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Christine Bruhn, PhD is the Director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis where she earned her doctorate. Dr. Bruhn has a special interest and passion for safe food handling practices. Her major area of research is in consumer attitudes and perceptions of food quality, safety and wholesomeness. Dr. Bruhn travels widely and is a sought after speaker at both academic and government conferences on food safety and food handling and food processing technologies . She currently serves on several education and advisory panels including the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Communication Advisory Group. In addition, she is often contacted by members of the media when questions of food safety make the news, especially in her home state of California. Along with her interest in making sure everyone knows “How to determine when your food had gone bad,” she is an avid cook and enjoys sharing practical food safety tips with her family and friends. For more information on food safety and nutrition questions, please visit IFIC.org.
How to Tell if Your Fruits and Vegetables Have Gone Bad
Christine Bruhn, Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis, discusses signs that your produce has gone bad.
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Christine Bruhn: I am Christine Bruhn with the University of California, Davis. We are talking about how to tell if your food has gone bad and now we are going to focus on produce. Fruits and vegetables are delicious and they are very good for you. But unfortunately, they can go bad and sometimes, that can have very serious health consequences. So how do you know if the products are still worth eating and they are still good for you?
Well, as with everything else, you need to check the dates. So if you are buying produce in a bag and lettuce and green mixes in the bag are so convenient and nice, check the date and eat them by that date, not within 3-4 days, eat it by that date. Temperature control and time is really, really important in these products. Don't rely on the date blindly however, look at how the produce looks inside. These obviously, have had a bit of a hard time and they are a bit beyond their date, but you can see some of the product has broken down and there is moisture and juice inside and the leaves are a different color. Those are signs of deterioration. If you didn't see it in the package, you can see it when you dump it all out. You see how the edges are kind of broken and torn and the product doesn't smell very good either. So don't eat it, don't even try to salvage it. You might find some good looking leaves, but there could be a risk here of bacteria growing to an unsafe level. So toss this product out when it looks bad. If you are buying the fresh lettuce, these look lovely, there are no signs of deterioration, don't worry about the little brown at the end here. It is just a sign that it has been touched things and some of the cell tissues have broken. Just tear off that end and you are all ready to eat it. It is just real fine. Looking at some of the fruit areas, these apples look grand and they probably taste great. They have been waxed and that's why they have that nice sheen to them, but this is a food grade wax, there are no health problems with this and it helps keep the moisture in the apple and it helps make them crisp and tart and really contributes to their flavor. As I mentioned, there are no problems in flavor here. There is no sign of mold, these look perfect. You might say, "Gosh, that banana doesn't look so great.
"The reason it is brown is it has been stored in the refrigerator that gives it a little bit longer storage life and use life. Open it up if it is still nice and bright, appropriate banana color. It is just fine to eat. I store my bananas at room temperature. They will after a while get freckles and then they will turn black and someone say well - has asked me well, when do you throw them away and I never throw away my whole bananas. I love to have them get mature and then I use them in banana bread or banana cake. It is really delicious. There is nothing like the full flavor that a mature banana will give that product. Now looking at citrus, sometimes, they very go bad even when you store them in the refrigerator. They have a pretty long life, but you see something like the mold growing as it is here, that is not a good sign. I am sorry. You need to throw away the entire orange because whether it is orange or banana or some of these other products, studies have found that the toxins that are naturally produced by this mold can penetrate in and throughout the fruit. So better to be safe and toss it out. You might wonder about these marks on the orange, these scarring and actually, that's not a quality problem at all. There is a very small insect called as Thrip and it eats on the orange when it is in there petal form and it is just starting to form its root and they have left a scarring mark. These insects are more active in the one part of the tree where there is lots of sunshine and there are some studies that indicate that the oranges with these marks might actually be sweeter because they have more sun. So it is not a quality problem, it is not a mold problem, it is a natural insect activity and the products are just fine inside, maybe even better.
Strawberries, a wonderful product and some of these strawberries have been around a little bit long and they don't look so great. I think this is really a problem of dehydration. I don't think it is a mold growth, but these would not be a desirable eating experience so I would throw the entire package away. These, these look pretty good, they look nice. I love a strawberry that's red all around. I like to avoid the white strawberries, because they just don't have as much flavor. So these strawberries look good. Later, I will show you how to wash these strawberries in another segment, but they look just fine and ready to eat. If you have things like tomatoes, indications of freshness when you have got some of the greenery is how flexible that product is. Tomatoes are wonderful and they will ripen off of the vine and these are turning more red all the time and this bright, deep red means they are more fully mature. Look again for signs of mold and as with the oranges, if you see the mold, then I am sorry, you have got to throw the entire thing away. It is not worth risking your family's health on it although, the risk is very minor.
So tomatoes can start out a little bit less red, but you want to eat them when they are full red and you will have as much as flavor as possible. Most of these things you refrigerate except maybe the bananas, but tomatoes would really be better not to refrigerate them. You lose some flavor when you take them below 50 degrees. So put them in a cool place in your house if you can manage storing them that way and just buy as many as you need so you don't have a huge amount. Most important when you are getting to ready to eat these products is washing your hands, washing the produce and washing the cutting board, especially if that cutting board or the knife were used for meat or poultry or some other animal food product or just actually any product. You want to start out with cleanliness and we will be speaking later on about how to wash the produce to make it safe. So enjoy your produce, be it tomatoes, lettuce, fruit or anything in between, just handle them safely, keep them cold, keep everything clean. Next, we are going to be talking about how to tell if your freezer food has gone bad.