The fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle made headlines at the end of the year for recent outbreaks of food-borne illness that have sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

Although the cause of the Chipotle outbreak is unknown, federal investigators are looking at fresh produce, such as tomatoes, peppers or cilantro, as a possible source of contamination.

We’re probably all familiar with the potential food safety risks with raw or undercooked meat and eggs. But in reality, fresh produce has now become a top source of food-borne bacteria that can cause serious illness.

As more people are trying to eat healthy in the New Year, it’s a good time to review the safe handling methods for serving fresh produce at home.

The following are fresh produce safety tips from

  • Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
  • When selecting fresh-cut produce - such as a half a watermelon or bagged salad greens - choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products.
  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.   
  • Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.
  • Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
  • All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
  • Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
  • Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
  • Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

 Check out this online article that explains if rinsing fruit before eating actually makes a difference.

Iowa State University’s Safe Food blog also takes a closer look at safe handling of fresh greens, such as lettuce and spinach.

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