Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tips on Choosing Produce and Keeping it Fresh . . .

Whether you grow your own produce or buy it at a farmers' market or grocery store, fruits and vegetables are a colorful — and healthful — part of our diets.

Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, calories and sodium. Fruits and vegetables also are high in fiber and other phyto-chemicals (plant chemicals) that may have a variety of health benefits. Eat a rainbow of produce colors — especially dark leafy greens, deep golds and oranges.
Enjoy at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A serving is any of the following:
  • 1 medium-size piece of fruit
  • ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruits or vegetables
  • ¾ cup of fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup raw leafy greens

Being Picky about Produce

For the best quality produce and to avoid throwing away spoiled produce, select an amount that you can use within a short time. Follow these tips when choosing fresh produce:
  • If you're picking your own, be sure to bring clean containers or bags.
  • Look for produce that is free from unusual odors or colors and signs of spoilage such as mold.
  • Handle produce gently to reduce bruising. Bacteria can thrive in the bruised areas. At the grocery store, keep fresh produce on top of other foods in a shopping cart — and separate from fresh meat — and set it down gently on the counter at the check-out line.
  • Remember that buying underripe produce isn't always the best option. Peaches, cantaloupe and nectarines are examples of fruits that may soften during storage, but they won't ripen.
  • When buying cut produce, be sure it's refrigerated and keep it cold during transport. Keep it in a cooler with ice if traveling a distance.

Savoring Safety by the Forkful

Even though fruits, vegetables and juice are nutritious parts of the diet, there are some food safety precautions. For example, contaminated melons, sprouts and raspberries have been linked with foodborne illness outbreaks. Here are some food safety tips:
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before handling produce and any other food.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables with cool running tap water right before eating. Don't use dish soap or detergent because these products are not approved or labeled by the FDA for use on foods.
  • Scrub melons with a brush and running water, because bacteria can be transferred from the outside of the melon to the inside by a knife.
  • Don't cross-contaminate: Use clean utensils and cutting boards when peeling or cutting up produce. Wash cutting boards with soap and water, rinse and sanitize between uses. A solution of 1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water is considered safe and effective.
  • Cut away bruised parts before eating. Remove the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage.
  • Avoid serving sprouts to at-risk populations like the very young, old, or those whose immune system isn't able to function at normal levels. For example, people undergoing cancer treatment often cannot eat fresh produce.
  • Keep fresh cut produce cold by placing serving containers on ice. Perishable food should spend no more than two hours in the "danger zone" (40 to 140oF).
  • Store produce in containers that are free from excess liquid.
  • Refrigerate cut produce and use within a few days.

Pressing Facts about Apple Juice

When fruit is pressed to make juice, any bacteria on the outside could get into the juice. Given enough time and the right temperature, bacteria can grow to levels that could cause illness. Most types of bacteria grow well between 60 and 120oF.
Unpasteurized apple juice has been linked with many cases of foodborne illness and even death due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7. Currently 98 percent of juice sold in grocery stores is pasteurized or heat-treated to kill bacteria, and most of the outbreaks have been associated with unpasteurized juice sold at roadside stands or farmers' markets. While the immune systems of healthy adults may be able to tolerate bacteria in freshly-pressed, unheated juice, young children or the elderly could become very ill.
Unpasteurized juice must carry a warning label in grocery stores. If you make your own juice, wash the fruit before pressing and heat the juice to at least 160°F to kill bacteria. Store the juice in the refrigerator and use it within a few days.
Baking Summer Treats
Fruit pies, cobblers/crisps and kuchen are mouth-watering desserts using summer's bounty. If they're custard-based and allowed to stand in the sun at picnics, bake sales or food stands, they could be a food safety issue. Keep custard-containing items in coolers on ice before serving and during transport.

Saving Those Summer Selections
Fruits and vegetables can be preserved by dehydrating, freezing and canning, but it's important to use up-to-date recommendations. If you are tempted by home-canned goods at bake sales or farmers' markets, remember they are not tested for safety like commercial products are. You will be eating them at your own risk. In fact, home-canned goods cannot be served at public events, according to health department regulations. These are a few home food preservation tips to ensure safe food in your cupboard:
  • Use a pressure canner and current USDA processing guidelines to can low-acid foods like vegetables and meats.
  • Acidify tomatoes with the recommended amount of lemon juice or citric acid prior to canning.
  • Use research-tested salsa recipes, and don't alter ingredient proportions. If you have a favorite salsa recipe, freeze it.
  • Seal jams and jellies with a regular canning lid (not wax) and process in a boiling water bath for 5 to 10 minutes depending on altitude.
  • Store canned goods in a cool dark place. For best quality, use home-canned goods within one year. 

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