Vegetables and Fruits, Juice and Cider
Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and their juices is an important part of a healthy diet. These foods provide us with large amounts of vitamins A and C and other nutrients and are important sources of dietary fiber. However, fruits and vegetables are grown in the soil in the natural environment, near farm animals and wildlife. The potential exists for raw fruits and vegetables to carry the microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and parasites) that can cause food-borne illnesses. Whether grown using conventional or organic methods, the risk of microbiological contamination is the same. All produce, imported, domestic, local, organic or conventionally grown—even the produce grown in your own garden—needs to be handled with care to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from these microorganisms.
While still relatively uncommon, outbreaks from fresh produce have been reported, some affecting large numbers of people and causing serious illness and death. Juices and cider made from oranges, apples and other fruits and vegetables have also been the source of foodborne illness. Salmonella and Listeria have been found in cantaloupe, Cyclospora in raspberries and E. coli O157:H7 in spinach and lettuce.
All fresh produce should be handled with food safety in mind, washed thoroughly before eating, and refrigerated once cut.
Sprouts…a special concern
Raw and/or lightly cooked seed and bean sprouts are nutritious, tasty, and a popular addition to fresh salads and sandwiches. But how many consumers know that from 1999 to 2009, raw or slightly cooked sprouts were associated with 44 foodborne illness outbreaks, resulting in 2,551 reported illnesses. In 2011, an international (including cases in the US) outbreak resulted in 4,321 reported illnesses and 50 deaths. In fact, sprouts are on a list of the 10 most (unwanted!) risky foods regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA warns consumers that to reduce your risk of illness from sprouts, just say “no.” Do not eat them; particularly if you are very young, elderly, pregnant or have a weakened immune system. If you want to eat them, cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Thorough cooking kills the harmful bacteria. For more information on sprouts, review our article in the Special Topics section.
AT THE STORE OR FARM MARKET
Look for fresh-looking fruits and vegetables that are not bruised, shriveled, discolored, wilted, moldy or slimy. Buy only what you need for three to four days. Handle produce gently.
Ask if the produce you are buying is grown and handled according to safe food production and handling guidelines such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) or Good Manufacturing Practices. Notice if employees are handling produce safely. When things are dropped on the floor, are they placed back in the bin? This is a bad sign…
If visiting a "pick-your-own" farm, it is best to wash your hands before and after handling the fresh picked produce. Pick only off the tree or bush; the "drops" or fruit found on the ground may be contaminated.
When buying pre-cut fruits, vegetables and salad mixes, make sure that they have been refrigerated in the store. If not, do not buy them. Do not buy pre-cut produce that looks slimy, mushy or dried out. For best quality, pre-cut salads, vegetables and fruits should be eaten one to two days after purchasing.
Put produce away as soon as you get home. Refrigerate all pre-cut produce and salad bar items. It is best not to wash most produce before you put it away. Water left on the cleaned produce can cause the fruits and vegetables to spoil more quickly. Store fresh produce in a loose plastic bag. Some produce may be stored at room temperature. For more information on storing fresh fruits and vegetables, see Storing Fresh Garden Produce.
Once any fresh produce is cut, it should be stored in the refrigerator. Throw away any produce you have kept too long — if it is moldy or slimy or if it smells bad. Be careful to store raw fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked, away from raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs (or their juices or drippings).
PREPARING, HANDLING, AND COOKING FRESH PRODUCE
If the produce you have purchased is labeled as “washed,” there is no need to wash again. This label is often found on greens and lettuce. You risk re-contaminating a clean product if you wash the produce again. However, if there are some decaying leaves in the bag after a few days, I would recommend that you wash what is remaining before using it.
Remove any outer leaves; if there is a bad spot or two, cut away at least 1/2 inch around the spot. Wash your hands before handling fresh produce. Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean (potable or drinkable) water before eating or preparing to cook. This applies to all fruits and vegetables, even if you don't eat the rind or skin (such as melons and oranges). Use a scrub brush on harder skinned produce.
You should not use detergent when washing fruits and vegetables because you might end up eating detergent residues. The skins on produce can absorb the detergent. Detergent is not labeled by the FDA for use on food. There really is no need for veggies washes or bleach either. Simply use plain water. Do not let produce sit and soak in water. And, it is best to use water that is about the same temperature as the produce. If a field warm tomato washed in cold water, as it cools, the tomato can actually absorb the water along with any microorganisms that are on the surface of the tomato.
Remember to wash produce just before you use it, not when you put it away. This will help reduce spoilage.
Preparing and cooking
Start with clean hands. Next, be sure that all utensils (knives, peelers), cutting boards or counters are clean, especially if you have been preparing raw meat, poultry or fish just before the produce. (When possible, it is always best to prepare fruits and vegetables first, before dishes that have raw meat ingredients.)
Keep prepared fruit salads and other cut produce items in the refrigerator until just before serving. Wash your hands, utensils, counters and cutting boards after preparing raw fruits or vegetables.
Discard any cut, prepared or cooked fruits and vegetables that have been at room temperature for two hours or more. Use these leftovers within 1-3 days for best quality and safety.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if harmful bacteria are present when fruits and vegetables are made into fresh-squeezed juice or cider, the juice will be contaminated. Pasteurization, or heat treatment, kills the bacteria in juice.
Unpasteurized juice is usually found in the refrigerated section of grocery or health food stores or at cider mills or farm markets. Unpasteurized juices and cider have been identified as the cause of outbreaks of foodborne illness, including Salmonella and E. coli. The FDA requires warning labels on all unpasteurized or untreated juices, cider, and juice products. High-risk groups, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and chronically ill, should not drink unpasteurized juice or cider.
If you have purchased an unpasteurized juice or apple cider, you can make it safe by bringing the juice to a boil. Add spices and serve warm or chill in small containers and serve.
Pasteurized juice is found as frozen concentrated juice or in non-refrigerated shelf-stable containers, such as juice boxes, bottles or cans. Pasteurized juice can also be found in the refrigerator section of stores.
AT THE STORE OR FARM MARKET
Observe warning labels on non-pasteurized juices if you or those in your care are very young, elderly, ill or have a compromised immune system. Purchase non-pasteurized juices only from a reputable dealer who can show evidence of implementing a food safety risk-reduction program.
Be sure to read the label on the juice product before storing it on the shelf or in the refrigerator. There have been outbreaks of botulism reported when consumers mistakenly left carrot juice on the shelf when the label clearly stated that it should be refrigerated. This was a problem because carrot juice is low in acid, providing the environment for botulism toxin formation.
Refrigerate all non-pasteurized juices and all juices that have labels that show the product requires refrigeration. (If you bought the product out of a refrigerated case, it makes sense to store it in the refrigerator when you get home.)
Refrigerate all juices once opened. Use juices by the "use-by" date on the bottle or carton.
Want to read more?
Learn more about juice safety
Learn more about the safety of fresh produce