Food Safety in the Produce Department

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Grocery Store Food SafetyMany markets and grocery stores have produce departments. This is where you can pick up vegetables, fruits, and fresh juices. Many of them also offer pre-made salads for a quick, healthy lunch or dinner. Produce departments come in all sizes, and the range of products differs.

Let me point a couple of things out before we talk about Red Flags (to see our Red Flag Rating Scale, click here):

  • Most produce items are offered to the customers as “raw” products. This means that you should take them home and wash them, cook them or do something else with them BEFORE you eat them! The strawberries, the lettuces, anything unpackaged should be cleaned before you do anything else with it. Popping a grape into your mouth as you pass the section might be safe, but not smart. Think how many people may have already touched that grape with their dirty hands. (We cover washing produce properly correctly here.)

  • Speaking of touching things, include floors. If you see a piece of produce hit the floor and then see a customer put it back, it’s not a red flag. But it’s something to notice. Although many consumers don’t realize it, most grocery stores have a policy that anything un-packaged that touches the floor must be thrown away. That doesn’t help the store – it definitely hurts profits – but overall it is wise. Often, a customer may pick up a peach or a carrot off the floor and put it back where it belongs, thinking it’s the right thing to do. You don’t need to be stressed out about it, but you might want to point it out to an employee.

Recently, in the United States, a process called Country of Origin Labeling (or COOL) was required by the USDA. This can let you, the consumer, know more about where your produce is coming from. Click here for more info.

My wife has been hounding me to eat smarter, so I spend more time in the produce department trying to figure out what to do with all these vegetables. So I spent some time trying to find some recipes that are not only EASY to make, but TASTE GOOD was a challenge.

So, in my search for a good recipes, I came across

Sarah's Easy Soup'

It's a pretty neat site about really easy soups that actually taste good! You'll want to try!

When you’re looking for good produce, be aware of a couple of Red Flags:

Food Safety Risk FlagDo the prepared salads, sprouts, or the cut melons feel warm (or at least not cold)? This is a Red Flag #6. Prepared salads often contain proteins like chicken, ham or cooked eggs. Cut melon pieces can grow bacteria (usually E-coli or Salmonella) if the melons haven’t been washed properly before cutting. Both of these items should be kept at 41 ˚ F (5 ˚ C) or lower; if they aren’t, germs may be going crazy. It might not be happening in every instance – but you can’t tell just by looking. If the products have been warm for a while (and how long HAVE they been warm?), they could send you to the emergency room. We had so many questions about this, that we dedicated a whole page to cut melon food safety.

Food Safety Risk FlagDo you see any rotting fruits, vegetables, or lettuces? This is a Red Flag #3. Just don’t buy them! The same freshness that is the hallmark of the produce section is also its bane. Produce just doesn’t stay fresh long – most items are good for only three or four days from the time they’re set out for customers. Leave the bad ones out of your cart. You might want to point them out to the produce employees, just to be nice.

The produce department is one of the simpler ones in the store! Just look for freshness and be sure to clean/prepare those fruits and veggies before you eat them.

What else is on your grocery list? To check out the chicken at the meat department, click here.

To get cooked chicken at the deli, click here.

To check out's home page, click here.

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