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Are You Taking Steps to Ensure Safe Fruits and Vegetables in Your Kitchen?

food safety, Food Safety Modernization Act, steps to keep fruits and vegetables safe

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Lately, you might have heard or read about a recall of cucumbers imported from Mexico that reached various U.S. restaurants and retail stores.

Certain strains of bacteria can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and fever, and the symptoms may appear within three days of eating the food. It is especially hazardous to young children, older adults and people with a compromised immune system.

Adults, on average, need about 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables to meet the daily recommendation. Eating more fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of getting chronic diseases such as cancer or heart disease.

However, we need to handle fruits and vegetables safely so we get the benefits without the flulike or worse symptoms.

How do "germs" get on the vegetables or fruits, anyway? Harmful bacteria can be in the soil or in the water used to water the produce. Bacteria and other organisms can hitch a ride on equipment such as knives, on produce-handlers' hands or the packing containers used to ship the vegetables.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011 to help ensure food safety. Some businesses will have to be compliant with the updated approach beginning in 2016. However, no matter what growers and food processors do, consumers also have a major responsibility in keeping food safe for themselves, their families and friends.

Even if the growers and processors do all the right steps, contamination can happen in your grocery cart, in your car or in your refrigerator.

The Food and Drug Administration has provided several tips for keeping fruits and vegetables safe, which I have arranged into questions for you to ask yourself. If you answer "yes" to these questions, you are taking steps to keep fruits and vegetables safe.

  • At the grocery store, do you separate fresh produce from fresh meat, seafood or poultry? Juices from meat can contaminate your produce.
  • At home, is your refrigerator set to maintain your food at 40 degrees or below?
  • At home, do you keep precut produce in the refrigerator? Precut produce is perishable. Whole fruit, such as apples, are safe in a bowl on your counter.
  • Do you always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before beginning food preparation? Hand washing plays a valuable role in keeping you healthy, too.
  • When preparing food, do you take steps to avoid cross-contamination? Be sure that you wash cutting boards and knives thoroughly
  • Do you eat prewashed salad greens right out of the bag? If you answered "yes," that's OK. If the package says the lettuce or other food is "ready to eat," you do not need to rewash it. If you prefer to rewash, remember to avoid cross- contamination. In fact, have a good-sized portion of salad because dark green, leafy vegetables are healthful foods.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

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