Question: I’m planning to add either fresh strawberry or cucumber slices to a pitcher of water to serve with a lunch I’m hosting. Are there any food safety concerns that I need to be aware of when making fruit- or vegetable-infused water?
Answer: Infusing water with fruits or vegetables is a wonderful, healthy, and delicious way to add flavor to water without adding sugar. Not only is infused water a simple way to stay hydrated, but it has also become increasingly popular among consumers who are seeking healthy alternatives to sugary drinks.
However, when preparing fruit- or vegetable-infused water, it’s important to keep food safety in mind to prevent the potential of developing a foodborne illness. In fact, you should handle infused water as you would any perishable food, according to Infused Water with Ohio Local Foods, a recent Ohioline fact sheet written by Patrice Powers-Barker, an Ohio State University Extension educator.
Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Because you are adding fresh fruits or vegetables, the infused water is perishable. When serving infused water at a party or on a buffet table, treat it like other perishable foods. Add ice to the water and remember that perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. After two hours at room temperature, the food can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria grows most rapidly.
“For food safety, store the infused water in the refrigerator,” writes Powers-Barker. “As in any food or beverage preparation, do not forget to wash hands with soap and water before handling the food, as well as wash all produce with clean running water.”
“Use clean containers and sanitize preparation surfaces before starting,” she writes.
Also, cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid using any produce that looks rotten, advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Because fruits and vegetables can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, rinse all produce under clear running water before preparing or eating it. When washing firm produce such as melons and cucumbers, clean it with a produce brush and pat it dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that might be present on the surface, the FDA says.
For example, cantaloupe skin has nooks and crannies that can house dirt particles. Therefore, give cantaloupes a good rinse and scrub them with a clean brush before cutting through them with a knife. Peeling or cutting unwashed produce can transfer dirt or other contaminates from the surface of the produce to the portion of the fruit or vegetable that you plan to eat or add to your water.
It’s important to note, however, that washing the produce will not get rid of all bacteria or viruses. And washing it with soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes is no more effective than washing it with water, the FDA says.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.