Fresh Produce, Keep it Safe

Adair Hoover,
Clemson Extension, Clemson University

HTF 0417

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Spring has arrived and with it the start of South Carolina’s fresh produce season. No need to cook with frozen, broccoli and strawberries, will soon be perfect. Cooking and eating freshly harvested foods is, without a doubt, the most flavorful and healthy way to eat. However, along the path from field to plate there may be opportunities for illness causing pathogens to tag along. Also, because there really aren’t any of the commercial processing steps designed to preserve and sterilize food, more attention should be given to safe handling.

Listed below are several food safety measures that should be followed when handling fresh fruits and vegetables. Adhering to these tips will allow you to benefit from living in our southern state with its rich growing environment.

Freshly harvestd produce.
Freshly harvested produce.
Donna Bowen, ©2017, Clemson Extension

Buying Fresh Produce

You can purchase fresh produce from a variety of places including: farmer’s markets, roadside stands, the grocery store or harvest from a home garden. Regardless of where it comes from the same basic handling procedures apply.

  1. Choose fruits and vegetables that are unblemished and at the peak of ripeness. Cuts or bruises can create pathways for dangerous pathogens to enter.
  2. Handle fruits and vegetables with care so that they are not damaged during harvest, shopping or on the way home.  
  3. Protect produce from high heat during transport. For instance, leaving fresh produce in a hot car can quickly diminish quality and safety.
  4. Prevent cross contamination from occurring during the trip from store to home by keeping them separated from other foods. Especially, meats and poultry.

Home Storage

Once home produce can easily become unsafe if not stored properly.

  1. If possible store without washing. Most produce will maintain best quality if not washed before storage. Keep in mind that unwashed produce can spread pathogens to other foods so keep them in locations and containers that will not allow them to contact other foods.
  2. Make sure that refrigerated bins and counter tops are cleaned and sanitized before and after storage.
  3. Protect fruits and vegetables from cross contamination from other refrigerated items (meats and poultry can be especially harmful).
  4. And for items stored on the counter or in a pantry keeping the temperature below 90 degrees will help maintain best quality and safety.


One of the most important things to remember about fresh produce is that in many instances the produce will be prepared and served as a “ready to eat” food. That means that you are preparing and eating without cooking so there is no further opportunity to kill any existing pathogens. These foods need extra careful attention to safety when preparing and serving.

  1. Always work with clean hands that have been properly washed. A quick rinse under running water is not enough to destroy pathogens. Adequate washing requires soap and warm running water and drying with paper towels.
  2. When washing produce make sure that you are working with one product at a time. Use running water at a medium temperature. Too hot or cold can allow pathogens to be absorbed into the food.
  3. Produce wash and/or detergents are not necessary for washing fresh produce but a clean sanitized produce brush can be helpful when prepping items that have a tough exterior. Cantaloupes and potatoes are good examples.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.