Due to the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, spinach and other bagged produce are on the minds of many Americans. But UGA food microbiologist Larry Beuchat says fruits such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are safety concerns, too. For the past 10 years, Beuchat has evaluated the effectiveness of new methods of sanitizing fresh fruits and vegetables.
“There are a number of sanitizers used in the industry,” he said. “There are also a number of new ones that need to be evaluated for efficacy. We need to know if they can really do the job.”
A University System of Georgia distinguished research professor with the UGA Center for Food Safety, Beuchat said chlorine, the standard sanitizer used in the food industry, isn’t ideal for use on many small fruits.
“You can’t sanitize these fresh-market fruits with chlorine because they’re too tender and can’t withstand the process,” he said. “And if all the water isn’t removed, the chances for mold growth are greatly enhanced.”
Beuchat offers some safety tips.
“If you buy fresh-cut, bagged lettuce, cabbage or spinach, don’t wash the produce at home,” he said. The produce was treated with sanitizers before it was packaged.
When preparing fresh berries, like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, thoroughly wash them at home. Wash these small fruits with tap water just before you serve them to your family, Beuchat said. “Don’t wash them until you are ready to serve them,” he said. “If you wash them and then put them in your refrigerator, you can create a moist environment for mold to develop.”