ATTIC TO BASEMENT: Keep fresh produce safe |

CHRISTINE PATRICK

Spring has arrived and with it the start of the fresh produce season in South Carolina. No more cooking with frozen food, broccoli and strawberries, it will soon be perfect. Cooking and eating freshly harvested food is undoubtedly the tastiest and healthiest way to eat. However, along the path from field to fork, there may be opportunities for disease-causing pathogens to follow. Also, since there are no commercial processing steps designed to preserve and sterilize foods, more attention should be paid to safe handling.

These are several food safety measures that should be followed when handling fresh fruits and vegetables. Adhering to these tips will allow you to enjoy life in our southern state with its rich culture environment.

Buy fresh produce

You can buy fresh produce at a variety of places, including farmers markets, roadside stands, the grocery store, or harvesting from a home garden. Regardless of its provenance, the same basic handling procedures apply.

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• Choose fruits and vegetables that are unblemished and at the peak of their ripeness. Cuts or bruises can create entry routes for dangerous pathogens.

• Handle fruits and vegetables with care so that they are not damaged during harvesting, shopping or on the way home.

• Protect products from high heat during transport. For example, leaving cold produce in a hot car can quickly decrease quality and safety.

• Prevent cross-contamination while traveling between store and home by keeping food separate from other foods. In particular, meats and poultry.

home storage

Once home products can easily become dangerous if not stored properly.

• If possible. store without washing. Most products will retain the best quality if not washed before storage. Keep in mind that unwashed produce can spread pathogens to other foods, so store them in places and containers that won’t allow them to come into contact with other foods.

• Ensure refrigerated bins and counters are cleaned and disinfected before and after storage.

• Protect fruits and vegetables from cross-contamination with other refrigerated items (meat and poultry can be especially harmful).

• And for items stored on the counter or in a pantry, keeping the temperature below 90 degrees will help maintain the best quality and safety.

Preparing

One of the most important things to remember about fresh produce is that, in many cases, the produce will be prepared and served as “ready-to-eat” food. This means that you prepare and eat without cooking, so there is no longer any possibility of killing existing pathogens. These foods require special attention to safety when preparing and serving.

• Always work with clean and well-washed hands. A quick rinse under running water is not enough to destroy pathogens. Proper washing requires soap and warm running water and drying with paper towels.

• When washing products, be sure to work with only one product at a time. Use running water at medium temperature. Too hot or too cold can allow pathogens to be absorbed by food.

• Washing liquid and/or detergents are not necessary for washing fresh produce, but a clean, sanitized brush can be helpful when preparing items with hard exteriors. Cantaloupes and potatoes are good examples.

For more information, visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at http://hgic.clemson.edu.

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