Food safety month offers time for tips

Published 11:15 am Friday, September 28, 2007

By Staff
In recognition of September as Food Safety Month my friend and colleague, Amelia McGrew, Regional Extension Agent for Food Safety, Preparation and Preservation, wrote the following article.
September Food Safety Month Focuses on Produce Safety
Last year at this time two serious and deadly E. Coli O157:H7 bacterial illness outbreaks associated with contamination on fresh California produce made headlines.  Recently, shredded lettuce was confirmed to have been the source of this same strain of E. coli which sickened 18 people and resulted in the death of one woman after they ate at a popular Huntsville restaurant.
Thanks to education and awareness campaigns, outbreaks of E. Coli 0157:H7 associated with undercooked ground meats are becoming less frequent. At the same time the proportion of foodborne illness associated with fresh fruits and vegetables has increased over the last several years.  As health and nutrition experts continue to recommend we add more fruits and vegetables to a healthy daily diet, it becomes increasingly important that consumers as well as food service employees know how to handle them properly.  The following are steps to help you in your selection of fruits and vegetables:
Six steps to selecting safer fruits and vegetables:
1. Check
* Check to be sure that the fresh fruits and vegetables you buy are not bruised or damaged. Bruising damages plant tissues and lets bacteria inside.
* Check that fresh cut fruits and vegetables like packaged salads and pre-cut melons are refrigerated at the store before buying.  Do not buy fresh cut items that are not refrigerated.
2. Clean
* Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables. This is by far your best line of defense.
* Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap.  This includes cutting boards, counter tops, peelers and knives that will touch fresh fruits or vegetables before and after food preparation.
* Keep a spray bottle filled with 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water handy for spraying surfaces after washing and rinsing.
* Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled &#8220ready- to-eat” &#8220washed” or &#8220triple washed” need not be washed. * Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.
* Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
* Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables.
These products are not intended for consumption.  Purchase of manufactured produce-washes is unnecessary and expensive.
Follow the steps listed here instead.
3. Separate
* When shopping, be sure fresh fruits and vegetables are separated in your cart and in bags at checkout from household chemicals and raw foods such as meat, poultry and seafood.
* Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from and stored above raw meat, poultry or seafood in your refrigerator.
* Separate fresh fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry and seafood. Do not use the same cutting board without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. Use your prepared chlorine spray (see above) at this point.
4. Cook
* Cook or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or their juices.
5. Chill
* Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours.
6. Throw Away
* Throw away fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking.  
* Remove and throw away bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables when preparing to cook them or before eating them raw.
* Throw away any fruit or vegetable that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry or seafood.
Remember: If in doubt, throw it out!

Email newsletter signup