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7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits and Vegetables

Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent spoilage, many don't realize that fruits and veggies can also be the culprits in outbreaks of foodborne illness. Because cooking food kills harmful bacteria, raw veggies and fruits carry the biggest risk of contamination.

Last year, the United States had several large outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables-- including spinach, tomatoes, and peppers.

Safely preparing produce before eating is an important way to prevent foodborne illness. Choose produce that isn't bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items -- such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices -- are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition, follow these recommendations:

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  2. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing and eating.
  3. Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There's no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  4. Wash produce BEFORE you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren't transferred from the knife on to the fruit or veggie.
  5. Use a vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  6. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  7. Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

You should also store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below.

The USDA also warns consumers to steer clear of raw sprouts because of the risk of bacterial contamination, or to cook sprouts before eating.