Fresh produce is a hallmark of summer. As you stock your fridge with fresh fruits, berries and vegetables, it is important to remember to wash all produce before consumption.

Every year, 48 million people get a foodborne illness, 128,000 of which are hospitalized, estimates the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases of foodborne illness can come from consuming unwashed produce.

Here is a closer look at why you should wash fresh produce, how to properly wash produce and signs of food poisoning.

Why you should wash fruit, berries and vegetables

Washing fruits, berries and vegetables removes dirt and bacteria from the surface of the food, per the U.S Food and Drug Administration. Harmful bacteria such as E. coli, listeria and salmonella are sometimes present on raw fruits and vegetables and, if consumed, can lead to illness.

“Harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows can come in contact with fruits and vegetables and contaminate them,” per the FDA.

“Any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts (such as alfalfa or mung bean) that are served raw or lightly cooked may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, sprouts are grown from seeds and beans under warm and humid conditions. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria.”

To avoid contracting foodborne illness from fresh produce, the FDA recommends the following precautions:

  • Select produce that does not appear bruised or damaged. If there is bruising or damage, cut it away before serving.
  • Only purchase precut and prepackaged produce if it is refrigerated or on ice. Keep these refrigerated at home.
  • Store perishable produce in a refrigerator that is a temperature of 40 F or lower.
  • Prepare produce separately from raw meat and seafood.
  • Properly wash all produce before consumption.

How to wash fruit, berries and vegetables

You should wash all produce before consumption with cold water and a scrubber, if necessary. It is best not to use soap when washing produce.

“Consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent, soap or commercial produce washes,” reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce and get sick.”

Here is how the CDC recommends washing produce:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wash produce under cold running water before preparing.
  3. If needed, use a small scrubber or towel to remove stubborn dirt.
  4. Store produce in a refrigerator.
  5. Produce that is labeled as prewashed does not need to be washed again at home.

Fruits and vegetables with inedible skins or rinds — like an avocado or spaghetti squash — should still be washed before consumption.

“Things like the avocado has a peel already on it, but you should wash the outside. Melons would be another good example,” says Angie Murad, a Mayo Clinic dietitian. “You want to make sure that you wash them well before you cut into them. Because, if they are not washed, you’ll be introducing the bacteria that are on the outside of them into the fruit or vegetable.”

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Signs of food poisoning

Signs of foodborne illness or food poisoning can range from mild to severe. They typically last between a few hours to several days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“Food poisoning, a type of foodborne illness, is a sickness people get from something they ate or drank. The causes are germs or other harmful things in the food or beverage,” per the Mayo Clinic. “Symptoms usually start within hours or several days of eating the food. Most people have mild illness and get better without treatment.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Bloody stools

More severe, less common signs of food poisoning include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of movement in limbs
  • Weakness
  • Tingling or numbness of skin
  • Changes in how your voice sounds

The CDC recommends seeking help from a health care professional if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that lasts over three days
  • Fever over 102 F
  • Vomiting often
  • Signs of dehydration
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