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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Green Is For Fresh Vegetables

Green Is For Fresh Vegetables

In recent years, there has been an increase in the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits and increase in the number of illness outbreaks associated with fresh produce. The "Food Pyramid" recommends that one consume FIVE servings of vegetables and fruits daily.

Since the fresh produce does not receive processing treatments that are used to destroy harmful pathogens, emphasis must be placed on prevention as opposed to elimination to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Although all types of foodborne pathogens may be transmitted in fresh produce, the pathogens of greatest concern are considered enteric bacteria. The presence of enteric bacteria on fresh produce is due to contamination occurring from a variety of sources. These sources are primarily soil, water, the farm worker, animals and the food handler.

The following advice should be considered when it comes to fresh produce.

  • Before cooking or serving fresh produce, wash them thoroughly with cool running water to remove soil and bacteria. Washing also will remove chemical residues in the unlikely event any are present.
  • Break apart vegetables that have tight heads such as cauliflower and broccoli before washing.
  • Do not soak produce items. Rinse with running water or lift in and out of clean water. It also avoids the loss of water-soluble nutrients. Do not use soapy water to wash fresh produce. Soap leaves a residue on the produce.
  • Root crops, such as carrots and potatoes should be scrubbed especially if the vegetable is served with its peel.
  • Remove the outer leaves and discard for leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce. Wash the heads and drain properly.
  • Donít forget to use clean utensils and cutting board when preparing food with fresh vegetables. Do not use utensils that have been in contact with raw meat without sanitizing the utensils.
  • As a food handler handling the fresh produce, remember to wash your hands often. Wash hands using warm water and soap. Donít forget to change the single-use glove if you are changing tasks in the kitchen.
To keep the produce fresh, keep it refrigerated. The produce industry also offer a number of "fresh-cut" products, such as salad mixes, that are cleaned and pre-packaged for convenience. These products are carefully washed, packaged and distributed with extreme sensitivity to the need for proper sanitation and microbiological control. Refrigeration at every level in the distribution chain Ė from farm to table Ė is the most important step in ensuring the quality of fresh-cut products.

For this, or any food-safety-related information, please call the Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713-794-9200.

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