Fruits and vegetables add nutrients to your diet that help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. In addition, choosing vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other produce over high-calorie foods can help you manage your weight.
But sometimes raw fruits and vegetables contain harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, that can make you and your family sick. In the United States, nearly half of food-borne illnesses are caused by germs on fresh produce.
The safest produce is cooked; the next safest is washed. Enjoy uncooked fruits and vegetables while taking steps to avoid food-borne illness, also known as food poisoning.
At the store or market:
- Choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged.
- Keep pre-cut fruits and vegetables cold by choosing produce that is refrigerated or kept on ice.
- Separate fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.
- Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
- Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
- Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel—so dirt and germs on the surface do not get inside when you cut.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
- Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours (or 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90° F or warmer). Chill them at 40° F or colder in a clean container.
- Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Sprouts are a particular concern because the warm, humid conditions needed to grow sprouts also are ideal for germs to multiply. Therefore, eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts may lead to food poisoning. It’s especially important to avoid raw sprouts if you are in a group more likely to get seriously sick from food poisoning: pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
Groups with a higher chance of food poisoning
Anyone can get a food-borne illness, but people in certain groups are more likely to get sick and to have a more serious illness. These groups are:
- Children younger than age 5
- Pregnant women
- Adults aged 65 and older
- People with weakened immune systems
If you or someone you care for has a greater chance of food-borne illness, it’s especially important to take steps to prevent it.