COLLEGE STATION – Peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, berries andmelons in various sizes, shapes and colors: The summer heat may bescorching, but the produce of the season can make it worthwhile.
Summer's many and varied produce selections are important to ahealthful diet, said Amanda Scott, Texas Cooperative Extension programspecialist and state coordinator for Extension's Expanded NutritionProgram.
Just remember to handle fresh produce with care, she said. Otherwise foodborne illness might ruin the summer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76million cases of foodborne illnesses are reported each year, Scottsaid, with 325,000 involving hospitalization and 5,000 resulting indeath.
"Although not traditionally associated with foodborne illnesses,fresh fruits and vegetables have recently been linked to severaloutbreaks, including Hepatitis A contamination on green onions andSalmonella on tomatoes," she said.
That's because fresh produce is often eaten raw, she added.
"In recent years the proportion of cases of foodborne illness linked to produce has increased," Scott said.
But six steps suggested by the Partnership for Food Safety Education at the FightBac! Web site (http://www.fightbac.org/ ) might help lessen the risk of illness caused by summer fruits.
- Step 1: Check. Before purchasing, make sure the produce is notbruised, cut or damaged. If purchasing items that are pre-cut, such asmelons, or packaged, such as salad makings, buy only the items thathave been kept refrigerated.
"Food safety for fresh fruits and vegetables begins at the store," Scott said.
- Step 2: Clean. Start by washing hands in warm, soapy water for atleast 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce. Make surecutting boards, counter tops, peelers and knives are clean before usingthem on the produce. Fresh produce should be rinsed under running tapwater.
That's true for fruits and vegetables that have rinds that will not be eaten, Scott said.
"People don't realize they need to scrub the outside of melons witha vegetable brush or rub them with their hands under running water,"she said, "because if any bacteria contaminate the outside of themelon, when you slice into it you have the potential of bringing thatcontamination into the fruit."
Clean firm-skinned produce with a clean vegetable brush or rub itunder running tap water. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel.Do not use detergent or bleach to wash fresh produce.
- Step 3: Separate. In the grocery cart, keep fresh produce awayfrom such items as cleaners and detergents, and raw meats, poultry andfish. At home, that advice also holds true during storage in therefrigerator and during preparation: Keep fresh produce away from rawmeats, poultry and fish. Do not use the same cutting board for produceand meats unless it is cleaned with hot, soapy water before and afterfood preparation.
- Step 4: Cook. If fresh produce has been in contact with raw meats,poultry or fish or their juices, throw it away or cook it thoroughly.
- Step 5: Chill. To prevent bacterial growth, store all cut, peeled or cooked produce in the refrigerator within two hours.
- Step 6: Throw away. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have not beenrefrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking should bethrown away, Scott said. Also throw away any bruised or damagedportions of fresh produce or any fruit or vegetable that will not becooked and that has been contaminated by raw meat, poultry or fish.
"If in doubt about the safety of a fruit or vegetable, throw it out!" Scott said.
And one more tip:
"It's recommended that you wash fruits and vegetables right beforethey are eaten," Scott said. "If you wash them ahead of time make sureto dry them thoroughly before storing them in the refrigerator. Thiscan help prevent mold growth."
Besides, she added, when it comes to berries – such as strawberries,blackberries and blueberries – washing them too soon can damage theirdelicate skin.
For more information on food safety, visit Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the link to Food and Nutrition.
Materials provided by Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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