With recent E. coli outbreaks nationwide, consumers are become more and more aware that the bacteria can reside in food products other than ground meats. Fruits and vegetables are also at risk – and the University of Minnesota wants to make sure that consumers are informed as to how to properly clean fruits and vegetables:
• Before working with any foods, wash hands with soap and water. Also, make sure preparation areas are sanitary.
• Under clean, running water, rub fruits and vegetables briskly with your hands to remove dirt and surface microorganisms.
• Wash produce just before serving – not before storing, as washing will cause produce to spoil faster.
• Produce with a firm skin or hard rind like carrots, potatoes, melons or squash may be scrubbed with a vegetable brush and water.
• Discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage before washing.
• Always wash squash and melons, even if you don’t eat the rind or skin because when cut, dirt or bacteria that is on the outer surface can be transferred to the inner flesh.
• DO NOT wash produce with detergent or bleach solutions. Fruits and vegetables are porous and can absorb the detergent or bleach, which is not intended for use on foods and consuming them on fruits and vegetables have the potential to make you sick.
There are “produce wash” products on the market today, but studies show that washing produce in tap or distilled water is just as effective. In fact, those “produce washes” that recommend soaking produce can actually be harmful, since the water can either add contaminants or remove nutrients from the produce. On the other hand, vinegar and lemon juice, both weak organic acids, have proven to be rather effective anti-microbial and anti-browning agents, especially when combined with water rinsing and agitation.
Cold tempurature storage is also helpful in combating bacterial populations on produce. Salmonella does not grow at 10F, listeria stops growing at 4F, and E. coli O157:H7 stops at 5F.