We’ve all been cautioned to cook our foods to the proper temperatures and to not allow foods to sit out while we enjoy our summer picnics and activities, and for good reason.
There has been a growing number of foodborne illness breakouts associated with fresh produce in recent news and we need to be sure to handle raw foods correctly to avoid the bacterial growth that can cause sickness. The increased risk for contamination of our foods is due in part to the world wide range of sources for our food, especially produce. How the food is handled each step of the way, from grower, to grocer, to consumer, effects the potential for contamination.
Unlike foods that are cooked to temperatures that destroy bacteria, raw foods need special attention to assure that they are safe to eat. Here are tips to help you get it right:
Purchasing Your Fresh Foods:
1. Examine produce carefully before purchasing. Do not buy bruised or damaged fruit. This is important because bacteria may be present on the skin of the fruit. Damage allows the bacteria to penetrate more easily.
2. Make sure that any pre-cut items you purchase have been kept under refrigeration.
Preparing Yourself and Your Workspace:
1. Wash your hands before and after food handling. Be diligent with this and wash again whenever you are switching between handling something that needs washing and something you’ve already washed.
2. Keep cutting and preparation surfaces and utensils clean by washing with hot soapy water before and after use.
3. Keep raw and prepared ready to eat foods away from raw meats, seafood and poultry.
Preparing Your Fresh Foods:
1. Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under clean running water, including those with rinds. Do this only right before they are to be eaten to prevent mold growth that can occur during storage.
2. Melons: Rub with your hands under clean running water or scrub with a vegetable brush to remove bacteria from the outside of the melon. It is the friction of scrubbing that dislodges bacteria that could be spread into the melon when it is cut open.
3. Apples, cucumbers and skinned fruits and vegetables: Use a clean brush or rub under running water and dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.
4. Regular detergents or bleach should not be used to wash fresh produce.
5. Refrigerate or chill all cut, peeled or cooked produce within two hours of preparation to prevent bacterial growth.
6. Throw away scraps, bruised pieces and fruits or vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting.
One last tip: If you are picnicking or camping, keep your icebox or cooler packed with plenty of ice and out of direct sun. Keep drinks in a separate cooler that can be opened frequently while your food cooler stays closed and cold.
Have fun in the sun this season, and enjoy the bounty of fresh produce!