Fruit and Vegetable Safety

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on September 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 8, 2014

Fruit and Vegetable Safety

It’s important to eat five servings a day of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. However, you may not stay healthy if the produce is handled improperly. That’s why it’s important to learn how to clean and store fruits and veggies.

Cleaning Produce

Most produce travels long distances before it gets to you. Fruits and veggies may be exposed to contaminants during transport. This is true even if food is organic and does not contain pesticides.

Be sure to wash produce thoroughly with water before eating it. You don’t need to use soap or commercial produce washes. You can use a stiff, clean brush on firm vegetables. Your vegetable brush should not be used for other cleaning purposes.

It’s important to wash vegetables before eating. However, it’s best to store vegetables unwashed. Too much moisture can cause vegetables to go bad quickly.

If you are eating fruits or vegetables that are covered in a waxy coating, make sure to rub off the coating with a paper towel or cloth after washing.

Prewashed, bagged vegetables do not generally need additional cleaning.

Refrigeration

Different fruits and vegetables should be stored in different ways. According to the scientists at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Center, vegetables generally need one of four types of storage. These are:

  • cold (32-39 F), moist storage
  • cool (40-50 F), moist storage
  • cold, dry storage
  • warm (50-60 F), dry storage

Typically, a refrigerator should be kept at around 34 F. Vegetables are best stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator. This is the drawer or drawers located at the bottom of most refrigerators. Crispers usually have their own dedicated humidity controls. If possible, store vegetables at the temperature and humidity where they do best.

Produce that does best in high humidity and cool or cold temperatures includes:

  • apples
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • eggplant

Produce that does best in low humidity and cold temperatures includes:

  • garlic
  • onions

Produce that does best in warm, dry conditions includes:

  • hot peppers
  • pumpkins
  • winter squash
  • sweet potatoes

Any vegetable that has been washed and cut up should be refrigerated for safety. Store such vegetables in a plastic bag to preserve freshness and limit contact to the air. Make sure to separate vegetables from meat and dairy products to avoid possible contamination by bacteria.

Freezing

Almost all fruits and vegetables can also be stored in the freezer. This usually does not reduce health benefits or vitamin content. The freezer is a great way to store seasonal fruits or vegetables for later in the year.

It’s best to freeze fruits or vegetables in airtight containers. Avoid freezing produce if it’s not ripe. It may not ripen correctly when it comes out of the freezer.

Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, should not be frozen.

What Not to Refrigerate

Certain types of produce are best left out of the refrigerator. Instead, they should be stored in a cool, dry place. These include:

  • tomatoes
  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • lemons
  • limes

Tomatoes, in particular, are known lose flavor and nutrients if refrigerated. They also can develop an undesirable texture.

Whole fruit generally doesn’t need refrigeration. However, refrigeration arrests the ripening process. Refrigeration can be used to make fruits and berries last longer. 

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