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What's the Best Way to Keep Produce Safe? A Quiz

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.


  1. True or False: If a food is contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli, you cannot wash the bacteria away to make the food safe to eat.

    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.


  2. True or False: When you buy pre-cut or bagged produce such as bagged salad greens or sliced watermelon you should choose packages that are refrigerated or displayed surrounded by ice.

    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.


  3. True or False: You should refrigerate all pre-cut produce that you buy.

    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.


  4. True or False: It’s OK to store sliced fresh fruits (such as sliced watermelon, grapes and berries) on the counter at room temperature for up to 6 hours.

    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.


  5. True or False: At the grocery story, it’s fine to put your fruits and veggies in the same bag as your meat, poultry and seafood. It’s all going to the same place eventually anyway.

    False — It’s best to place produce and meats/poultry/seafood in separate bags to reduce the chances of cross contamination.


  6. True or False: You should use different cutting boards for raw produce and raw meat, poultry and seafood.

    True — This will help you avoid cross contaminating your foods. Before using the cutting boards again, wash them in warm, soapy water.


  7. True or False: When doing food prep, you don’t need to wash your hands before working with produce. They’ll get clean when you wash your produce.

    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.


  8. Multiple choiceWhen you wash your produce, what’s best to use?
  1. Running water. Use a brush for produce with a skin.
  2. A bleach product.
  3. Whatever dish soap you normally use.
  4. Salt water, vinegar water or baking soda water.


    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:

  1. Young children and older adults.
  2. People with weakened immune systems.
  3. Pregnant women.
  4. All of the above.

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.

For bonus points on food safety, read our blog about how to enjoy safe summer picnics! And check the Aurora blog’s Recipes and Nutrition section for more helpful content.  

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health care provider.

Meet the Author

Kristen Bennington, RD, CD is a registered dietitian at Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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