Cleanliness Is So Important Right Now—Here's How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly

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As the world battles the COVID-19 global pandemic, practicing proper food safety and handling protocol is vital. Though the FDA says that there is no evidence of food or its packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19, approximately 48 million (one in six) people are sickened by contaminated food each year. Although it's common knowledge that one must thoroughly wash hands and surfaces after handling poultry or meat, most don’t realize that washing produce is equally important to avoid cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses. 

Learn how to keep your family safe with these simple steps to ensure your fruits and vegetables are as clean as possible before you consume them during this time of extra caution and cleanliness.

1. Practice the Four Key Steps of Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill

You should always practice these four easy food safety steps to ensure your food is as safe for consumption as possible.

  1. When preparing food, it is extremely important to always wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before AND after handling fresh produce.
  2. Make sure to sanitize your workstation, knives, tools, and cutting board before you begin cooking. Additionally, separate produce, poultry, meat, seafood, and eggs while you cook to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. In order to kill viruses and bacteria, cook food to the appropriate internal temperature and make sure to keep food out of the temperature danger zone (40° – 140°F) for long periods of time. 
  4. Refrigerate and freeze food properly within two hours to prevent potentially harmful pathogen growth. 

2. Inspect Your Produce for Damage

Inspect your fruits and veggies at the store and purchase items that are not visibly bruised or damaged. If you notice physical dents and dings once home, simply cut away any bruised or torn areas. Additionally, it is important to remove and discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage to reduce contamination risk. Lastly, make sure to throw away and never consume any produce that looks rotten.

3. Rinse Produce Before You Start Chopping

Make sure to wash your produce thoroughly under cool running water BEFORE eating or preparing. It is important to rinse before (even if you don’t plan on eating the skin) to avoid transferring dirt or bacteria onto your knife, the flesh of the produce or your work surface. The FDA does not recommend washing your fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent nor commercial produce wash, as it may leave additional residue. However, you may want to use a clean produce brush to scrub firm crops like melons and cucumbers. 

4. Follow Marion Nestle’s Expert Advice

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health, emerita, at New York University and author of Food Politics, suggests that to be “100 percent safe while eating fresh produce” during the COVID-19 epidemic, “follow the P rules and only eat foods that are: piping hot, peeled, purified, and packaged.”

This means that you should consume food that is heated at sufficiently hot temperatures to help destroy microorganisms and other viruses, opt for peelable fruits and vegetables (as long as you wash your hands before and after), ensure that your cooked food is not recontaminated and remains purified before consumption, and purchase packaged foods (packed, frozen, or dried) whenever possible to avoid contamination.

“If you have fresh produce, wash it," Nestle warns. "When in doubt, cook it to be on the safe side.” She believes that “washing well in water” is key but urges to err on the side of extreme caution.

5. Dry Your Produce With Clean Towels

After washing, avoid recontaminating your food and dry with a clean cloth towel or disposable paper towel to further reduce the risk of bacterial or viral transmission from a dirty surface onto your ready-to-eat fruit or veggie. 

6. Store Your Clean Produce in a Safe Place

Now that you’ve successfully cleaned your produce, make sure to store or refrigerate pre-cut items at 40°F or below if you’re not going to eat them right away, and same goes for fruits and veggies that require refrigeration (find them here). Lastly, make sure your clean produce is not at risk for recontamination and wash again if you suspect it has been re-exposed to harmful pathogens before eating.

This article originally appeared on Real Simple. 

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