Keeping your salads safe from bacteria that cause foodborne illness

During warmer months, food can spoil quickly, so it is very important to handle all foods, including fresh produce like fruit and vegetable salads, safely to prevent potential foodborne illness. Since many meals are held outdoors in the spring and summer (think Memorial Day and July 4 barbecues), there is often a greater possibility of food contamination, especially in places away from home. (for example, the local park), where there is minimal access to cooling and washing facilities.

The following are helpful tips from the Food and Drug Administration to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from fresh produce.

• At the store, buy products that are not bruised or damaged. If you buy fresh cut produce, make sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

• At home, cool and refrigerate food right away. After purchase, put away items that need refrigeration quickly. Fresh whole products like bananas and potatoes do not need refrigeration. Fresh produce should be refrigerated within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut products should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.

• Wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water before and after handling fresh produce or raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

• Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables in cold tap water immediately before eating. Do not use soap or detergents. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean fruit and vegetable brush. Cut away bruised or damaged areas before eating.

• Wash surfaces frequently. Cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops should be washed with hot soapy water and sanitized after coming into contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Disinfect after use with a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 liter of water.

• Do not cross contaminate. Use clean cutting boards and utensils when handling fresh produce. Use a clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. During food preparation, wash cutting boards, utensils, or dishes that have come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Do not consume ice that has been in contact with raw products.

• Use a cooler with ice or ice packs when transporting or storing perishable foods outdoors, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

• Wash packaged salads before using. Don’t assume that because the food is prepackaged, it’s ready to eat!

• Even if you do not eat the rind of a fruit or vegetable, such as melons, it is important to wash them. Bacteria from the outer surface can be transferred to the inside of the fruit or vegetable when you cut them. Discard the outer leaves of leafy greens before washing.

Make sure you take the proper steps in caring for your food to prevent the risk of foodborne illness. I hope you have a safe and fun spring and summer.

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