spoilage and may lead to foodborne illness
grow rapidly at warmer temperatures.
- Fruits and vegetables make delicious party food. If cold, keep the dish on
ice. If serving fresh produce with a dip, keep the dip at the appropriate
serving temperature. If produce is made into a hot item, keep it hot using a
hot plate, chafing dish or other heat source. If no heat source is available,
serve only a small amount at a time and replace the serving dish as the food
cools. Do not add new, hot food to a cooling dish on the serving table.
When In Doubt, Throw It Out
Sometimes produce is forgotten in the refrigerator.
- Never taste any fruit, vegetable or product containing produce that
looks or smells strange. Just discard it.
- If you find mold on the surface of firm fruits and vegetables and can cut
it away along with at least an inch around the mold, it is acceptable to use
the product. However, mold can form poisons that are found under the surface
and that can soak into soft products. This means most moldy fruits and
vegetables should be thrown away.
To learn more about foodborne illness and ways to prevent it, talk to
your health care professional, your local health department or the Illinois
Department of Public Health, Division of Food, Drugs and Dairies.
525 W. Jefferson St., Springfield, IL 62761