If you’re trying to stay safe from listeria, you can avoid unpasteurized dairy products, and you can cook meat to 160 degrees.
But keeping raw fruits and vegetables in your diet and free of the dangerous bacteria responsible for hospitalizing three Central New York women in the last two weeks requires some know-how.
Most of us don’t associate pathogens such as listeria monocytogenes with produce, but the threat is real, says Kathy Dischner, a registered dietitian and nutrition and food safety program leader from Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Is simply rinsing an apple or squash under running water adequate?
“It can wash off any surface bacteria, and that’s pretty much where it’s going to be on produce,” she says.
Here are the best practices, from Dischner and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:
1. Seek fruits and vegetables that are not bruised or damaged, or cut away any damaged areas, since that’s where bacteria thrive.
2. Refrigerate fresh produce that’s been peeled or cut.
3. Wash fruits and vegetables immediately before preparing them, to help prevent spoilage or mold growth during storage.
4. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before you prepare fruits and vegetables.
5. Wash and sanitize all countertops, cutting boards, knives and brushes with a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.
6. Wash the sink with hot, soapy water, then sanitize it with the bleach solution.
7. Do not soak fruits and vegetables in water, and do not use detergents, soaps or bleach, since that could change flavor and could be poisonous. If you want to use more than water, add a drop or two of lemon juice or vinegar.
8. Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if their skin or rind won’t be eaten. This helps prevent organisms from being transferred when the fruit or vegetable is cut or peeled.
9. Use a firm brush to scrub firm produce, such as potatoes and melons.
10. Gently rub soft fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and plums, to loosen any dirt.
11. Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage before washing the heads.
12. For berries, parsley and greens, use a clean colander and spray them with a kitchen sink sprayer. Gently turn and shake the colander as you wash the produce.