How’s and Why’s of Washing Fresh Produce
Written by Cindy Rice, RS, CP-FS, MSPH Eastern Food Safety
Why is giving your fresh produce a thorough wash the way to go? Contrary to popular belief, most produce is not washed in the field before they get to your operation and there are risks of bacterial contamination from soil, water and even humans, that could cause illness if unchecked. Contamination may occur during growing, harvesting, processing, cooling, sorting, packing and transporting fresh produce. Actually, many of the largest outbreaks in recent years have come from fresh produce, including cut leafy greens, tomatoes and melons, making consumers and even some food establishments wary of these foods. This is unfortunate, given their health benefits.
According to FDA’s Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, “Washing fresh produce (also known as surface treatment) is an important step since most microbial contamination is on the surface of fruits and vegetables.”
These surface contaminants (e.g., from hands, fecal matter from birds, wildlife, soil or air) potentially end up on someone’s plate. Also, cutting fruits and vegetables can push these pathogens internally, which only cooking could destroy. Remember these tips from FDA:
- Fruits and vegetables should be washed with water or an EPA approved produce wash BEFORE cutting, peeling, serving to help remove dirt and pathogens
- Brushes can be helpful for cleaning items such as cantaloupes with crevices that trap dirt and microbes
- Different methods for washing may be used: spray or immersion, though spray washing could spread contaminants to surrounding areas if not careful
- A series of washes may be more effective than a single wash. For example, using an initial wash to remove the bulk of field soil from produce followed by additional washes and/or a sanitizing dip and a final fresh, clean water rinse
- Ensure adequate water quality so that produce is not contaminated during washing
Wash your fresh fruits and vegetables as a rule, and let them shine in all their glory.
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