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For Release:  April 29, 2008
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Health Officials Encourage Safe Handling of Fresh Produce

As local grocery stores and farmers markets stock up on a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables during the spring and summer months, the Oklahoma State Department of Health urges consumers to remember to follow safe handling procedures of fresh produce to protect themselves and their families from the risk of food-related illness.

It is especially important to remember the role of safe food handling of fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw.  Germs that can cause illness may have been in the soil or water where the produce was grown. Fresh produce may also become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during handling or storage. 

The following recommendations for safe produce handling will help reduce the risk of food-related illness:

Buying tips:

• Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
• When selecting fresh cut produce such as a half watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens, choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
• Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.

Storage tips:

• Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) can be best maintained by storing in a refrigerator at a temperature of 40 º F or below. If you’re not sure whether an item should be refrigerated to maintain quality, ask your grocer.
• Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry or seafood in your refrigerator.
• All produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated to maintain both quality and safety.

Preparation tips:

• Always begin with clean hands. Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
• Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded. 
• All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating, cutting, or cooking. This includes produce grown at home, purchased from a grocery store, or farmer’s market. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Precut or prewashed produce in open bags should also be washed before using.
• Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
• Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush to prevent introducing germs while slicing.
• Use separate kitchen utensils for preparing fruits and vegetables than those used for other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood.
Fruit and Vegetable Juice Safety:

Most of the juices sold in the grocery stores are pasteurized to kill harmful germs. When fruits and vegetables are fresh-squeezed and left untreated, germs from the inside or the outside of the produce may become a part of the finished juice product. Some health food stores, cider mills, and farm markets sell containers of juice that have not been pasteurized, therefore possibly containing germs that could cause illness. To prevent illness, individuals should drink only juices that have been pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill harmful germs. 

Follow this link for more information on Foodborne Illness.

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