Exactly how to wash your fruits and vegetables, according to experts

Conversations about exactly how to wash your products are contentious. There are camps that believe a rinse with water is sufficient, while others believe that the only way to really clean dirt, wax and chemicals from your fruits and vegetables with a washing store-bought productsthe soapy taste be damned.

The jury may still be out, but one thing is clear: we need to rinse our fruits and vegetables with water (and give them a good scrub). However, it is not always clear how important it is, or how to do it right. That’s why we asked the experts. Here’s everything you need to know about washing your fruits and vegetables.

Why do you need to wash your fruits and vegetables in the first place?

There are several reasons why it is important to rinse all the fruits and vegetables you eat with water. First, there is often dirt on them before they are washed off, and no one likes to eat dirt. And more pressingly, many fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticideswhich are not necessarily safe for consumption.

But according to the nutritionist Karine Heinrich, the most important reason for rinsing and scrubbing fruits and vegetables is to protect against foodborne illness. In fact, according to the Food and Drug Administration, 48 million people get sick from contaminated food every year.

“The goal of a good wash is to reduce bacteria and prevent illness, such as E.coli,” she says.

FDA attorney Mark Sanchez added that we only hear about some of the foodborne illnesses that occur, such as salmonella or E. Coli ― so people who get sick from unwashed fruits and vegetables are actually more common than we think. “Often we only hear about large outbreaks, but contamination can occur on any scale,” he explained.

Heinrich also noted that timing matters a lot more than most people realize, both to avoid getting sick and because your products will last longer. “The best time to wash produce is right before eating or cooking it,” she said. “You should avoid rinsing and then storing products, as this creates a perfect moist habitat for bacteria to grow. Too much moisture can cause fruits and vegetables to spoil faster.

Here’s how to wash your fruits and vegetables.

Here’s the big question: can you get away with running water over your fruits and vegetables and call it a day? Sanchez says yes; Heinrich says no.

“Start by washing your hands properly with soap or water, which ensures that no germs are transferred from your hands to fresh produce,” Sanchez said. “When washing, use running water and scrub fruits and vegetables briskly with your hands to remove surface dirt and microorganisms. For something with a hard crust or firm skin, a vegetable brush can be used to scrub the surface. A good tip is to avoid using hot water, which can allow micro-organisms to enter the stem or flowering end of the product.

Gregoria Gregoriou Crowe fine art and creative photography. via Getty Images

Never wash berries long before you intend to eat them. Their porous nature makes them more likely to retain moisture and develop mold.

Sanchez advises against using any type of washing products, as the effects of ingesting them have not been properly studied. While Heinrich doesn’t suggest buying laundry detergent—it can lead to a whole new set of residue—she does recommend taking your laundry detergent beyond water.

“Rinsing fruit under the kitchen faucet can remove dirt,” she said. “But plenty of research shows that adding baking soda to water is the best way to remove pesticide residue. To go the extra mile in killing bacteria, use a vegetable brush when washing thick-skinned products and discard the outer leaves of leafy green vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce before washing.

To make a DIY vegetable wash, Heinrich recommends filling your (clean) kitchen sink with cold water and adding 4 tablespoons of baking soda.

“Soak fruits and vegetables for about five minutes, rinse with cold water and pat dry,” she said. “Exceptions to using this wash are berries or other soft fruits and vegetables that can get too soggy. They still need to be cleaned, but be sure to rinse them quickly in the baking soda solution.

Should some vegetables and fruits be washed more than others?

Although none of your fruits or vegetables should be eaten before washing, it can be confusing, especially when your package of lettuce says it has been “triple washed”. “It’s not a regulated claim and not validated or verified by the FDA, which is why I always recommend washing again anyway,” Sanchez said. “Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes.”

And while you’re at it, Heinrich recommends paying close attention to the “dirty dozen.” “This list is compiled by the Environmental Working Group and ranks fruits and vegetables from most to least likely to contain pesticide residues,” she said. “The Dirty Dozen list for 2019 includes strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes. More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides. Several kale samples showed 18 different pesticides.

In other words, take extra care when washing a member of the dirty dozen.

Here is what the government recommends.

Yes, that’s a lot of information on how to wash your fruits and vegetables — and we don’t blame you if you’re feeling a little nervous right now about foodborne illness. Before you start making this baking soda solution, rest assured that the government’s recommendations for washing products are quite simple:

Wash your hands with soap and water, rinse the products before peeling them and rub them gently while holding them under running water. Do you have harder products? Go ahead and use a vegetable brush.

And fire up that grill – you’ve got some summer veggies to cook.


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