Temperature key to keeping produce safe

March 11, 2012 at 8:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) -- When it comes to buying produce at the grocery store, it's all about temperature -- cold temperatures prevent slow microorganism growth, U.S. food experts say.

Officials at the Institute of Food Technologists say certain types of produce, including cut produce and leafy greens, should be refrigerated. Produce shelves at your grocery store should be chilled to at least 40 degrees F.

"Each case of fresh fruits and vegetables should have a thermometer that displays a clear reading. In the absence of a thermometer, make sure your produce is cool to the touch or surrounded by a bed of ice," food technologists said in a statement. "If produce (or any other perishable food) is not kept at a proper temperature, bacteria are more likely to grow and thrive, which can lead to food borne illnesses."

Many grocery stores offer freshly cut, packaged produce for customers seeking nutritious convenience foods. These might make dinner prep faster, but freshly cut vegetables and fruit are more likely to harbor bacteria, including those that cause food borne illness, food technologists said.

"When produce is cut, it releases moisture from the product which provides an environment that allows bacteria to multiply faster. The cutting process itself can transfer bacteria from the surface of produce to the inner portions, and despite the generally good handling and sanitation processes of the food industry, cross contamination is possible," the institute said.

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