Food Safety When Buying Produce at Farmers’ Markets
- Go directly home from the market! Avoid side trips. Foods will decline in quality and perishable foods like meats and eggs can pose food safety problems if left sitting in your car.
- Different fruits and vegetables require different temperature and humidity levels for proper storage. Some foods that taste best stored at room temperature include: bananas, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and winter squashes. Store them in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight and away from areas where meat is prepared. Some produce can be ripened on the counter and then stored in the refrigerator. Examples include: nectarines, peaches, pears and plums.
- Avoid leaving produce in a sealed plastic bag on your countertop. This slows ripening and may increase odors and decay from the accumulation of carbon dioxide and depletion of oxygen inside the bag.
- Most other fresh fruits and vegetables keep best stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. Use your refrigerator crisper drawer for whole produce. Store fruits in a separate refrigerator crisper drawer from vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality.
- Refrigerate fruits and vegetables in perforated plastic bags to help maintain moisture yet provide air flow. Unperforated plastic bags can lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. If you don’t have access to commercial, food-grade, perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a food-grade plastic bag (about 20 holes per medium-size bag).
- If fruits and vegetables are placed on refrigerator shelves, store meats on pans or plates below the produce to prevent meat juices — which may contain harmful bacteria — from dripping on them.
- Wash hands before working with produce. Wash produce thoroughly. Wash produce before you use it, NOT when you bring it home! Fresh produce has a natural protective coating that helps keep in moisture and freshness. Washing produce before storage causes it to spoil faster. Remove and discard outer leaves. Rinse under clean, running water just before preparing or eating. Don’t use soap or detergent as it can get into produce and make you sick. Rub briskly — scrubbing with a clean brush or hands — to clean the surface. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Cut away bruised and damaged areas. Rinse fruits and vegetables even if they have a peel which will be removed (such as melons and citrus fruit). Bacteria on the outside of produce can be transferred to the inside when they are cut or peeled.
Source: Lancaster County Extension Office, Lincoln, NE