The Best Way to Wash & Clean Your Fruits & Vegetables
Nothing like biting into a crisp, sweet red apple – But have you ever thought about what’s lurking on the peel, and how many surfaces your apple touched before it landed in your hands?
This is in no way intended to scare you, we know that fruits and vegetables are delicious and crucial to a healthy diet! But did you know that how you wash and prepare them is crucial to your health? Improper washing or not washing your produce at all could potentially increase your risk of food related illnesses and sickness.
Whether you purchase your produce from the local grocery store, a farmers market, or you grow them yourself in your own garden, properly washing your vegetables and fruits is important.
How Dirty Are Fruits and Vegetables?
Wondering just how dirty fruits and vegetables are? If you purchase your produce from the grocery store, chances are it's pretty dirty. Grown in a field, picked and then packed for delivery to the store, unpacked and placed on display by grocery store employees, and then handled by customers, before you pick your perfect plum or head of lettuce and throw it into your cart or basket (sometimes without a bag!), and take it home to store in your fridge – your fruits and vegetables go on a long journey before they reach your home!
Suddenly your unwashed kale salad doesn't sound too appealing eh? Produce can have pesticide residue, bacteria, and debris & dirt lurking on it, which is why it is important to wash your produce properly.
Pesticide Residue: The intended purpose of pesticides is to manage and minimize crop damage caused by pests such as insects and weeds. While they were created to help maintain the health and quality of crops so that there is enough to feed the population, these heavy chemicals can have negative effects on our health.
Pesticides do break down overtime before the intended consumption, however they can still remain on your produce by the time they end up in your hands. Not washing your produce or incorrectly washing it can leave pesticide residue on your fruits and vegetables. Overtime pesticide exposure can increase your chances of developing cancer, diabetes, alziehmers, and can also cause reproductive disorders, resulting in infertility, miscarriage, or a number of developmental defects in unborn babies.
Dirt & Debris: I mean, it makes sense, your produce comes from the ground – either above or below it, so some soil, sand, and dirt remnants on your lettuce or carrots can be expected. Now sand and soil isn't necessarily harmful to your health, but it may leave you with a gritty feeling or not so great taste in your mouth. Insects can also be found deep within the leaves or layers of your produce, especially leafy greens or anything with stalks and stems, where it's easy to hide.
Bacteria & Viruses: Here’s something you may not have known . . . fruits and vegetables carry an outstanding amount of different kinds of bacteria – and while not all of them are pathogenic (disease causing), some of them can be, like the Norovirus and other food borne viruses. Washing your fruits and vegetables properly can help to reduce bacteria and virus contamination.
How to Wash Your Produce Properly
Not to further freak you out, but how you wash your fruits and vegetables matter – and chances are, you’ve been told the wrong information. So we’re here to clear up all the myths and misconceptions of produce washing!
- Never use bleach to wash your produce or to clean any surface that you intend to cook on. Bleach is a chemical that should not be ingested. Using bleach as a vegetable and fruit soak is a misconception that can pose a serious health risk. Areas such as the kitchen counter or your kitchen sink should also not be cleaned using bleach, to avoid your food coming into contact with the chemical residue.
- Choose a fruit & vegetable wash from a trusted brand like Attitude Living that is made with thoughtful, natural, non-toxic ingredients – and steer clear of vegetable washes that are not labelled as non-toxic or natural.
- Produce, such as pre-cut salad mixes, cucumbers, or baby carrots, that are labelled as “Pre-Washed” are safe to consume right away and don’t require another washing. Washing them again may actually put them at risk of contamination, especially if you do not wash and dry them properly before eating. If you don't see a label indicating that something has been washed previously, then you need to wash it before consuming or cooking it.
- For any produce that has a peel or skin, wash and scrub it under running cool water even if you don't plan on eating the peel! This includes avocados, oranges, melon, bananas, and apples. This is to minimize the chance of bacteria that could be on the peel from being transferred to the inner flesh during the cutting and peeling process.
- Always dry your produce with a paper towel or a clean dry towel or cloth, to minimize the chances of bacteria growth from occurring.
- Buy organic produce! If you can’t afford to purchase all organic fruits and vegetables, there are some produce items that are considered more “dirtier” than others. These are called the “Dirty Dozen” due to their higher pesticide levels. The list includes: strawberries, spinach, kale, apples, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cherries.
- To properly wash leafy greens, such as broccoli, kale, and lettuce, place them in a large bowl filled with cold water to soak. Swish them around in the water to help any sand or grit to lift off and then dump the water and rinse the leafy greens, running your finger along the leaves and ridges to ensure all dirt is removed. Repeat this process until all dirt and sand is removed. Dry using a towel, making sure to pat down gently, or place in a salad spinner to remove any excess water.
- Wash all produce in either cool or cold running water.
- Wash your produce right before eating, instead of washing and storing away in the fridge, to help minimize the risk of bacteria growth.
- Wash your hands properly for at least 20 seconds under warm water using a non-toxic hand soap, and make sure any surface you may use is thoroughly cleaned before you begin washing your produce. These areas include the kitchen sink and the kitchen counter.
- Cut away any bruises or impurities and dispose of anything that has gone moldy or rotten. Dispose of any produce that has gone bad by placing it in a separate compostable waste bag and throwing it out immediately to minimize mold growth in your garbage, or throw the produce into your compost bin.
- Use a sturdy vegetable brush, such as this eco-conscious one from Full Circle, to clean firm produce such as melon, cucumbers, peppers, and carrots. For softer produce or leafy greens, use your fingers to gently rub away any dirt, sand, or impurities.
- Remove the outer layer of leaves from leafy greens, such as lettuce and cabbage which can have the most dirt and bacteria.
- When storing your produce from the grocery store or market, place all produce in the fridge on the top shelves or in designated produce bins that have been cleaned. Any meat or poultry should be placed on a plate or lipped tray and placed on the bottom of the fridge to prevent leaking and contamination.
Properly washing your produce not only makes your fruits and vegetables taste better, it also minimizes your risk of food borne illnesses and reduces your exposure to pesticides and bacteria. By washing your fruits and vegetables correctly, this means you are practicing good health hygiene and food safety!