Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, especially for growing children. Unfortunately, harmful foodborne germs like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria can contaminate fresh produce.

According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), produce accounts for 46 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks, more than twice the rate of meat and poultry (22 percent).

After all that hard work to convince your little ones to eat their greens, the last thing you want is for them to get sick.

What can you do to protect your family from contaminated produce?

Be Produce Safety Savvy

The CDC recommends taking the following safety precautions when handling or consuming fresh produce:

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice) with warm water and soap before and after handling fresh produce.
  • When grocery shopping, keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat, poultry, or seafood in your cart and make sure they’re bagged separately at checkout.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator. If fresh produce that won’t be cooked comes in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood, throw it out.
  • Select produce that is not bruised or damaged, especially if you don’t plan to cook it. Store pre-cut fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator as soon as you get home.
  • Even if the packaging indicates that produce has been “pre-washed,” add an extra layer of caution and wash it before eating.
  • Thoroughly wash fresh produce under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, and remove any visible dirt.
  • Never use the same cutting board for fresh produce that you use for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. To sanitize cutting boards and other food-contact surfaces, clean with detergent and water and then sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of regular chlorine bleach in one gallon of water (or 2 teaspoons of concentrated bleach in one gallon of water). Let air dry.
  • Never eat recalled produce. When in doubt, ask for more information from the market from which you bought it. If you can’t get more information, discard the questionable produce.

Safety Precautions When Buying Local or Organic Produce

It’s important to note that fresh produce can become contaminated at various points along the path from the farm to your table.

What is Organic?

A product labeled “organic” must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and be produced and processed according to USDA standards. The USDA website indicates, “Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.”

Organic standards address soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives. Organic practices avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering, and most pesticides, according to the USDA Organic Practices Factsheet.

While the use of raw manure is considered an effective source of nitrogen and other soil nutrients for organic farming, improperly composted manure or applied raw manure fertilizers can lead to pre-harvest microbial contamination.

The FDA has established produce safety standards for growing, harvesting, and packaging produce for consumption, but there are exemptions for some farms.

Smaller farms, for example, may not be held to the same food safety standards as larger suppliers.

If you are buying produce from a local or organic farmer’s market in your area, you might want to ask the seller: How was produce protected from contamination during growth and after being harvested?

Fresh produce is a nutritional powerhouse, so keep those fruits and veggies handy for little ones. Just use these tips to help maximize the benefits!