updated 11/2/2006 4:45:41 PM ET 2006-11-02T21:45:41

After the latest outbreak of illness possibly linked to contaminated produce, the Food and Drug Administration reminded consumers Thursday of steps to keep fresh foods safe.

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The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to investigate the latest outbreak, which is thought to be linked to produce contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.

Reports of illness peaked in late September; health officials believe the outbreak is now over.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness from fresh produce, the FDA recommends:

  • When buying fresh produce, avoid items that are bruised or damaged. When choosing fresh-cut produce, like half a watermelon or bagged salad mix, pick only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Consumers should bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood at the store.
  • Once home, perishable fresh fruit and vegetables — like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms — are best maintained by storing in a clean refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. All precut or peeled produce should be refrigerated within two hours.
  • Pre-washed, bagged produce can be used without further washing, but it’s OK to wash it again before eating. Any such produce sold in open bags should be washed before using. Cut away bruised or damaged areas on fresh fruit and vegetables. Toss it if it looks rotten. And always wash hands with soap and water before and after handling fresh produce.
  • All unpackaged fruit and vegetables, or if packaged but not marked pre-washed, should be washed under running water — even if it’s then peeled — before eating. This includes produce from the farmer’s market or home garden. Health officials don’t recommend using soap, detergent or commercial produce washes. A brush is fine for washing firm produce, like melons and cucumbers. Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further eliminate bacteria.
  • In the kitchen, use different utensils for fruit and vegetables and for raw meat, poultry or seafood. Also, wash cutting boards, counter tops, dishes and utensils with hot water and soap after preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood if they’re to be used to prepare produce eaten raw. Cutting boards and counter tops can be cleaned periodically with a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water. Plastic cutting boards can be washed in the dishwasher.

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