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Fresh fruit and vegetable safety

Sandra Lapajne BASc, CPHI(C)

Since fruits and vegetables are grown close to the ground, they can become contaminated in the field by soil, contaminated water, wild and domestic animals, or improperly composted manure. Harmful organisms can also get onto the produce during and after harvest, from handling, storing, and transporting.

Fresh produce can also become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria when they come into contact with raw food items such as meat, poultry, seafood and their juices. Such contaminations can happen at the grocery store, in the shopping cart, in the refrigerator or from counters and cutting boards.

Basic food safety rules for fresh fruits and vegetables:

  • Discard any rotten fruits and vegetables.
  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables under potable running water, unless otherwise specified — do not use soap or detergents.
  • Scrub fresh fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces, such as oranges, potatoes and carrots, with a clean produce brush. The flesh of improperly washed fresh fruits and vegetables can become contaminated during cutting.
  • Thoroughly wash all food equipment such as counter tops, cutting boards and utensils that come into contact with fresh produce with hot water and soap. Rinse them and sanitize them with a mild bleach solution (5ml/1tsp. bleach per 750ml/3 cups water) and air dry.
  • Avoid using sponges and other cleaning materials which are difficult to keep clean and dry, as they may spread bacteria around.
  • Once cut, immediately place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate/container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.

FoodSafe Tip:

Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables at 4°C (40°F) or below within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut fruits and vegetables should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.


(1) Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Porcupine Health Unit. 2016 Apr 26.  [cited 2016 Apr 28].
(2) Food Safety: A Guide for Ontario’s Foodhandlers. MOHLTC. 2013 Feb; pg. 64.