07/11/2012 03:34 EDT | Updated 09/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Health Canada tips on safe handling of fruits, vegetables

OTTAWA - It's important to eat a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, but the fresh produce must be handled safely to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, says Health Canada.

Fresh fruits and vegetables do not naturally contain microorganisms (bacteria, parasites or viruses) that can make you sick. Produce can, however, become contaminated while in the field or through improper handling, storage, or transportation during or after harvest, the department said in a release.

It's estimated there are approximately 11 million cases of food-borne illness in Canada every year. You can minimize your risk by following these safety tips from Health Canada:

— Fresh produce can become contaminated when it comes into contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat at the store and at home in the refrigerator, on cutting boards, and countertops.

— Before preparing food, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and hot water.

— Wash fresh fruits and vegetables gently under cool running water. Fruit and vegetables that are usually peeled or cut, like melons, oranges and cucumbers, should also be washed gently under cool, running water. Scrub fruits and vegetables that have a firm surface, such as melons, potatoes and carrots.

— Do not soak fruits and vegetables in a sink full of water. The sink can harbour bacteria, which can be transferred to anything in it.

— Washing fruits and vegetables with food-wash products or using commercial food cleansers is not recommended since they do not completely remove or kill microbes potentially present on the produce. Detergent or soap residues can remain on the produce. Washing produce with tap water is usually adequate.

— Store fresh fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration in the refrigerator at 4C or below. All cut fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated and should not be kept at room temperature for longer than two hours.