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Handling Fruits and Vegetables Safely

Fruits and Vegetables

Ever wonder:

  1. When to wash fruits and vegetables?
  2. Which fruits will ripen further when stored at room temperature?
  3. How to handle cut fruits and vegetables?
  4. How to keep cut fruits from turning brown?

Here are some general tips on everything from purchasing fruits and vegetables through serving and handling them safely.

Purchasing

  • Purchase fruits and vegetables that look and smell fresh.
  • The Produce Marketing Association recommends you buy only the amount you'll use in a few days for most fruits and vegetables, rather than "stocking-up." With the exception of some items such as apples, citrus fruit and potatoes, most other items don't store well for long time periods.
  • Handle produce gently to avoid bruising.

Storing

  • Put produce away promptly. Most WHOLE produce keeps best in perforated plastic bags in your refrigerator's crisper drawer where the humidity is highest. Make sure your refrigerator is clean and cold (40 F or lower).
    Potatoes and tomatoes are two common exceptions to vegetables that should be refrigerated. Tomatoes taste best if they're stored at room temperature and potatoes are tastiest if kept in a cool, dry, dark place.
  • Certain fruits may be ripened further at room temperature before refrigeration. These include: apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. (NOTE: While refrigeration turns the skin on a banana black, the flesh will maintain good color and quality for at least a few more days.)
  • Follow label instructions on fresh produce, such as refrigeration and "use by" information. This is most frequently found on precut items.
  • Throw away fruits or vegetables that have been stored too long and smell bad, are moldy or slimy.
  • For more specific information on how long to store produce, check with the produce manager at your favorite grocery store or call your local Cooperative Extension Office.

Washing

  • Rinse whole produce thoroughly under clean running tap water JUST BEFORE YOU USE IT -- not when you store the item or items. Rub as needed to help remove surface contamination. Before washing, discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables (such as oranges and melons) even if you don't eat the rind or skin. When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, any bacteria that is on the outer surface can be transferred to the inner flesh.
  • DO NOT wash fruits and vegetables with detergent. Fruits and vegetables can absorb the detergent. Detergent is not intended for use on foods and can make you sick.

Handling Cut Produce

  • Store all CUT fruits and vegetables covered, in containers, in the refrigerator. Once produce is cut, any microorganisms that get on the cut surface can start to grow.
  • Store fresh cut produce above raw meat, poultry and fish and below cooked items. Generally, quality is best if you use cut produce within a day.
  • NOTE: The flesh of some fruits -- such as apples, bananas, nectarines and peaches -- turns brown when the fruits are peeled or cut and exposed to air.
    To prevent this darkening, coat their surface with a citrus juice such as lemon, orange, grapefruit or lime juice. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Preparing

  • Use clean hands, clean utensils and a clean cutting board when working with fresh produce. Especially avoid touching raw meat, poultry and seafood before handling fresh fruits and vegetables.
    Before working with fresh produce, wet your hands with warm water, apply soap and rub your hands together for 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry them with a clean towel.
    Use a plastic or other non-porous cutting board; keep it clean by running it through the dishwasher after each use or by washing it with hot soapy water, followed by rinsing with hot water and air drying.
  • At events such as buffets where food is set out for guests, avoid adding fresh fruits and vegetables to foods that have been setting out. Instead, serve smaller trays of food and set out fresh food trays as needed. Keep cut produce in the refrigerator until just before serving; follow the storage recommendations given earlier.
    Remember the guideline for discarding cut produce that has been out of the refrigerator more than two hours.

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.