We all know that a healthy diet should include lots of fresh, raw produce. Thanks to modern marketing and speedy shipping, we can get almost anything we desire any time of the year ... for a price.
Our produce may come from anywhere in the world. That's how we can get beautiful strawberries in December, white nectarines in March or oranges in July.
Do you ever worry about getting a food-borne illness from the fruits and vegetables you buy at roadside produce markets or even at our modern supermarkets?
Though many fresh produce items are prewashed or have a protective covering, bacteria or other pathogens can be deposited on their surfaces anywhere along shipping pathways. Without proper handling, those pathogens may be transferred to the inside of fruits and vegetables by knife blades.
Washing produce won't guarantee it's free of pathogens, but it will help, according to Elizabeth Andress, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food safety specialist.
Cleaning the surface of some produce can be difficult because of natural nooks and crannies. Bacteria can hide and get in the openings for respiration on the surface of leaves or inside stem scars, Andress said.
Produce should be washed just before you plan to eat it. If you wash fruits and vegetables and then store them in the refrigerator, the bacteria have a chance to grow in the moist conditions, Andress said.
To reduce the risk of eating contaminated produce, UGA food safety experts say to follow these tips:
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fresh produce.
• Wash all produce before eating and don't use soap or detergent.
• Wash produce even if you plan to peel it.
• Scrub firm produce, like melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
• Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel.
• Remove damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables. Throw rotten-looking produce away.
• Wash delicate produce with care
• Rub gently if the produce is delicate, like grapes. When washing produce with firm skin, like apples, rub the skin under running water.
• For salad greens, use a salad spinner or a fresh single-use paper towel.
• When storing produce in the refrigerator, make sure it does not come in contact with fresh meats and chicken. To avoid cross contamination, store fresh meats on the bottom shelf and away from produce.
• Purchase fruits and vegetables that are free of bruises and cuts where harmful bacteria can thrive.
Which method works best?
Yen-Con Hung, a food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, recently led a project that looked at four methods of cleaning fresh produce: an ozonator (a device that combines ozone and water), electrolyzed oxidizing water (acidic water), produce washes and plain running water.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the study found both electrolyzed oxidizing water and ozone water reduce bacteria on fresh-produce surface.
The study also found plain running tap water is a cost-effective alternative for home use.
"However, running water doesn't kill bacteria, but it can be effective for washing it away," Hung said. "And the FDA recommends the use of cool running water as the preferred method for cleaning produce. It works best on produce with smooth surfaces."
No method can get rid of all the bacteria on produce, but they can reduce the amount of harmful pathogens, he said.
Adapted from an article by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
More than 800 Georgians die each year from radon-induced lung cancer. Don't be one of them. Test your home today. This year's Radon Action Month theme is "Test, Fix, Save a Life."
Ginger Bennett is a UGA Radon Educator based in the Hall County Cooperative Extension Office. Contact her at 770-535-8290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.