How To Serve Cut-Up Fruit in the Summer and *Not* Get Anyone Sick

Stocksy/Simone Anne
A summer breeze might make you feel fine—and so can the fresh fruit you’re bound to enjoy during the warmest months of the year.

This season's produce is arguably the sweetest: Juicy berries, melons, and tropical fruits for apps and desserts make everything feel a little more festive (and delicious). If you anticipate hosting a party or get-together to have such delicacies at the ready, it’ll be in everyone’s best interest to be mindful of how you prepare and serve your fruit.

Ahead, discover the top tips and tricks—and the most common mistakes to avoid—when it comes to serving cut fruit. We'll also go into how concerning the worst case scenario may actually be.

Experts In This Article

Potential risks of preparing pre-cut fruit

The biggest risk around eating cut-up fruit lies in the cutting itself, according to food safety expert Trevor Craig, corporate director of technical training and consulting at Microbac Laboratories. “This can be from the knife (or other cutting instrument) being contaminated during the process, or from the outside of unwashed fruit,” he explains. “As that fruit is cut up, bacteria—including potentially dangerous bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, or E. coli—can be introduced.”

Fortunately, he says that in most cases, these bacteria won’t be dangerous to eat. (Cue the collective sigh of relief.) Still, certain types of bad bacteria may pose heightened health risks in vulnerable people such as children, older adults, or those who are immunocompromised.

If and when food-borne illness does occur, it can last for up to a week, triggering symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and fever, per the CDC—so it’s absolutely worth taking the proper precautions to reduce the odds of it occurring.

Worst case scenario aside, Craig says the primary problem with cutting your fruit in advance is accelerated aging. In other words, it’ll lose its quality, composition, and nutrient content more rapidly once cut. “When you cut through a fruit, you are exposing it to the outside and introducing all new variables, including changes in moisture, air (and oxygen), and bacteria,” he explains. “This can make some fruit start to brown quickly within a few hours, but it also means the bacteria can start to eat that fruit and break it down much faster than if it was not cut.”

Avocados, for instance, are infamously among the quick-to-browning bunch—and while the discoloration on your guacamole might not be ideal for presentation’s sake, rest assured that it’s totally safe to eat. Craig adds that pre-cut fruit may turn watery or mushy more quickly than you’d like… and you might even find some slime or growth on the surface. In these cases, you’ll probably want to avoid serving these to guests.

Some summer fruits are riskier to cut in advance

While you don’t need to stop washing and cutting fruit in advance entirely, you might want to prepare certain ones on the day you plan to consume or serve them. First on the list: cantaloupes. “Cantaloupes have been associated with several recalls because their bumpy outside can be difficult to clean, making it easy to transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside of the melon,” Craig explains.

When pre-cut and packaged together, berries, too, “are easily cross-contaminated because of their soft outside.” Chances are you won’t need to slice up your blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, but strawberries might be another fruit you’ll want to prepare just before serving. Still, it's ideal to wash all types of berries shortly before consumption since “they have a short shelf life and generally don’t have much of a protective layer,” says Craig.

3 safety tips for serving cut fruit

If you’re like me and have been buying and/or storing cut fruit for years, you might be rethinking what you once thought was a fab, time-saving food prep habit. But instead of chiding yourself for past “mistakes” or fearing your future fruit-prep game, you really don’t have to worry or switch things up too much. However, to err on the side of caution, you can heed Craig’s pro tips on purchasing and preparing fruit below.

1. Slice it yourself

While it may be convenient to purchase grab-and-go pre-cut fruit, you can save some money (and potentially reduce some contamination risks) by doing it yourself. “I rarely buy or eat pre-cut fruit,” says Craig, “but for ease of use and volume, I understand buying fruit trays or pre-cut fruit, especially melons.”

If you do decide to stick with pre-cut, he advises buying the freshest fruit as close as possible to the date of your event. “It will typically say on the package when the fruit was cut and when it expires,” he notes. (I often finagle my way to the back of the prepared produce shelves when I know I’ll need my pre-cut produce to last me a few extra days.)

2. Keep things clean

Maintaining a sanitary environment during the washing and cutting stages is crucial to reduce the risk of contamination. “Wash your fruit well before cutting and serving, and make sure to use clean cutting boards, knives, and hands,” Craig advises.

You’ll also want to keep your focus on the task at hand before moving on to the next culinary task (or touching your phone or other non-sanitized surfaces or items). “It’s easy to multitask and cut fruit while doing other things in the kitchen, but remember you’re not cooking the fruit, so any bacteria you get on it is going to have a great environment to grow and multiply,” he cautions.

3. Keep it cold

Chilly temps equal fresher, safer pre-cut fruit. “If you want your fruit to last longer, even if purchased at ambient temperature, you can store it cold to help slow bacteria growth,” Craig says.

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