By Justin Walker
The summer season is a busy time for outdoor farmers markets, which means plenty of opportunities for consumers to purchase fresh produce.
But it is crucial to follow safe handling tips, Rebecca Dittmar, AgriLife Extension program specialist in Nutrition and Food Science, said.
“Whether produce comes from a grocery store or farmers market, it’s important to be consistent in practicing safe food handling at home,” Dittmar said.
Handling practices can be extremely simple and can significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses from fresh produce, she said.
Consumers should always wash their produce before eating, regardless of where it was purchased.
“You should thoroughly rinse fresh produce with fresh water just before you eat or prepare it to be eaten,” she said. “Never use soap or bleach to clean fresh fruits or vegetables, and be sure to refrigerate cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of preparing them.”
Produce should always be checked for bruising and other damages when purchasing. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated or on ice. Produce should also be kept separate from raw meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy while shopping and in the refrigerator, Dittmar noted.
Hands and surface areas should be cleaned and disinfected before and after preparing produce, as well.
“Before and after you handle your produce, wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds,” she said. “Make sure all surfaces and utensils, such as cutting boards and knives, are washed with hot soapy water and sanitized before and after preparing your produce.”
Running water can be used to rinse off produce, Dittmar said. Pre-packaged ready-to-eat or triple-washed fruits and vegetables should be good to go.