RICHMOND—Fresh produce is ripe, ready and heading to grocery stores, farmers’ markets and produce stands near you. And while farm-fresh products taste great, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is reminding consumers that it’s important to purchase and store foods that can be enjoyed safely. Always bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products, and never purchase bruised or damaged products. If you’re buying fresh-cut produce—such as half a watermelon—choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice. Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables and pre-cut or peeled produce in a clean refrigerator at 40 degrees or cooler. When preparing fresh produce, start with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing foods. Produce should be washed thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking—even if you plan to peel it before eating. Household soaps and detergents and commercial produce washes are not recommended for cleaning fruits and vegetables. 'There really aren’t any cleaners or washes that are any more effective than water,' said Renee Boyer, a consumer food safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension. 'Using just cold running water is the best cleaning method.' Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas, and discard any rotten produce. 'By scrubbing produce, you can help remove any bacteria that may be present,' Boyer said. Pre-cut and bagged items that are labeled 'prewashed' are safe to prepare without washing again. For more tips and answers to questions on buying, storing and preparing fresh produce, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website at fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299 . To find out where to buy safe, fresh and local foods, visit SaveOurFood.org and use the Fresh Food Locator feature. Contact Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sara Owens, VFBF special projects coordinator, at 804-290-1133.