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Nothing compares to the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, of course, they also come with many health benefits. However, it’s essential to use care when choosing and preparing fresh produce to avoid illnesses that can result from contamination with bacteria. Keep these tips handy as you choose and prepare fresh produce items.Safety starts at the store. Taking precautions when purchasing your produce is an important first step in avoiding foodborne illness. Even when you’re in a hurry, take a moment to ensure that produce items are not bruised or damaged. Only choose pre-cut or bagged produce if it’s refrigerated. At the checkout line, make sure that your produce is in a bag that doesn’t contain raw meat or seafood.

Once you get your items home, proper storage helps keep it fresh and safe as long as possible. Keep all perishable, pre-cut and bagged produce in your refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Perishable items include mushrooms, lettuce and berries.

When you’re ready to dig in to those delicious fruits and vegetables, the most important steps are to wash your hands and then your produce properly and thoroughly. Whether you’re planning to cook your produce or eat it raw, washing it is essential. Even produce that you’re planning to peel should have a proper washing first.

Before washing, slice off any damaged areas. To minimize damage during washing, use water that’s only slightly warmer than the storage temperature, and do not use soap or any other detergent. For items such as berries that damage easily, use a sprayer or put the items in a colander over a pot full of water, gently moving the colander up and down and occasionally changing the water.

Using a scrub brush is only necessary for items with thick rinds, such as cucumbers and root vegetables. Some produce is covered with a wax coating for protection. These coatings are edible, but if you prefer to remove them, you can do so with a gentle brushing. Avoid soaking your produce in water. Using a paper towel to dry items that you’re not planning to cook can also minimize bacteria.

If possible, use separate cutting boards for produce and meats to avoid cross-contamination. Always clean your cutting boards after use with a mixture of water and bleach.Proper selection, storage and care of your fresh produce helps maximize its good taste and health benefits. Learn more about why your should consider fresh rather than frozen veggies for your next meal.

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