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Maggie Jover: Treat your veggies right

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. However, they can become contaminated by harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows.

Fresh produce may also become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during preparation or storage. Eating contaminated produce can lead to a foodborne illness.

As you enjoy fresh produce, follow these safe handling tips to help protect yourself and your family from food poisoning.

■ Wash your hands! Use soap and warm water before preparing or handling fresh produce.

■ To wash most produce, gently rub the item while holding under plain running water. Wash produce before peeling so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the knife onto the fruit or veggie.

■ Use a vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.

■ Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.

■ Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

■ Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing for eating.

Limit quantities. Most fresh vegetables can be stored for only two to five days, so do not purchase food that cannot be eaten soon after purchase.

■ Store food safely. Produce that requires refrigeration can be stored in bins or on shelves above raw meats. Store produce in cloth produce bags or perforated plastic bags that allow air to circulate.

■ Buy local. Reducing transport time and distance can help limit the chances of contamination and bacterial growth.

Chemical rinses and other treatments for washing raw produce, usually called fruit and vegetable washes, are often advertised as the best way to keep fresh produce safe in the home.

But the Food and Drug Administration advises against using commercial washes because the safety of their residues has not been evaluated and their effectiveness has not be tested or standardized. Never use soap or bleach on fresh produce.

For more information on cleaning and storing fresh produce, call the Denton County Extension Office at 940-349-2882.


MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.