Agriculture & Livestock: Keeping food safe

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Diane Prather

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide nutrients that are an important part of our diets.

Even when winter sets in, and there are no gardens or produce markets, we still find a wide variety of fresh produce at local grocery stores.

What a lot of ways we can prepare fresh fruit and vegetable dishes.

The first concern, however, should be food safety.

Since chemical residues and microorganisms such as bacteria and microorganisms can be found on fresh produce, steps should be taken to clean fresh fruits and vegetables.

First, outer leaves should be removed. Leaves that are wilted, bruised or yellowed should also be removed. Stems that are dried or become tough should be cut off.

According to Home and Garden Bulletin No. 41, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and vegetables with tight leaves or flower buds, should be soaked in a cold salt water solution for 30 minutes to an hour, This will help remove insects that are hard to remove by washing alone.

I’ve had experience with removal of insects in broccoli.

One summer, some years ago, I was preparing to freeze broccoli. I thought I had washed the vegetable thoroughly, but when I put the broccoli in the boiling water to blanch it, insects floated to the top of the kettle.

Needless to say, I tossed out the broccoli.

Contact your Colorado State University Extension for further information about cleaning broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

When washing vegetables, use plenty of water and lift vegetables out of the water, rather than pouring the water off the vegetables. That’s so the “grit” and other residues that settle in the bottom of the washing container aren’t poured back over the vegetables.

“Guide to Washing Fresh Produce” No. 9.380, a Colorado State University Extension bulletin, written by A. Zander and M. Bunning, suggests additional ways to wash fresh produce.

To wash leafy green vegetables, the bulletin suggests immersing the leaves in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to help loosen sand and dirt.

Adding vinegar to the water (1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar per 1 cup of water) followed by a clean water rinse has been shown to reduce bacterial contamination.

However, this may affect texture and taste. After washing, blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

Wash apples, cucumbers and other firm produce well, and peel to remove the waxy preservative.

Peel potatoes, carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, or clean them well with a firm scrub brush under lukewarm running water.

Soft fruits such as peaches and plums should be washed under running water and dried with a paper towel. Grapes, cherries, and berries should be stored unwashed until ready for use. However, these fruits should be checked for spoiled or moldy fruit before storing. This will prevent the spread of spoilage organisms.

When ready to use, wash grapes, cherries or berries gently under running water.

Dirt can be cleaned from mushrooms by using a soft brush or wet paper towel.

Rinse herbs by dipping and swishing in a bowl of cool water and then dry with paper towels. When washing hot peppers, wear gloves and keep your hands away from your eyes and face.

The rough, netted surfaces of some types of melons provide an excellent environment for microorganisms that can be transferred to the interior surfaces during cutting. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, it is recommended that melons be washed thoroughly under water with a vegetable brush before peeling or slicing.

Colorado State University Extension recommends the following tips for safe handling and preparation of cantaloupe.

First, cantaloupes are grown in close contact with the ground, which may occasionally introduce bacterial contamination from soil, water or animals. Contamination from human contact may also occur during or after harvest.

Keeping this in mind, always wash hands and utensils before and after handling melons.

Wash the outside of the melon with a clean vegetable brush, holding the melon under cool running water. Blot dry with clean paper towels.

Place the washed melon on a clean cutting board. Cut about 1 inch off the stem end. Position the melon on the cutting board with the cut end facing down.

With a clean knife, slice the melon vertically in half. Wash the knife. Scrape out the seeds with a clean spoon. Continue to cut into slices as desired.

Refrigerate cut cantaloupe at 41 degrees or below. Discard cut melon if kept at room temperature more than four hours.

For more information about safe handling and preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables, contact your local Colorado State University Extension Office.

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