Skip to main content

Food Safety

Food Safety

Concerned about food waste and how to cut down on throwing away those fresh fruits and veggies? Take Julie Garden-Robinson's food waste quiz:

1. Why should you avoid storing fruits and vegetables, such as apples and broccoli, in the same refrigerator drawer?

2. Where should you store fresh tomatoes?

3. What's the best way to clean fruits and vegetables?

4. Should you rinse your weekly supply of fruits and vegetables before refrigerating? Why or why not?

5. You check the strawberries you purchased a few days ago and notice they are moldy. Should you cut away the bad parts and use the rest?

6. Why do "baby carrots" sometimes turn whitish?

7. Let's say you bought a lot of tomatoes, apples, carrots, peppers and other vegetables, and you have an unexpected trip that will take you out of state for many days. What should you do?

Here are the answers:

1. Keep fruits such as apples, pears and plums away from vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and broccoli. Many fruits release ethylene gas naturally. In fruits, ethylene promotes ripening, but it can promote color changes or spoilage in ethylene-sensitive vegetables. However, if you use your fruits and vegetables quickly, you probably won't have an issue with spoilage.

2. Fresh tomatoes should be stored at room temperature to maintain their flavor and quality. However, cut tomatoes (and any other cut fruit or vegetable) should be covered and kept in the refrigerator for safety. Use within a few days.

3. Use plenty of running water to clean vegetables and fruits. You should use a vegetable brush on fruits with "netted" skin, such as cantaloupe. Do not use soap.

4. For best quality and longest storage life, rinse fruits and vegetables just prior to eating them.

5. Throw away moldy strawberries.

6. Baby carrots may "dry out" and become whitish. They are safe to eat. They will rehydrate in soups and stews. However, if baby carrots are slimy and soft, do not eat them.

7. You could give your extra fruits and vegetables to a friend, or you could freeze, dry or can them. See for information about storing and preserving various fruits and vegetables, and growing them, too.  

What is xMAP and how is it used?

Scientists in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition developed the xMAP Food Allergen Detection Assay three years ago that can detect all of the major food allergens, with the exception of fish, in just six hours. This new tool is being used to help safeguard the food supply by detecting the presence of undeclared food allergens that result from cross-contact during manufacturing. Before the adoption of this new technology, it used to take far longer to test potentially mislabeled foods that were suspected of causing dangerous allergic reactions. 

Concerned about Acrylamide?

FDA says that while acrylamide has been around as long as people have been baking, roasting, toasting and frying food, it wasn't until 2002 that scientists discovered the chemical in food. Since that time, FDA actively investigated the effects of acrylamide and on March 1, 2016, posted a document with strategies for growers, manufacturers and food service operators to lower acrylamide in foods.

FDA also provided consumers with tips to help decrease the amount of acrylamide:

  • Frying causes acrylamide formation. If frying frozen fries, follow manufacturers' recommendations on time and temperature and avoid overcooking, heavy crisping or burning.
  • Toast bread to a light brown color rather than a dark brown color. Avoid very brown areas.
  • Cook cut potato products such as frozen french fries to a golden yellow color rather than a brown color. Brown areas tend to contain more acrylamide.
  • Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, which can increase acrylamide during cooking. Keep potatoes outside the refrigerator in a dark, cool place, such as a closet or a pantry.

Find more information about acrylamide on the FDA website.

What to wash, what not to wash

Did you know that you should wash fruits and veggies — but not meat, poultry, or eggs?

Here's why: Even if you plan to peel fruits and veggies — it’s important to wash them first because bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them. According to, this is how to wash all your produce effectively…

  1. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas.
  2. Rinse produce under running water.
  3. Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
  4. Scrub firm produce—like melons or cucumbers—with a clean produce brush.
  5. Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel… and you’re done.

Bagged produce marked “pre-washed” is safe to use without further washing.

Washing raw meat and poultry can actually help bacteria spread, because their juices may splash onto and contaminate your sink and countertops.

All commercial eggs are washed before sale. Any extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, may actually increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked.

Added hormones in beef

Although beef gets a bad rap when it comes to "added hormones," it's a marketing ploy, not a dietary concern. Here's why: The amount of added estrogen you could get from eating 500 grams of beef from a hormone implanted cow is 7 nanograms. In comparison, a child produces 41,000 nanograms of estrogen a day and an adult man produces 316,000 nanograms of estrogen per day. 

Organic versus conventional

Choosing to eat organic or conventionally raised food is a personal choice, not a food safety, or health issue. Here's why: Organic is a production method. An organic tomato and a conventionally raised tomato have the same nutrients. It's the method of production that differs. Read one mom's post on why she isn't worried about the food she feeds her family.

Pigs raised indoors

Pigs raised indoors carry less foodborne pathogens than those raised outside. Here's why: Pigs raised indoors get safe, clean food and water. Animals that are outdoors all the time are exposed to parasites like Trichinella and Toxoplasma gonii.

Source: Peter R. Davies. Foodborn Pathogens and Disease. January 2011, 8(2): 189-201.

Pesticide residues

Pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables should not keep you from eating them. Here's why: Even if there IS pesticide residue, it is well below levels deemed harmful to human consumption. According to the Food Advocates Communicting Through Science (FACTS) website, pesticides can remain on food for a short time. Over time, exposure to oxygen and sunlight will cause the residues to break down and dissipate. By the time the food gets to you, there is little-to-no residue left. Crops are tested to make sure the residues are low and that the food that reaches us is safe. Check out this handy pesticide calculator from the Alliance for Food and Farming.

Poisonous zucchini?

Even food you perceive as healthy can be dangerous. Here's why: There is a naturally occurring substance in squash, cucumbers and zucchini -- called curcubiticin -- that can make these veggies toxic to humans if the concentration is high enough. If the food tastes bitter, do not eat it. Symptoms of cucurbitacin poisoning include stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.