We all know fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. However, fresh produce can become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during storage or preparation. You may have heard about recent outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated lettuce. It’s unfortunate, but these cases give us an opportunity to discuss ways we can reduce our risk for a foodborne illness.
Test your knowledge of food safety by taking our quiz based on guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and other resources.
True — You cannot wash off E. coli bacteria. If you have concerns about a fruit or vegetable being contaminated with E. coli, you should throw that food away.
True — The cold helps preserve the food’s quality and safety. For bagged salads, the FDA suggests you choose products that are labeled “pre-washed” or is “ready to eat.” Check “sell by” dates, and choose greens that show no signs of damage, spoilage, wetness, or slime on the leaves. The leaves should look dry and crisp. You can use these products without further washing. Just make sure they don’t contact unwashed produce before they’re used.
True — Refrigeration will help extend its safe shelf life. Keep your refrigerator between 34 and 40 degrees F. A thermometer can help keep your fridge in the best temperature range.
False — The FDA suggests you follow the 2-Hour Rule. Discard perishables left at room temperature for more than 2 hours unless you’re keeping the cold foods cold (with ice or a freezer pack) and hot foods hot (with a warming dish or tray). If the temperature is above 90 degrees, cold perishables that are not chilled should not be kept out longer than 1 hour.
False — It’s best to place produce and meats/poultry/seafood in separate bags to reduce the chances of cross contamination.
True — This will help you avoid cross contaminating your foods. Before using the cutting boards again, wash them in warm, soapy water.
False — You should wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before working with produce. Wash hands again after to avoid cross contamination of other foods you may prepare after.
Answer A is correct. Running water alone is a generally accepted effective way to wash produce. Research has shown that most commercial produce cleaners are no more effective than plain water. A brush can be used on produce that won’t be damaged by brushing.
Answer D is appropriate if you’d like an added measure of safety. Salt water, vinegar water and baking soda water have been found in some studies to be more effective than plain water in removing pesticides from some produce. Rinse your produce under plain water after using salt water, vinegar water or baking soda water.
Most produce, even organic, can come into your home with some pesticide residue. A primary goal of washing your produce is to get rid of these contaminants.
Take a moment to review our blog on 12 foods to eat organic and 15 safe non-organic foods. It lists foods that tend to be grown with higher and lower levels of pesticides.
You can get more useful information about washing your produce online.
9. True or False: If you plan to peel produce before eating, you don’t need to wash it first.
False — It’s important to wash produce such as cucumbers, avocados, melons, and mangos before peeling them. Otherwise, the knife can carry contaminants from the peel into the produce’s flesh. Use a clean produce brush that you only use for washing these types of foods.
Before you peel your produce, you should learn about the valuable nutrients many fruit and vegetable peels include. If you peel these fruits and veggies, you can lose a lot of nutrition!
10. Multiple choice: Some people are more likely to get sick from foodborne illness, so caution is especially important when preparing food for:
Answer D is correct. People in these groups are more susceptible to illnesses caused by food contamination.
So, how did you do on our produce safety quiz? If you aced it and practice what you know, you have a super safe kitchen. If you learned new things from a few of the questions, you passed! You also discovered new ways to make food even safer for your family.
Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health care provider.