Published on 07/02/09

Clean produce before enjoying

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

It’s fresh produce time in Georgia. Before you take a bite of a sweet, juicy cantaloupe or homegrown tomato or any other fruit or vegetable, don’t forget to thoroughly wash them first, says a University of Georgia food expert.

Washing produce won’t guarantee that it’s pathogen-free, but it will help, says Elizabeth Andress, a UGA Extension food safety specialist.

Rub under running water

The best way to clean produce at home is to simply rub it while running fresh water over it, she said.

Soaking the produce in a weak chlorine solution will reduce bacteria, too, but it won’t get it all if it is contaminated, she said.

Don’t soak produce for more than one minute in a chlorine solution. After the chlorine bath, rub it under fresh water.

Don't soak long

“Dirt or any kind of organic material that the vegetables add to the solution will use up available chlorine before any free chlorine can sanitize,” she said. “Free chlorine will bind with organic material first, and it's only what is left over that will be available to kill microorganisms.”

Cleaning the surface of vegetables like cantaloupes can be difficult because of the natural nooks and crannies. Bacteria can hide there, and they can get in the openings for respiration on the surface of leaves or inside stem scars, Andress said.

Follow these tips

To reduce health risks from contamination:

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

• Wash all produce before eating.

• Don’t use soap, detergent or commercial produce washes.

• Remove damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables. Throw rotten-looking produce away.

• Wash produce even if you plan to peel it.

• Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.

• Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.