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Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet means stocking up on fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, fresh produce often doesn’t come ready to eat. They must be thoroughly washed before cooking and/or eating them to protect you and your family from food poisoning. In fact, between 1998 and 2008, produce contributed to nearly half of all foodborne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such statistics have prompted companies to market different varieties of commercial fruit wash, but do they really work?
When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Wash Your Produce
Washing your fruit and vegetables is one of the most important ways to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses, such as listeria, E.coli, and salmonella. Whether your produce is commercially harvested or organic, it is still exposed to pesticides, dirt, and other contaminants that can be harmful.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule. If your produce is packaged and sold in sealed bags and labeled as “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed,” it’s not necessary to rinse them again when you get home. In fact, rinsing them again may expose your produce to contaminants lurking in your kitchen.
HOW TO WASH YOUR SALAD GREENS
According to the University of Maine, the following guidelines will help you wash leafy greens thoroughly and keep your and loved ones safe from foodborne illness:
- Discard any wilted outer leaves.
- Separate the leaves of your greens.
- Soak them in a bowl of cool water for a few minutes.
- Drain them using a strainer or colander.
- Dry the leaves with a clean towel or salad spinner.
And if you’re bringing home berries or other fruits and that have the tendency to mold quickly, you shouldn’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them.
Protect your washed, cut and/or peeled produce by refrigerating them as soon as possible and do not purchase any cut produce that isn’t refrigerated.
Types of Fruit Wash
Now that you know when you should (and shouldn’t) wash your produce, it’s time to pick an appropriate fruit wash. While plain water is the most popular and economical choice, some people prefer to use one or more of the following:
- Salt water
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Commercial wash (consisting mostly of a blend of natural oils and surfactants derived from plants)
Which Fruit Wash is the Best?
While veggie and fruit wash manufacturers claim that their products do a better job at removing wax and dirt from produce than just plain water, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration says otherwise.
“Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash,” says the FDA website. Using washes or soaps may result in residue and can also change the flavor of produce.
According to research conducted by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine, three veggie and fruit wash products tested reduced the level of residual pesticides on fruit when compared to not washing them at all but washing produce with distilled water was the most effective and economical method.
In a study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, baking soda fared better than bleach and tap water; however, it took 12 to 15 minutes to remove all of the pesticides the researchers applied to the fruit. Saltwater and vinegar are two other ways people may wash their produce, but these methods can affect the taste of the fruit.
How to Properly Wash Produce
It’s clear that plain water is the best option for washing produce, but here are some additional tips to ensure that your fruits and vegetables are as clean as possible:
- Remove any stickers so that the section underneath can be cleaned.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
- Cut away damaged or bruised areas.
- Soak veggies with bumpy surfaces, such as broccoli and cauliflower, for one to two minutes before rinsing.
- Salad greens require special attention—see sidebar for instructions.
- Rinse produce with cool water.
- Scrub any fruits or veggies that have a thick skin, such as potatoes.
- Inspect to make sure there isn’t any visible dust or bugs.
- Dry produce with a clean paper towel.
- Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40ºF or below.
It’s important to remember that even after following all these steps, no washing method is 100% effective. Be sure to follow the best practices to ensure the cleanest produce. Also, be mindful of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 for the best produce to buy organic.
3 HOMEMADE FRUIT WASH RECIPES
If you’re not ready to give up using fruit wash just yet, save some money with these three homemade recipes courtesy of Good Housekeeping.
Super-Simple Veggie Wash
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 cup cold tap water in a spray bottle
Mix, shake well, and apply to your produce. Rinse with tap water before cooking or serving.
Leafy Green Wash
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3 cups water
Mix the water and vinegar together in a bowl. Allow your greens to soak in the bowl for about 2 minutes, then rinse them well.
All-Purpose Germ Killer
1 spray bottleful of undiluted white vinegar
1 spray bottleful of undiluted hydrogen peroxide
Spray your food first with the vinegar and then with the hydrogen peroxide. Rinse thoroughly.