Why is Washing Fresh Produce So Important?
Fresh produce contains a wide array of nutrients that are vital to your wellbeing, helping to protect you from heart disease, stroke, and even certain cancers. However, raw fruits and vegetables can also sometimes carry harmful germs, such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. These and other germs are responsible for the 48 million cases of food poisoning in the U.S. every year, producing symptoms that range from mild to severe. In fact, according to the CDC, a significant percentage of these foodborne illnesses are specifically caused by fresh produce – so what can you do to reduce your risk?
Properly selecting and cleaning fruits and vegetables is a simple, straightforward way to ensure that you’re enjoying the maximum benefits without risking getting sick. There’s no reason that you have to miss out on the wealth of nutrients and delicious flavors offered by vegetables and fruits, especially when correctly cleaning produce can be quick and easy.
Most people are aware that animal products, such as meats and dairy, require special handling to avoid illness. However, a surprising number of Americans don’t realize that fresh produce can also be contaminated in various ways:
When fruits and vegetables are in their growing stages, they can become contaminated by toxic substances in the water or soil, animals, and even the poor hygiene habits of workers.
- During and after harvest, produce is handled by many different people, raising the risk of contamination.
- At the grocery store, various employees and customers may touch the produce, again increasing the risk for potential contamination.
- Even after you bring produce home, you can accidentally contaminate it through improper storage or during food prep.
While it’s easy to feel concerned about the myriad of ways that your produce can become contaminated, there’s no need to be overly worried. As long as you’re following the right steps for cleaning and storing produce, you can be confident that you’re reducing your chances of foodborne illness significantly.
Here are our top tips for selecting, cleaning, and caring for fresh produce and other raw foods, so you can make the most of everything that your favorite fruits and veggies have to offer.
First and foremost, knowing what to look for when buying fresh produce is key. Avoid items that are damaged, including visible bruising or cuts. If you’re shopping for pre-cut produce, like bagged lettuce or sliced fruit, make sure it’s either refrigerated or on ice at the store. Keep in mind that while shopping, organic is an excellent way to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other unwanted chemicals, and washing organic produce is still necessary.
As you’re filling your shopping cart and grocery bags, make an effort to keep produce separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These items can introduce even more contaminants to your fruits and vegetables, so it’s best to keep them apart as much as possible.
It’s important to shop at a retailer that pays careful attention to the quality of produce available for purchase because that can have a major effect on your shopping experience. For example, Gelson’s is dedicated to offering only the best in farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, ensuring that you have an excellent selection every time you visit us in-store or shop online.
You might be tempted to take a bite out of a tasty apple or crunchy carrot you brought home from the store – but wait! Washing your fruits and veggies is a step that you never want to skip unless you’re eating bagged produce that’s clearly labeled as pre-washed.
Before you eat, cut, or cook fruits and veggies, take these simple steps to correctly clean them:
Wash fruits and vegetables under cool running water, including peels that you aren’t going to eat (germs on the peel can contaminate the fruit or vegetable when you cut them). Use a produce brush to scrub firm produce, such as cucumbers, cantaloupes, and potatoes. Soap or produce-specific washes are not necessary.
Carefully remove any bruised or damaged areas.
Using a clean paper towel, dry the fruits and vegetables.
Before and after preparing produce, you should also be washing your hands, food prep surfaces (such as counters and cutting boards), and utensils.
Washing fruits and vegetables is an important part of avoiding foodborne illnesses, but so is proper care and storage. Fruits and vegetables should always be stored separately from raw animal products, including meats, poultry, and seafood. If you’re keeping raw foods in the fridge, arrange them so that potential leaks or drips are minimized. For example, uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood should never be stored over produce or other foods.
If you’ve cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and veggies, you can leave them out of the fridge for up to two hours (one hour if it is 90 degrees or warmer outside). At that point, food enters a “danger zone” that allows germs to grow and multiply. Ideally, place prepared produce in the fridge as soon as possible, checking that the temperature is 40 degrees or cooler.
Cleaning, preparing, and storing fruits and veggies is important – but so is starting with produce that’s grown, harvested, and selected according to an excellent standard of quality. Gelson’s Supermarkets are committed to working closely with our farming partners to ensure that we provide our customers with the best selection of produce in Southern California, making it easy to stock up on delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables. Plus, our friendly team is always here to offer tips and tricks for making the most of whatever is in your cart, whether you’re shopping for produce, meats and seafood, or pantry basics.
Make an investment in your health and wellness by shopping for farm-fresh fruits and veggies from your neighborhood Gelson’s Supermarket today.