We all know that fruits and veggies are an important part of our diets and that we should eat them every single day. However, it’s not hard to overlook washing them and making sure that all pesticides and harmful bacteria are long gone.1 Especially with a very busy schedule, thoroughly cleaning off your produce can seem like the last thing you want to do.
Pesticides are chemicals used on farms to kill off and control agricultural pests that pose a threat to crops and livestock. More than one billion tons of pesticides are used in America every year. In fact, in the U.S., the pesticide business is a 12.5 billion dollar industry.2
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects pesticide residue levels on homegrown fruits and vegetables, they expect a very small percent (around 1%) of imported produce. Unfortunately, low inspection rates of produce coming from other countries to the U.S. have few incentives for compliance to the FDA’s pesticide residue levels. 3
9 Tips To Properly Wash Fruits and Vegetables
Since the soil or water where your fruits and veggies are grown can contain harmful bacteria, it is important to wash your produce the right way. Contamination can also occur after produce is harvested, when it’s being stored or prepared. Consumption of contaminated produce can lead to food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses. While we all know we should wash the produce as best as is possible, the most important things to remember are listed at the top, since it isn’t always practical to have numerous steps to follow.
Take a look at these important guidelines to wash your produce effectively to eliminate harmful bacteria:
- Wash your own hands. For about 20 to 30 (about the length it takes to sing Happy Birthday) seconds with warm water and soap, wash your hands before and after touching any produce.
- Clean all fruits and veggies under cold running water, thoroughly, before consuming, preparing, or cutting it up. Never use soap, detergent, or even store-bought produce washes. Stick to water.
- For fruits like apples, pears, and peaches, that you often peel before eating or using in recipes, be sure to rinse them first anyway. This will help to avoid bringing any bacteria onto the knife you use to cut it.
- Dry produce after you’ve washed it. Use a dry paper towel or cloth to rid your produce of any lingering bacteria or dirt.
- Invest in a produce brush. You can use it for harder produce, like cucumbers, to scrub their surface and to remove microbes (tiny molecules such as things like bacteria and parasites). Make sure the brush is clean.
- Be sure to wash your countertops and utensils. After you have washed and/or peeled produce, and before cutting and chopping, clean the area where you are working, in order to prevent the potential spread of bacteria from the raw produce.
- Spray your more fragile produce. Foods like raspberries have a tendency to fall apart if placed under running water, so it is important to instead spray them with water to clean them.
- Soak certain produce in water for a couple of minutes. Some foods like broccoli and cauliflower have tougher areas to reach and clean at one time. Soak them in cold clean water instead.
- Fill a spray bottle with water on your way out the door, to clean your apples or other fruits at work or on the go.4
If you have enough time, you can go further with these steps:
Are There Any Exceptions to the Rules?
Some may think organic fruits and veggies bought from local farmers markets do not need to be washed. The organic food label does not translate to “contaminant-free.” While organic produce is grown 95 percent free of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, contamination can still happen, especially in fruits and vegetables without a tough outer skin. And if you think about, organically grown produce has to leave the farm to get to the store or market, and chances are a few hands will touch it before it makes it into your grocery bag. Washing them at home thoroughly will help guarantee bacteria- and pesticide- free produce.
However, when produce such as bagged spinach, kale, or lettuce says, “pre-washed” on the label, it is safe to eat or cook it without washing again if you are comfortable with it.
Make clean-produce guidelines part of your daily regime, and you will continue to reap all of the nutritious benefits fruits and vegetables have to offer, sans any lurking, harmful bacteria.
- Raw Produce: Selecting & Serving It Safely. US Food and Drug Administration. Aug 2013. ↩
- Park A, Kim YJ, Choi EM, Brown MT, Han T. A novel bioassay using root re-growth in Lemna. AquatToxicol. 2013;140-141C:415-424. ↩
- Neff RA, Hartle JC, Laestadius LI, Dolan K, Rosenthal AC, Nachman KE. A comparative study of allowable pesticide residue levels on produce in the United States. Global Health. 2012;8:2. ↩
- Bolton, J. Bushway, A, Crowe, K, El-Begearmi, M. Best Ways To Wash Fruits and Vegetables. University of Maine, Aug 2013. ↩