As a child, I used to pick and eat vegetables straight out of our family garden—red juicy tomatoes, crisp green beans, and sweet corn–but today we are all urged to wash fruits and vegetables before we eat them. This tip is true even if you are eating organic produce.
So what’s the deal?
Why is it important to wash fruits and vegetables?
You should wash all of your fruits and vegetables, including organics, to help remove any bacteria, including Escherichia coli (e. coli), from the surface of the produce. The majority of the bacteria reside in the soil that is attached to the fruit and vegetables, so washing it away is important.
Although buying or growing organic food reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides and other chemicals that are typical in conventionally farmed produce, contamination is always possible. One form of contamination is drift from conventional farms in the area of the organic farm. Contamination also can occur while the produce is in transit, when it is stored, and even when it is on the shelves, as customers have a habit of touching lots of different produce while they are shopping.
Unless you are completely confident about the integrity of your homegrown fruits and vegetables and the soil and water you are using to grow them, taking a few moments to wash the fruits of your labors is a good idea.
It’s important to wash loose produce versus pre-packaged items because they are more likely to have soil attached to them. Vegetables with lots of nooks and crannies—such as lettuces and other greens—are especially prone to hold onto their dirt.
It’s probably not necessary to rewash pre-washed or triple-washed greens or other lettuce combinations. However, if you do, be sure not to contaminate them with any surfaces that have touched meat, dairy, or other foods.
Is it really effective?
I have often wondered whether it is really effective to wash fruits and vegetables. According to the Centre for Science and Environment, washing produce with a 2 percent salt solution will eliminate most of the pesticide residues that typically appear on the surface of fruits and vegetables. About 75 to 80 percent of residues are removed when you wash produce with cold water.
Some fruits and vegetables hold onto their soil and pesticides a little better than others. When washing your produce, pay special attention to apples, grapes, greens, guava, mangoes, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
How to wash your fruits and vegetables
You have various ways to wash fruits and vegetables—using one of several DIY approaches or a commercial produce wash.
Let’s talk about DIY approaches first.
The water rinse approach can be used for all fruits and vegetables, although some vegetables that have lots of hiding places for soil and require some additional attention.
- Use cool or cold water and a colander to rinse your fruits and vegetables. You may need to use a vegetable brush to scrub produce such as melons, cucumbers, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and winter squash. Brushing helps to eliminate any difficult to remove microorganisms.
- Dry your produce after washing with a clean towel. This will remove any remaining bacteria.
- A water soaking method also is effective. Fill a basin or sink with enough cool water to soak the produce. This approach is especially helpful for fruits and veggies that have a lot of surfaces, such as berries, broccoli, and leafy greens.
- Place your fruits or vegetables in the water and swish them around so the water can reach all of the crevices. Soak and swish for about 2 minutes. You will need to separate the individual leaves of leafy greens to get them clean.
You can add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt to the soaking water. This method is good for all varieties of fruits and vegetables. Rinse the produce well after soaking.
Prepare a solution of 90 percent water and 10 percent white vinegar in a basin or bowl. Soak your fruit or vegetables in the mixture for 5 to 15 minutes, stir them around, and then rinse thoroughly before using. This approach can remove pesticides and reduce bacteria. However, a vinegar soak may affect the taste and texture of some fruits and vegetables, so be sure to thoroughly rinse off the vinegar-water.
You can purchase a fruit and veggie wash from many grocery and health food stores. A variety of brands are available, some as a spray and others as a soak. Sprays are typically better for “harder” fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots. Soaks are great for “soft” produce or produce that has a lot of crevices such as greens, broccoli and cauliflower, strawberries and other berries, and grapes.
[Editor's note: We prefer to wash our produce with Nature Clean's Fruit and Veggie Wash. It comes either in a spray or a concentrate that you can add to water and soak your produce in.]
Why washing with water is not enough
Many pesticides are used on conventional produce and some of them contaminate organic produce, so it’s always best to wash your fruits and vegetables with an effective and healthy method. Don’t you want to eat the cleanest produce possible? For many people, that means using a produce wash product.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, such products are not necessary and can leave behind a residue on the produce. However, although there is some debate about the use of produce wash, many people find it is the optimal solution for them.
Produce wash may help remove pesticides, wax, dirt, and other residues better than just washing with water. A high-quality produce wash is completely water-soluble, so once you rinse off the produce with water all of the product will be removed.
A produce wash should contain water as its first ingredient, and other ingredients can include lactic acid, cellulose gum, potassium sorbate, decyl glucoside, and sodium chloride. All of these ingredients are safe and effective for cleaning fruits and vegetables.
You want the cleanest, safest produce for you and your family. That means even if you always buy organic fruits and vegetables—and sometimes that’s a real challenge—you need to clean them properly. You have several ways to prepare your produce, and a produce wash is one of we recommend highly.
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