Published on 05/20/98

Fresh Produce Safety Not That Complicated

Recent reports of unsafe levels of contaminants on fruits and vegetables have Americans looking more closely at fresh produce, especially imports.

"We used to not have to worry about bacteria on fruits and vegetables," said Judy Harrison, a University of Georgia Extension Service food safety scientist. "But we know now that we've had some outbreaks with unpasteurized juices and ciders."

Food scientists say the United States has the safest and most ample food supply in the world. Yet Americans are constantly looking for ways to make it even safer.

"We have calls from people who want to know if they need to wash produce in detergent, bleach or special rinses," Harrison said.

For most people, she said, the answer is no. "You actually can do more harm than good" by using such rinses, she said.

Making sure your fresh fruits and vegetables are safe isn't that complicated a matter, she said. Just wash them thoroughly in clean water. Remove and discard the outer leaves from green, leafy vegetables and wash one or two leaves at a time.

"You can peel other fruits and vegetables to eliminate surface bacterial contamination," Harrison said. "When you peel, however, you lose some of the fiber. So you're better off to just wash thoroughly using running tap water."

Name recognition also counts in the produce section.

"When you're choosing fruits and vegetables, try to choose those from a name-brand, reputable company," Harrison said. "They tend to have more strict control measures in place to insure the sanitation and safety of their foods."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.