Personal Chefs Offer Tips for Fresh Produce

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In the wake of September's E. coli outbreak, here are some tips for safe handling of fruits and vegetables provided by the United States Personal Chef Association.

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Can you remember Mom telling you, "Eat your vegetables; salad is good for you"? A variety of vegetables are needed to meet daily nutritional requirements, but as recent headlines told us, they are not always safe to eat.

The culprit from September's E. coli outbreak was bagged, pre-washed spinach. Realistically though, this could have happened to any of the leafy greens that are grown on 'factory farms', pre-washed, bagged and shipped to grocery stores throughout our country. This isn't the first – and won't be the last – outbreak of food-borne bacteria.

So, why do we buy bagged salad greens? Convenience. Getting dinner on the table each night is hard enough and we look for every shortcut. What could be simpler than to open the bag of greens, add dressing and serve. Since the bag says 'triple-washed' why take time to wash it again?

So what's a home cook to do? Here are tips for safe handling of fruits and vegetables, including salad greens from the United States Personal Chef Association.

Personal Chef Tips for Proper Produce Care

  • Buy local fruits and vegetables when possible; shop at farm stands and farmers markets.
  • At home, promptly refrigerate perishable produce.
  • Wash everything – apples, carrots, melons, greens, etc. - before preparing and serving. Use a scrub brush on firm fruits and vegetables, rinse well.
  • Use fresh water from the tap; cool water will help keep greens crisp.
  • Remove and discard outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
  • Wash all bagged salad greens. Even if the bag is labeled "pre-washed" it doesn't mean it's clean.
  • An item labeled "organic" doesn't mean is it free from bacterial contamination. Again, wash everything.
  • Using a produce wash – commercial or homemade – can help remove wax, soil and agricultural chemicals from your fruits and vegetables.
  • Cut produce on a clean cutting board with a clean knife.
  • Clean and sanitize the refrigerator produce drawer regularly.

Salad Without the Bag

BUY: Purchase fresh lettuce that is firm, crisp, and has good color. Butter-head, iceberg and romaine are common varieties. When properly cared for, uncut lettuce will last longer than bagged lettuce.

CLEAN: Wash with cool or cold water. Rinse well. Gently pat dry with paper towels or use a "spinner" to remove excess water.

KEEP: To store lettuce and other leafy greens, wrap in dry paper towels, place in a plastic bag and keep in your refrigerator's produce drawer. Also, there are now available special plastic bags specially designed for storing things like lettuce.

ENJOY: Always tear lettuce leaves – never cut with a metal knife. Metal reacts with the lettuce and causes premature browning.

Make Your Own Produce Wash

Products for washing fruits and vegetables are available at the grocery store. Or follow these directions to make your own. Fill a clean sink or large plastic bowl with cold water and 1/4 cup of vinegar (cider vinegar or lemon juice) and 1 teaspoon of salt. The vinegar will help clean the skins, while the salt draws out any critters. This mixture doesn't affect the flavor at all and is safe to use. Don't use anything to clean your produce that you wouldn't eat!

If shopping and preparing dinner is a big problem to you, why not consider hiring a personal chef. Many of them buy from local growers and farmers markets for the freshest fruits and vegetables for their clients. Instead of pre-bagged lettuces that have spent days in processing and transit, they buy whole heads. Your chef will properly wash and prepare the greens just for you.

We all need to be more conscious of what we eat. Personal chefs provide their clients fresh, made-from-scratch meals that are convenient. Menus are planned around products that are in-season and grown as close to home as possible.

"Many people mis-understand the personal chef service," says John Moore, Executive Director of the United States Personal Chef Association. "We're not lifestyles of the rich and famous. We are an affordable service business that is leading our country back to the basics of good food at home and bringing families together again at the dinner table."

For a no-obligation consultation to determine if a personal chef fills your 'What's for Dinner' dilemma, contact a personal chef at http://www.HireAChef.com.

Founded in 1991 by David MacKay and Susan Titcomb, the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA) is the largest professional trade organization and provider of working benefits for Personal Chefs throughout North America. The USPCA provides benefits, support and continuing education options to several thousand Personal Chef members. With headquarters in Rio Rancho, NM, the USPCA works in harmony with the Culinary Business Academy for the provision of quality education and materials to individuals entering the profession and to qualified colleges or post-secondary educational facilities.

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