WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- In light of the 18 deaths due to the foodborne pathogen listeria, U.S. health officials are advising consumers always to take precautions with raw produce.
The Web site FoodSafety.gov advises consumers only purchase produce not bruised or damaged, and when selecting fresh-cut produce choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
Bag fresh fruit and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products to prevent cross contamination from meat juices, health officials said.
The Web site also advises to:
-- Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees F or below.
-- Refrigerate all produce purchased pre-cut or peeled.
-- Wash hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing produce.
-- All produce should be thoroughly washed in warm water.
When it comes especially to melons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises:
-- Any bacteria on the outside of the fruit or vegetable can be pulled to the inside when a knife slices through.
-- After washing hands, scrub the surface of melons, with a clean produce brush or dish cloth and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
-- Cut melon should be promptly eaten or refrigerated for no more than seven days.
-- Cut melons at room temperature for more than 4 hours should be thrown away.
-- Unlike some other bacteria, listeria can thrive in refrigerators and health officials suggest thoroughly cleaning any refrigerator drawers or shelves that might have held tainted food.