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When it comes to fresh produce, food safety is important


Berries are in season and in their prime. However, before enjoying the wholesome summer snack, or any fresh produce this summer, be sure to follow good food safety to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria that could cause foodborne illness, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln food safety specialist said.

When it comes to berries, be sure to promptly refrigerate at 40 degrees or below, said Julie Albrecht, UNL Extension food safety specialist in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"Wash hands with warm water and soap before and after handling berries, and be sure to rinse berries under cool tap water just before preparing or eating," Albrecht said.

According to the Partnership for Food Safety Education, consumers can take six steps for safer fruits and vegetables

These include to check, clean, separate, cook, chill and throw away.

When at the store or local farmer's market, be sure to check that the fresh fruits and vegetables are not bruised or damaged, Albrecht said.

"Check that fresh cut fruits and vegetables like packaged salads and precut melons are refrigerated before buying. Do not buy fresh cut items that are not refrigerated," she said.

Harmful bacteria may be in the soil or water where produce grows and may come in contact with fruits and vegetables and contaminate them. Fresh produce also can become contaminated after it is harvested or during preparation or storage.

Eating this contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

Also, be sure to separate fruits and vegetables from household chemicals and raw foods such as meat and poultry. Also keep them away from these things in the home.

At home after purchasing fruit and vegetables, be sure to wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling, Albrecht said. Also, be sure to clean all surfaces and utensils.

"Rinse fruit and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds," Albrecht said.

Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled "ready-to-eat" or "washed" or "triple washed" need not be washed again.

If vegetables do touch raw meat, poultry or seafood or their juices, be sure to cook them right away or throw them away, Albrecht said.

"After cutting, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables, but sure to refrigerate them within two hours," she said.

If fruits and vegetables have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking, be sure to throw them away.

Also, throw away bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables when preparing to cook or eat them raw, she said.

"And, remember, when in doubt, throw it out," Albrecht said.

For more information about safe handling practices for produce, visit these publications, UNL Extension NebGuide G1901, Safe Handling Practices for Fresh Produce in Foodservice Operations, available at a local extension office or online at http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/sendIt/g1901.pdf, or Safe Fresh Produce at Home available online at http://www.eatright.org/ada/files/FoodSafetyHOMEFinal.pdf.

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