Tips on How to Prepare Fruits and Vegetables

Are you serving your loved ones the right food?

“Yes, of course! I am making sure that I always bought them the fresh meats and vegetables, cooked it right, and fruits are served fresh.”  Yes, you may say, but, maybe not……

Obviously, we loved to serve our family the best. We tend to choose the freshest and the best fruits and vegetables in the market, and we even have that usual spot or store where we knew meats are the best.

But, unconsciously, we were able to serve them wrong……… Why?

Because, we didn’t do the best we can do to properly prepare it prior to cooking.

Best to enumerate are the following.  But before that, let me start at:

How to wash fruits and vegetables

Most fresh fruits and vegetables have a natural protective coating. So, wash them under water just before you are ready to eat or cook them.  If you wash them ahead of time, it will speed up how fast they spoil.  Leafy greens can be washed and stored a few days before you use them.


  • Washing leafy green vegetables

The best way to wash vegetables and fruits is under running water. You do not need special products, soaps or vinegar. These can leave an aftertaste and don’t kill bacteria or mold.  Or, if you’re on tight schedule, after a quick wash into the running water, soak first your veggies in a basin with water and salt, why . . . specially the leafy ones, while preparing for the other ingredients.  The salt will contribute in eliminating the residue of pesticides and killing the bacteria. It will eliminate the living tiny creature inside its smallest of leaf while you’re onto something else.

I remember, one time, i witnessed someone preparing their dish sinigang na baboy for their lunch, she’s running out of time and she still has to do the veggies especially the greens which is the river spinach or kangkong. She quickly washed the bundle, get a knife, and to my shock, she just sliced it all together. She didn’t bother checking if there’re still living insects inside its leaves or even onto its stem.

Please, please, do not do anything like that, it is your family especially your own children who’s going eat those. Why? You’ll know in the middle and last part of this content.

Some examples of leafy greens are:

River Spinach or Kangkong, Rapini Spinach, Romanian Lettuce, Swiss Chard or Pechay, Kamote Tops, Mustard Greens, Brocolli and CauliflowerKale, swiss chard or pechay, rapini, cabbage and lettuce, brocolli and cauliflower, and pre-bundled greens like baby spinach, kamote tops and river spinach or kangkong.

For leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, remove the outer leaves first.  Throw away (in your biodegradable bin) any wilted or discoloured leaves.

  1. Wash all leafy green vegetables, including pre-bundled greens under cold running water. Or, you may opt to soak them first in water with some salt while preparing the other.
  2. Soak the leafy vegetables in water with salt for a couple of minutes. Rinse them in a colander, drain (or use a salad spinner) and pat dry with a paper towel or tea towel.
  3. Store in a clean paper towels or tea towel in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge if you’re not ready yet to cook it and use it within a week.

Some examples of foods with rind are watermelon, rambutan, pineapple, mangosteen, kiwi, squash, longan and banana.

The reason you wash vegetables and fruits with rind is because this prevents bacteria on the rind or peel from going into the food when you open or slice it.

Use a soft, clean produce brush to scrub vegetables and fruit under running water. Then, pat dry.

  • The best way to wash all types of mushrooms is to wipe them clean with a damp cloth.
  • You can also rinse them quickly in cool water.  It’s not a good idea to soak mushrooms because they will absorb water, which will make them spoil faster.
  • Once mushrooms are clean, pat dry with a tea towel.


VEGETABLES AND FRUIT FOOD SAFETY FACTS

Summer is a great time for enjoying plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, but it’s important to keep food safety in mind.  Remember to buy quality produce, store it properly and wash it well.


Buying only quality produce is a first step you can take to help make sure fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat.  Avoid buying or eating fruit and vegetables that are bruised, mouldy or damaged in any way.  Harmful micro-organisms can get into damaged fruit and vegetables and become difficult to remove.  That can lead to foodborne illness, often called food poisoning.

Make a point of storing fresh fruit and vegetables properly to keep them fresh and safe to eat.  For most vegetables and fruit, washing produce before you store it can make it spoil faster.  So, rinse fruit and vegetables (except for leafy greens) only when you are ready to use them.

Leafy greens will stay fresh longer if they are rinsed, wrapped in paper towel and placed in a container or sealed plastic bag after purchase.

Some vegetables and fruit need to be stored in the refrigerator, other needs to ripen before being placed in the refrigerator, and others are best stored at room temperature.  If you don’t think that you’ll be able to eat your produce before it spoils, try freezing it.

A general rule is to refrigerate most fresh fruits and vegetables except for:

  1. Apricots, avocados, kiwifruit, mangoes, melons, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes. Keep at room temperature until ripen, then refrigerate.
  2. Bananas, garlic, onions (except green onions), mature potatoes, pumpkins, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, winter squash. Keep at room temperature, best not in refrigerator.

Dense raw vegetable such as potatoes and onions are well suited to being stored in cold cellars or cool room temperatures.

Be sure to store fresh fruits and vegetables in a refrigerator or cooler at or below 4°C (40°F) within two hours of peeling or cutting.  Always use clean containers to store washed or prepared vegetables and fruit. And remember to keep fresh produce away from any raw meat, poultry or seafood when preparing or storing it.  Throw out any fruit or vegetables that are spoiled or that are left out at room temperature for more than two hours after they have been peeled or cut.


The final step is to rinse fresh fruit and vegetables well under safe running water before cutting, preparing or eating them. Water is the best for cleaning fresh produce. There’s no need to use soap, detergents or other washing solutions.  Just rub or scrub the produce gently to remove any dirt.

Not planning to eat the peel?  You should still wash fruit and vegetables before peeling or cutting into them.  This will prevent anything on the surface from getting on the knife and then contaminating the insides.  Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage before washing.  Use a soft clean produce brush to scrub fruit and vegetables that have firm surfaces such as oranges, melons, carrots and potatoes.  Avoid using sponge that are difficult to keep clean and dry to avoid spreading bacteria around.

Always wash your hands with hot water and soap (for at least 20seconds) before and after handling fresh produce.  Also, use hot water and soap to wash countertops, cutting boards, utensils and dishes that come into contact with fresh produce.  Then, sanitize these with a mild bleach solution that you can make by mixing 5ml (1tsp.) of bleach with 750ml (3cups) of water. Also, be sure to rinse it well as it may also result to chemical poisoning.


You may also be wondering . . . . . .

Is organic food safer than the other foods?  Making sure food is safer to eat starts at the farm, whether it’s organic or not.  In terms of food safety, organically grown produce, such as salad greens, have been shown to be as food safe as regular produce. 

The same food safety rules apply to organic and non-organic produce – it’s important that we are knowledgeable on how to select or choose, right storing and washing fresh fruit and vegetables properly.  The decision to buy organic is really a matter of personal preference. Also, come to think of it, organic foods are grown or farmed without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms. And so, it is possible that different smallest of creatures or insects were present inside them.


What are foodborne illnesses?

Foodborne illnesses are caused by eating food contaminated with harmful micro-organisms.  The majority of cases are caused by bacteria.  Viruses, parasites, moulds and toxins (chemicals) can also cause foodborne illnesses.  Foods can become contaminated when food is not handled safely.  Some common mistakes include not chilling or cooking foods properly, cross-contamination of cooked with raw foods, and unclean cooking surfaces, utensils, dishes or hands.  One of the most common mistakes is leaving foods in the “danger zone” where bacteria grow quickly, between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of foodborne illnesses can range from mild to very serious.  They may include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • headaches

You may feel the effects of food poisoning right after eating a contaminated food or you may not feel sick until a few days or months later.  In most cases, the symptoms don’t lasts very long.  Often people don’t even realize they acquired foodborne illnesses because it can feel like you’re just having flu.

Foodborne illnesses, however, can be very serious and even fatal.  Some people are more likely to become seriously ill than others.  These include infants and young children, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with weakened immune system, such as those with cancer, liver disease, and HIV/AIDS.  In some cases, foodborne illness can cause long term problems such as kidney damage, arthritis or heart problems.

Which bacteria are to blame?

*Scientists have identified hundreds of different foodborne illnesses. Some are rare, while others are much more common.  The top five germs or bacteria that cause illnesses from food eaten:

1.Norovirus – is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can get infected and sick with norovirus. You can get norovirus from:

  • Having direct contact with an infected person
  • Consuming contaminated food or water
  • Touching contaminated surfaces then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth

2. Salmonella  Raw or uncooked poultry, meat, fish, and eggs, raw vegetables and fruit, unpasteurized (raw) milk and milk products (soft cheese), sauces and salad dressings, peanut butter, cocoa and chocolate. This bacteria can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, vomiting and nausea.  Some may experience chronic symptoms such as reactive arthritis (Reiter’s Syndrome) three to four weeks later. Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.  Use a food thermometer to be sure.  Use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs in food such as eggnog, mayonnaise, salad dressing, ice cream and mousses.  Wash raw vegetables and fruit well.

3. Clostridium perfringens – is a spore-forming gram-positive bacterium that is found in many environmental sources as well as in the intestines of humans and animals. C. perfringens is commonly found on raw meat and poultry. It prefers to grow in conditions with very little or no oxygen, and under ideal conditions can multiply very rapidly.  Some strains of C. perfringensproduce a toxin in the intestine that causes illness. And common sources of this are beef, poultry, gravies, and dried or pre-cooked foods are common sources of C. perfringensinfections. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods.  Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.  Drink only pasteurized milk and use a safe water supply.  C. perfringens infection often occurs when foods are prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a long time before serving. Outbreaks often happen in institutions, such as hospitals, school cafeterias, prisons, and nursing homes, or at events with catered food.

4. Campylobacter  – also called as campylobacteriosis, an infectious disease caused by Campylobacter bacteria is one of the most common cause of diarrheal illness. Many more cases go undiagnosed or unreported. Most illnesses likely occur due to eating raw or undercooked poultry, or to eating something that touched it. Some are due to contaminated water, contact with animals, or drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk. Although people with this so called Campylobacter jejuni infection usually recover on their own, some need medical treatment. It is an infection affects many people every year. Most cases are not part of recognized outbreaks, and more cases occur in summer than in winter. This is the bacteria that can make people and animals sick. Note: dogs, cats and farm animals can also carry these bacteria. Symptoms are fever, headache and muscle pain, followed by diarrhea (often bloody), stomach pain, cramps, nausea and vomiting. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods.  Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.  Drink only pasteurized milk and use a safe water supply.

5. Staphylococcus aureus – Staphylococcal (Staph) Food Poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria. Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria. About 25% of people and animals have Staph on their skin and in their nose. It usually does not cause illness in healthy people, but Staph has the ability to make toxins that can cause food poisoning.

*Some other germs don’t cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include:

1.Clostridium botulinum – can come from improperly prepared home-canned, low-acid foods (e.g. corn, mushrooms, spaghetti sauce, salmon, and garlic in oil).  Honey may also be contaminated with C. botulinum, (anaerobic bacteria), meaning they live and grow in low oxygen conditions. The bacteria from protective spores when conditions for survival are poor. The spores have a hard protective coating that encases the key parts of the bacterium and has layers of protective membranes.  Within these membranes and the hard coating, the dormant bacterium is able to survive for years). Symptoms are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, headache, double vision, and dryness in the throat and nose.  In some cases, these may lead to respiratory failure, paralysis and even death.

Never eat food from cans that are dented, leaking or bulging. Be sure to follow proper canning processes when canning foods at home.  Refrigerate all foods that are labelled “keep refrigerated”. Do not feed honey to children less than one year due to these possibilities, as they gets older, they can have honey because their mature digestive systems move the Clostridium bacteria spores through the body before they can cause harm.

Most illnesses likely occur due to eating raw or undercooked poultry, or to eating something that touched it. Some are due to contaminated water, contact with animals, or drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk. So, keep raw meat and poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods.  Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.  Drink only pasteurized milk and use a safe water supply.

2. Listeria non-dried processed meats (hot dogs, and deli meats), unpasteurized (raw) milk and milk products (soft cheese), raw vegetables, raw or undercooked meat, poultry or fish. Listeria may result to vomiting, nausea, fever, headache, cramps, diarrhea and constipation.  Some may develop meningitis encephalitis (a brain infection) and/or septicemia (blood poisoning) which can result in death. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and fish.  Heat hot dogs to steaming hot.  Keep leftovers in the refrigerator to a maximum or four days and reheat thoroughly before eating.  Wash fresh vegetables and fruit well.  Avoid unpasteurized milk and milk products.

3. E.coli raw or uncooked meats (especially ground meats), raw vegetables and fruit.  Untreated water and unpasteurized (raw) milk and pasteurized apple juice or cider. Stomach cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and fever.  Some may develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, an unusual type of kidney failure and blood disorder, which can result in death. Keep your hands, foods preparation surfaces and utensils clean.  Avoid cross-contamination.  Rinse raw vegetables and fruit well.  Store and cook foods properly.

4. Vibrio bacteria naturally live in certain coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and fish.  Heat hot dogs to steaming hot.  Keep leftovers in the refrigerator to a maximum or four days and reheat thoroughly before eating.  Wash fresh vegetables and fruit well.  Avoid unpasteurized milk and milk products.

What can you do?

Harmful bacteria can infect our food at any point in the food chain, from the farm to when it reaches our plate.  The good news is – most cases can be prevented by using safe food handling practices (remember: if our kitchen surface that are contaminated by raw meats in the process of preparing it is not properly cleaned. And, it so happened that our child reached out in there for something and eat with his bare hands, what do you think might happen? We have to be extra careful when buying produce, as well as from preparing those). Well, another thing is, we must also practice using a food thermometer to check that our food is cooked properly.

Remember, you usually can’t tell whether foods are contaminated by the way they look, smell, or taste.  So, the safe rule of thumb is –

When in doubt, throw it out!”

If you think you have a foodborne illness, report it to your doctor or health department.

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