Fresh talk: How to clean your fruits and veggies

Consumer Reports News: August 15, 2011 03:00 PM

Rainy days and hot weather have produced a summer bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Almost as abundant is the number of farmers markets sprouting up across the country. There are 7,175 markets listed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Directory, a growth of 17 percent over last year. But even fresh produce can become contaminated, so it’s important to clean it properly before you eat it.

Not everyone has the space, time or patience to plant their own fruits and vegetables. If you’re looking for a farmers market near you or in a place you plan to visit, search the USDA’s database. You can even find a market in Alaska where the number has almost doubled in the past year. The food website Epicurious has a state-by-state map of what’s in season—with suggestions for how to prepare it—that you might want to consult before you go.

When you’re at the market, choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged. Once you get it home, the Food and Drug Administration recommends taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  • Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  • Wash produce before you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  • Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
  • Store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.
Tomatoes are in season in almost every state, according to Epicurious. The food editors there recommend making Tomato-Watermelon Soup, which uses another seasonal fruit. In addition to the recipe, you’ll need a capable food processor. Consumer Reports recommends nine in its latest tests of food processors, most of which were very good at pureeing. There are also some clunkers that you’ll want to avoid including the $150 Emerilware 3-in-1 FP4121002A by T-Fal, which was one of the processors that got our lowest mark for that task.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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