How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Veggie wash
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The fresh fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store may look clean, but there's always a chance of contamination due to bacteria, bits of dirt, or even bug parts lurking in or on your produce.

The dirt and the bug parts (ugh) may not be harmful to your health, but bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli may be present, and it doesn't matter if they are organically grown or conventionally grown.

These bacteria all cause food-borne illness and need to be washed away.

Washing conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can also remove some of the residue left from pesticides or herbicides. 

How to Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables

Unless they're covered in dirt, it's usually best to wash fruits and vegetables right before you need them. Berries, especially, are prone to mold growth if they're washed and stored in the fridge. Fruits and veggies may have natural coatings that keep moisture inside -- washing may make them spoil sooner. 

Wash all pre-packaged produce like salad blends and bagged spinach, even if the label claims the contents are pre-washed because it's possible they may have been exposed to bacteria or contain bug parts or other things that were missed in the washing.

Start by keeping your kitchen countertops, refrigerator, cookware, and cutlery clean, and, of course, always wash your hands before handling fruits and vegetables.

Gently rub fruits and vegetables under running water. Don't use any soaps, detergents, bleaches or other toxic cleaning chemicals. These chemicals will leave a residue of their own on your produce and destroy the flavor (and you know, they're not meant to be consumed).

Commercial fruit and veggie sprays and washes really aren't any better than a thorough cleaning with plain water, so don't waste your money on them.

Firm produce such as apples and potatoes can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush while rinsing with clean water. Make sure you keep your vegetable brush clean between uses.

Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage heads, and thoroughly rinse the rest of the leaves. Greens like beet tops or Swiss chard can harbor bits of sand and dirt, so don't be afraid to wash them twice.

Once they're washed, let your fruits, vegetables, or berries drain in a colander and transfer them to clean bowls or cookware.

Mushrooms just need a gentle brushing, no water needed. In fact, rinsing them with water may make them more difficult to clean.

And finally, remember to keep your clean, ready-to-serve fruits and vegetables away from raw eggs, meats, poultry, or seafood because they may be contaminated with bacteria.

Sources:

Michigan State University. "Washing Fruits and Vegetables." Accessed May 5, 2016. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/washing_fruits_and_vegetables.

Phillips CA, Harrison MA. "Comparison of the microflora on organically and conventionally grown spring mix from a California processor." J Food Prot. 2005 Jun;68(6):1143-6. Accessed May 5, 2016. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2005/00000068/00000006/art00003.

University of Minnesota Extension Service. "Handling Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Safely." Accessed May 5, 2016. http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/fruits/handling-fresh-fruits-and-vegetables-safely/.

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