According to the University of Maine, the best way to reduce your risks for food-borne illnesses is to simply wash your hands and fruits and vegetables before consumption. This may seem like a trivially fundamental rule, but many people do not follow this first step. Restaurants do not necessarily follow this step, either. So that salad with red ripe strawberries and fabulous looking mixed green spinach salad with cherry tomatoes may be swimming in dirt, bugs, and pesticides.
Don’t let those last few sentences scare you out of eating your veggies! Innumerable research has shown that eating heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of cancers and many chronic diseases. In fact, a vegetarian diet with fruits and vegetables can reduce and even reverse heart disease! Due to promotions such as the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s 5 A Day the Color Way campaign, people in the U.S. are encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables as a part of their normal diet. Even fast food chains such as McDonalds, known for their burgers and fries, are serving up an impressive menu of greens and healthier burger alternatives. This is great for public health but may put bigger issues such as food safety on the back burner. Yearly “this just in” reports have linked Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks with alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe, and spinach. Why? Because (1) fruits and vegetables are often eaten raw, without cooking to destroy pathogens. Thus they are potential sources of food-borne illness. And (2) the way we grow our fruits and vegetables in the modern agricultural era has us routinely spraying all of our foods before harvesting and consumption.
Not just according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), (but common sense), people should wash raw fruits and vegetables very well before they are peeled, cut, eaten or cooked. Washing reduces the bacteria that may be present on fresh produce.
★ Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after preparing food.
★ Clean your countertop, cutting boards, and utensils after peeling produce and before cutting and chopping. Bacteria from the outside of raw produce can be transferred to the inside when it is cut or peeled. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
★ Do not wash produce with soaps or detergents.
★ Use clean potable cold water to wash items.
★ For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.
★ Produce with a lot of nooks and crannies like cauliflower, broccoli or lettuce should be soaked for 1 to 2 minutes in cold clean water.
★ Some produce such as raspberries should not be soaked in water. Put fragile produce in a colander and spray it with distilled water.
★ After washing, dry with a clean paper towel. This can remove more bacteria.
★ Eating on the run? Fill a spray bottle with distilled water and use it to wash apples and other fruits. (There are also veggie wipes available for the extremely busy)
★ Homegrown, farmers market, and organic grocery store fruits and vegetables should also be well washed.
★ Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40ºF or below.
★ Do not purchase cut produce that is not refrigerated.
Despite many companies saying that these produce are safe and contaminate free, my suggestion is to wash these produce prior to consumption. Salad spinners will wring out the moister after a good rinse in cold, clean water and only cost a few dollars. Take a closer look into organic produce. They may have some visitors (bugs) still living on them.
Usually labeled fruit and vegetable washes, chemical rinses and other treatments for washing raw produce are often advertised as the best way to keep fresh fruits and vegetables safe in the home. In a nutshell, research has proven that these “citrus and chlorine washes” fair less than their competitor: cold distilled water.
Lots of research has been done looking at the best way to wash fruits and vegetables. Does tap water suffice? Should we use vinegar, should we use specific vegetable wash solutions?
In the fruit and vegetable product industry, chlorine is commonly used to remove microbes such as bacteria and mold from produce. In the home, a water wash, either with or without the help of a produce brush, is typically used to clean fruits and vegetables. So how do water washes hold up to the new “fruit and veggie” washes?
In their article, Kilonzo-Nthenge et al. evaluated multiple methods for washing vegetables, including presoaking the vegetables, running them under tap water, brushing them, using paper towels, and also using vinegar and lemon preparations.
The FDA Center for Food Safety suggests rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water and for extra protection, adding one part vinegar or lemon juice to the three parts water helps, but you don't need to use any soap, detergents or special cleaners. It is important to rinse food even if you are going to peel it.
- Use a scrub brush to remove additional dirt and bacteria.
- Cut out bruised or damaged areas; bacteria can thrive there.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe off more bacteria.
Soak (for 1-2 minutes) vegetables and fruit in cold distilled water and rub or brush the vegetables a few times in it.
For a more elaborate, yet equally effective wash, also try using essential oils: Mix together 1 cup water, 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar, 2 TB sea salt or 1 TB baking soda, 5 drops of (Lemon, Lime, Clove and Cinnamon Essential Oil)
Why use distilled water? Distilled or bottled water has been filtered and purified to remove contaminants, so you’re washing your produce with the purest possible liquid. The researchers also said that “very clean cold tap water” can be used instead.
The key is to wash your fruits and vegetables even if you are peeling or cutting them. Slicing an unwashed cantaloupe, for example, can transfer bacteria from the outside of the melon onto the cut fruit. Thick-skinned produce such as melons or cucumbers (or vegetables that grow underground, like beets and carrots) might need an extra scrub to remove excess dirt or hard-to-remove microbes. A vegetable scrubber is the best tool for this job. The University of Maine recommends soaking produce with a lot of nooks and crannies (like cauliflower, broccoli or lettuce) for one to two minutes in clean, cold water before eating.
Once your fruits and vegetables are nice and clean, experts recommend drying them with a dishtowel or paper towel because drying produce may help reduce any residual bacteria that might be present. Make sure you get in between the stems of the fruits, in between the stems, leaves of the vegetables and eat at reputable places where they take the extra step to wash and prepare their foods.