How should I clean my fruits and vegetables?

After you come home with your fresh produce and are preparing your meal or grabbing a snack, you may pause and wonder if you should wash your produce. Does it really matter? If so what should I use to wash it with and when should I wash it?

When I first moved out of my childhood home and headed to college, I wanted to make sure I was doing the best I could at continuing to be as healthy as possible. At the local health food store where I worked there were all kinds of produce cleaners to choose from and the idea of this was quite appealing to me. I wanted to wash all the bad stuff off that shouldn’t be there and was convinced that this must be the ideal way to do so. It was a little pricey on my limited budget, but I gave it a whirl and took the plunge.

You also may have seen produce rinses at the store, have noticed that they are often expensive, and been tempted to buy them too. I’m happy to report that research has shown that they no more effective than cold running water. What’s more, is the residues that are left behind from commercial produce rinses have not been studied and the effectiveness has not been evaluated or standardized. Surprising, I know! What I recommend is using cold running water, gently rub or scrub fresh produce using a produce brush or your hands, but don’t use your kitchen sponge. No washing method completely removes or kills all microbes, which may be present on produce, but rinsing fresh produce under clean running water with or without a produce brush is fairly effective. You can also use the soaking method in a large bowl as this is cleaner than the sink. Leave soaked in water for 1-2 minutes, followed by rinsing and draining.

Even if your produce is organic it is important to wash it as many people have potentially handled the produce item you just purchased prior to you picking it up and taking it home. Foodborne illnesses are a serious potential issue and washing can help. It’s important to remember that organic produce also still uses some pesticides so it’s not necessarily going to be pesticide free. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it is important to wash your produce at home just prior to consumption to remove surface waxes, residues, dirt, and potential bacterial contamination. I don’t recommend washing the produce until you are about to cook with it or consume it as rinsing starts the spoiling process immediately after washing. The opposite is true with fresh herbs however.

You should not use soap or detergents to wash your produce as it can upset your stomach and contain chemicals that are not made for human consumption. These can leech into porous fruits and veggies and alter the taste and safety.

I’ve had patients ask if using vinegar to rinse produce is a good option. After using produce rinses for some time, I also wondered if vinegar is a good option. I was told that apple cider vinegar or white vinegar was equally as effective and much cheaper so I did end up switching to this method before finally switching to plain cold running water. Studies have shown that it’s not more effective than water in terms of reducing pesticide residues, but it’s harmless to do. If this is a method that you prefer then it’s perfectly fine to do. Of note, some people have experienced faster spoilage and altered taste with this method.

Recently my husband and I purchased a salad spinner (as pictured in the title photo) and were a little reluctant to do so because we weren’t sure if it was going to really do much in the way of adequately cleaning lettuce. We use it for just about everything that’s green and leafy like cilantro, parsley, and for every type of lettuce that’s out there. We’ve even used it with mushrooms. I highly recommend getting one if you don’t already have one. Keep in mind that it does take up some space in your kitchen if you don’t have much room. I think you can adequately clean your produce without one, but it does make cleaning your green leafy’s easier and keeps them crisp.

Many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging, and you can use the produce without further washing.

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Washing tips

  • Start with washing your hands first!
    • For hard produce like melons, cucumbers, citrus fruits and potatoes, these should be scrubbed with a scrub brush under cold running water.
    • For leafy greens, lettuce, and cabbage, first remove and discard the outer layers. Wash individual leaves under cold running water and shake to drain and pat leaves dry with a clean paper towel or use a salad spinner.
  • For bunched produce like carrots, grapes, or radishes, rinse in a colander.
  • For fruits with a stemmed tip like apples, after rinsing, slice off the stemmed ends to remove any trapped bacteria in their crevices.
  • Use your produce immediately after washing, rather than washing and storing in the fridge, which can lead to bacteria growth and faster spoilage.
  • Wash produce before you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  • Wash your hands, utensils and cutting board with hot soapy water before and after preparing food. Use separate cutting boards for produce items and meats to avoid cross-contamination.

Ultimately, how you choose to wash your produce is a personal choice. Just know that plan cold tap water is just fine and that you don’t need an expensive produce rinse. Happy eating!

For more updates, you can follow Survivors’ Table on Facebook. Thanks for joining me on this journey! – Danielle

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