Tips for food safety: check, clean and rinse

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
Food and Nutrition

Darice/Flickr

September is National Food Safety Month, so this is a great time to remind you of some basics.

We always need to practice food safety rules when preparing all food. A new way to think about food safety is from the concept of MyPlate since that is the healthy way to eat. Remember, with MyPlate and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, half of your plate should be vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits should be getting more space on your plate than any other food group, so this is all the more reason to handle them safely to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. 

The basic rules I always teach are cool, cook, clean and separate. When you are practicing food safety you want to “Fight Bac!” like a produce pro. So you want to learn to check, clean, rinse, separate, chill and throw away. Learning to handle produce safely helps maximize the health benefits of your meals.

Check.

Fresh vegetables and fruits you buy should not be bruised or damaged. When choosing pre-cut vegetables and fruits, check that the product is refrigerated or on ice. The science behind this rule is that bruising or cuts make a piece of vegetable or fruit more susceptible to growth of microbes that can cause illness. But remember, you cannot see, smell, or taste the microbes that can cause a foodborne illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of 40 degrees to 140 degrees, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is what we call the “Danger Zone.”

Clean.

Pathogens from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Pathogens can multiply rapidly under certain conditions and make people sick.

Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control recommends hand-washing practice to reduce illnesses and the spread of infections.

Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap, including cutting boards and knives, before and after preparing fresh vegetables and fruits. Researchers have found cleaning cutting boards and utensils will help prevent cross-contamination.

Rinse.

From my science background, “rinse” makes so much more sense than the old term, “wash.” Wash encouraged people to soak, use soap and do other stuff to vegetables and fruits that they should not do.

Just before use, under running water rinse only the produce you plan to eat, including those with skins or rinds that are not eaten. Firm-skinned fruits and vegetables should be rubbed by hand or scrubbed with a clean brush while rinsing under running tap water.

Do not use soap or bleach to wash fresh vegetables or fruits. These products are not intended for consumption. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel. Researchers found running water was just as effective as any veggie washes, vinegar solutions or detergents in getting rid of microbial loads.

The science behind “rinse” is that researchers have found that when cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelons were scrubbed with a clean brush under running water, optimal microbial removal was achieved. It is also recommended that consumers clean and sanitize brushes to prevent possible cross-contamination. Bleach water or the dishwasher is a good way to sanitize brushes and cutting boards.

Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple-washed” should not be washed. A panel of scientists with expertise in microbial safety of fresh produce concluded additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety and may increase the potential for cross-contamination.

Next week, I will continue with separate, chill and throw away.

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