Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. However, during the growing, harvesting and shipping of produce, potentially harmful bacteria can come into contact with the surface of fruits and vegetables, and eating contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness.

As you enjoy your fresh fruit and vegetables, keep the following tips in mind to help reduce the chance of food poisoning.

Know When to Wash Produce

Unless the produce is labeled as "ready to eat" or "washed," it should be washed before eating.

Even if you don't plan to eat the peel, the exterior of fruits such as melons needs to be thoroughly washed before slicing. Otherwise, any bacteria on the surface could get into the portion you plan to eat. Watch this video on the WDIV website to learn more about proper washing.

Avoid the Temptation to Sample Produce

When shopping for fresh produce, don't be tempted to sample (or let your kids sample) grapes, cherries or other similar produce until you get them home and wash them -- you don't know how many hands may have touched them before you selected them for purchase.

Wash With Tap Water

It isn't necessary or recommended to use a cleaner when washing produce. Rather, turn on the cold water tap and use either your finger tips or a clean vegetable brush to thoroughly wash the outer surface of the produce under a stream of cold running water.

Special Tips for Leafy Vegetables

When handling produce such as a head of lettuce, remove and wash each lettuce leaf separately, both front and back.

Don’t Forget to Dry

Once thoroughly rinsed, produce should be dried on a clean cloth or paper towel. Just as with wet hands, wet or damp produce is a more attractive surface for bacteria to grow than a dry surface.

Refrigerate Sliced Produce

Once produce has been sliced or peeled, it becomes a perishable food product that needs refrigeration to reduce the chance for bacteria to grow. If you have leftover watermelon or other sliced or peeled produce, place it in a clean storage container in the refrigerator to eat later.