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Safety of Garden Produce

Safety of Garden (and Fresh) Produce

Spring and early summer have home gardeners anxious to begin planting, and grocery stores begin to fill with fresh fruits and vegetables from all corners of the globe. Harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows (at home or abroad) may come in contact with the fruits and vegetables and contaminate them. Or, fresh produce may become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during preparation or storage. Eating contaminated produce (or fruit and vegetable juices made from contaminated produce) can lead to foodborne illness, which can cause serious - and sometimes fatal - infections. However, it's easy to help protect yourself and your family from illness by following these steps for growing and serving produce.

Always Wash Fresh Produce!

- All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.

- Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended. Do not use bleach. Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

- What about pre-washed produce? Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. Current evidence suggests that pre-washed, bagged produce can usually be used without further washing. As an extra measure of caution, you can wash the produce again just before you use it. Precut or pre-washed produce in open bags should be washed before using.

Home Gardening and Food Safety

Applying animal or plant waste material to the soil in your home garden can help to improve the soil, but unless this waste material is properly handled it can also carry the risk of contaminating produce. Some excellent resources to help keep your garden produce safe include:

• Home Composting 101 : Reap a heap of benefits. Make the most of your composting efforts and ensure that what you are doing is safe.

Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens (PDF | Feb. 2009)

Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens (WORD | Feb. 2009)

• Safely Using Manure in the Home Garden : Recent research results support safe ways for using manure in the home garden.

• Using Composted Livestock Manure Safely in the Home Garden : Washington State University Extension service provides tips on using composted livestock waste in the home garden.

Buying Tips for Fresh ProduceText Box: Separate for Safety  Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood - and from kitchen utensils used for those products. In addition, be sure to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked. For added protection, kitchen sanitizers can be used on cutting boards and counter tops periodically. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.

If you are buying fresh produce at the grocery store, you can help keep produce safe by making wise buying decisions. grocery bag full of produce

•  Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.

•  When selecting fresh-cut produce - such as a half a watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens - choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

•  Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products when packing them to take home from the market.

A resource in this area is Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables [English] [Spanish]

Storage Tips for Fresh Produce

Whether produce is harvested from the garden, or purchased at a grocery or farm market, there are certain things that you can do to maintain both safety and quality.

•  Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) can be best maintained by storing in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.

•  All produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated to maintain both quality and safety.

•  Other produce such as uncut tomatoes, bananas, potatoes and onions are best stored at cool room temperature.

•  Produce should not be washed before store as excess water will encourage the growth of spoilage bacteria.

•  A new UWEX publication, Storing Fruits and Vegetables
from the Home Garden A3823
, offers tips on maintaining quality of harvested produce.

Safe handling of produce is very important. Several fact sheets offer tips on food safety of various fruits and vegetables.