November 26, 2008

Produce can harbor food pathogens

Eating fruits and vegetables is important to maintaining good health, but produce can harbor pathogens that can make people ill, U.S. officials say.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the most common food-borne diseases associated with produce are E. coli, norovirus and hepatitis A. Most people become sick by eating contaminated foods or beverages or by coming in contact with someone who has a food-borne illness. To safeguard against illness, the CDC advises:

-- Don't buy bruised or damaged produce.

-- When buying fresh-cut produce, choose only items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

-- Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms should be stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated within two hours.

-- Prepare produce with clean hands. Wash hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

-- Wash produce thoroughly. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush. All unpackaged fruits and vegetables, as well as those packaged and not marked pre-washed, should be thoroughly rinsed before eating.