Fruit and vegetable safety

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a well-balanced diet. The United States Department of Agriculture advises diners to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies at every meal. Adult women should eat about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day. Adult men should eat about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk of many health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and certain kinds of cancers. But if they’re not handled properly, fruits and veggies can also become a source of food-borne pathogens. For example, they can become contaminated with listeria, salmonella, or other bacteria. Their taste, texture, and appearance can also suffer if they’re not stored properly.

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to clean and store fruits and veggies.

Most produce travels long distances before it gets to you. Fruits and veggies may be exposed to harmful bacteria or other contaminants along the way. This is true for food that’s organic and pesticide-free, as well as conventional produce. Even food that looks and tastes appealing may be contaminated.

To avoid harmful contaminants, always wash produce before you eat it. You don’t need to use soap or commercial produce washes to do it. You can simply use water. A stiff, clean brush can help you clean firm fruits and vegetables. Don’t use the brush for other cleaning purposes. If you’re eating fruits or veggies that are covered in a waxy coating, rub the coating off with a paper towel or cloth after you wash them.

While it’s important to wash produce before you eat it, it’s best to store it unwashed. Too much moisture can cause fruits and vegetables to go bad quickly. Wait until you’re ready to eat them before you wash them. If you need to wash them ahead of time, dry them thoroughly before you store them.

Prewashed, bagged vegetables don’t generally need additional cleaning.

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

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

Typically, your refrigerator should be kept at around 34°F. Vegetables are best stored in the crisper section of your refrigerator. This section consists of 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 cold, moist storage includes:

  • apples
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • eggplant

Produce that does best in cold, dry storage includes:

  • garlic
  • onions

Produce that does best in warm, dry conditions includes:

  • hot peppers
  • pumpkins
  • winter squash
  • sweet potatoes

For safety reasons, you should refrigerate or freeze any fruit or vegetable that’s been washed and cut. Store washed and cut produce in a plastic bag or sealed container to preserve its freshness and limit its contact with air.

Always store fruits and vegetables separately from raw meat and dairy products to avoid possible contamination with bacteria.

Almost all fruits and vegetables can be stored in your freezer. Freezing can change the texture of many fruits and vegetables, but it generally preserves their taste, nutrients, and health benefits. It’s a great way to store seasonal fruits or vegetables for use later in the year, especially if you’re planning to eat them cooked or blended into smoothies.

It’s best to freeze fruits and vegetables in airtight containers. Avoid freezing produce that isn’t ripe yet. It may not ripen correctly when you take it out of the freezer.

Leafy greens that you plan to eat raw, such as lettuce, shouldn’t be frozen.

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

  • tomatoes
  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • lemons
  • limes

In particular, tomatoes may lose flavor and nutrients when you refrigerate them. They can also develop an undesirable texture.

Whole fruits generally don’t need to be refrigerated. However, refrigeration slows down their ripening process. Refrigerating them can help them stay fresh for longer. Once you wash and cut fruit, you should always store it in your refrigerator or freezer.