So you say you’re a fruit lover and you can’t get enough of fresh vegetables. If so, we all know you’re probably winning extra years on your health and your life when it comes to good eating, but are you careful about how you prepare the produce you know and love? On NBC’s “Today” show, in part two of a special five-part series on food safety, Leslie Bonci, a nutritionist with the American Dietetic Association and director of sports nutrition for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, offers some advice to help you prepare your produce safely. Read her tips below.
LIKE WITH POULTRY, any dangers that exist with produce can be avoided with proper food preparation tactics in the home — most importantly, good cleaning techniques. You need not worry about pesticides or chemicals, if you properly rinse the product before consuming it.
The other way to avoid any possible chemical danger if you’re still worried, is to simply avoid eating an overabundance of one type of food. Vary your selection as much as possible.
DANGERS: Produce products are at risk from three basic places:
-Contamination from the soil it was grown in
-Contamination from water it was rinsed in during processing
-Pesticides used in production
IN VS. OUT OF SEASON: When it comes to produce, there is very little that is seasonal anymore. Our food supply is becoming increasingly global. We have a wide array of foods available to us year-round because of our ability to import from all over the world.
Problem: Other countries may not have the same safety standards that we do, and the farther food has to go from the farm to the store, the more sets of hands it has to pass through and the more chance of contamination along the way.
Advice: It is much safer to buy in season. It’s okay to buy things like berries or peaches in the winter, just take special care if and when you do.
CHOOSING YOUR PRODUCE: Should you get your produce at a farmer’s market or supermarket? It really doesn’t matter. What’s most important when shopping for produce is that it has been kept cool, and is replenished often.
If you do go to a farmer’s market — go early! Otherwise the produce may have been sitting out there all day long.
If you go to the supermarket don’t be afraid to ask if the store has more produce in the back, if you don’t like the look of what’s out there. The misting sprays are good, but just take a few extra minutes to make sure that the constant mist didn’t do any damage to produce that may have been sitting out a while.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Buy loose produce rather than packaged. You have more control that way.
Avoid any signs of mold. Don’t buy more than you’re going to use —it doesn’t last that long.
HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP PRODUCE IN THE HOME? Raw fruits and vegetables can last up to a week in your refrigerator. It is okay to store some types out on the table or counter, but it will keep better in the refrigerator. Obviously some produce is more perishable than others (for example: melon, grapes, berries), so just be aware.
Throw cooked produce away after three to four days.
CLEANING: Rinse all produce products (even those with rinds or peels.) If you cut through the rind of unwashed produce, you risk contaminating the inside.
Rinse under cold water for at least 20 seconds, and use a nailbrush on things like carrots, zucchini or squash. With something like lettuce remove the entire outer layer.
It is also worth mentioning again that separate cutting boards should be used for produce and meat products.
JUICES: There is no safety difference between frozen or fresh juices. The thing to be aware of when it comes to juice is to make sure it is pasteurized (which most are). Apple juice or apple cider is really the only thing that could come un-pasteurized. If you buy it, heat it to 160 degrees before drinking.
Two specific issues you should be aware of:
Alfalfa Sprouts: Raw alfalfa sprouts have been linked to E.coli. If you are going to buy them:
-Make sure the buds are attached.
-Make sure to rinse under cold water.
-Whenever possible cook them first.
Baked Potatoes: Cooking a baked potato in foil causes moisture to build up which can then harbor harmful bacteria. Don’t panic though. It’s still okay to cook a potato this way, but you should either eat it or refrigerate it right away — do not let it sit around.