Getting your daily dose of fruit and vegetables is naturally a hugely important part of your nutrition, and everyone is encouraged to incorporate more of it into the food that they cook at home. But how can you ensure that it is safe to consume? We traditionally think of meats and dairy products as being the major food safety hazards in the kitchen, but fruit and veg needs proper attention too. Let’s take a look.
According to the NHS and just about every dietary authority, fruit and vegetables are a critically important source of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, vitamin C and potassium. As a result, they’re essential to healthy living; ensuring that your body gets what it needs, and that it’s less susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases. Generally however, we don’t need statistics and professional health bodies to tell us that eating our 5-a-day is good for us. But if we fail to properly prepare and serve these foods then they may become a risk and unsafe for us to consume.
In the world of food safety, it’s often recognised that there are four major principles that you need to follow, and the case is exactly the same when it comes to just fruit and veg. The four things to think about are cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination, and each one could happen at different times in the food preparation process. Let’s consider each one.
Before eating, cutting or cooking fruit and vegetables make sure you clean them, even if the packaging says the contents have been pre-washed. You can do this under cold running water, even when you don’t plan to eat the skin or peel - this is so dirt or germs don’t transfer from the surface to the inside when you cut into the produce. When you have done this, dry the fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
Just like when preparing other types of food, make sure you wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces. This includes wiping down chopping boards and countertops before preparing fruit or vegetables. Good cleaning can reduce the risks of foreign bodies getting into food, whether physical, chemical or biological.
Generally, veg does not need to be cooked before eating, but if you’re reheating anything, then you need to make sure that you’ve thoroughly cooked the item right the way through before you eat it. There are of course some vegetables that do need cooking before they’re ready for human consumption, such as potatoes, which can contain mild toxins. Know what you’re preparing and adhere to best practice.
If you have cut up, peeled, or cooked any of the foods, refrigerate them as quickly as possible or at least within two hours. However, if you are in a warm environment where the temperature outside is above 90F, refrigerate the fruit or vegetables within one hour. It’s also important that they are stored at 40F or less, in a clean container. Chilling veg slows the growth of any bacteria, ensuring it stays safe to eat for longer.
If you’re chopping up vegetables on a board that has previously had raw meat on it, then it could become dangerous. Even before you prepare fruit and vegetables, in their raw state, they could contain harmful germs such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which could cause food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in America, almost half of foodborne illnesses are caused by germs on contaminated produce, which may come as a surprise to those that would consider undercooked chicken to be the major issue in a home kitchen. When it comes to storing fruit and vegetables, keep them separate from other foods (meats, seafood, poultry) that could potentially contaminate them.
If you work with food, or are considering a role that involved food production or handling, then it might be wise to consider thorough training to ensure that you’re aware of the very latest in food hygiene best practice. Here at Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to offer a number of relevant courses, including the three levels of food hygiene certificate, plus courses and modules focused towards different roles and industries.