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Keeping Your Produce Safe

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: May 22, 2020

Reviewed: June 23, 2023

washing vegetables

Many of the health risks that are linked to fresh produce can be eliminated with proper food safety, such as cleaning produce thoroughly, handwashing before food preparation and preventing cross contamination with items like raw meat.

Below are tips to keep in mind when shopping for your next bunch of grapes or head of lettuce.


  • When at the farmers market, go early to avoid produce that has been sitting out all day.
  • In grocery stores, if you are not satisfied with the store's selection, ask the supermarket’s produce manager if there is more produce available.
  • Buy loose produce rather than prepackaged items for more control over what you select.
  • While oddly shaped produce is fine to eat, avoid produce with mold, bruises or cuts.
  • Select only the amount of produce that you will use within a week to reduce the chance of spoilage before you use it.  


  • Promptly store fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration.
  • Note that some fresh, whole produce does not need to be refrigerated (such as bananas or potatoes). For other produce, refrigeration may lengthen the shelf life (such as with apples or cucumbers) or prevent rapid spoilage (berries and mushrooms).
  • If fresh produce has been peeled or cut, refrigerate within two hours and throw away any leftovers that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Discard cooked vegetables after three to four days.


  • Rinse fresh produce under cool, running water before eating or preparing. For items with tough skins, like potatoes or melons, use a produce brush to gently scrub the skin before peeling or cutting.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating. Remove and discard outer leaves of lettuce.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Use two separate cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination, use one for raw meats and the other for fruits and vegetables. Color-coded cutting boards can help you remember which is which.
  • Cook raw sprouts (such as alfalfa, bean and clover) to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

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