Getting down and dirty cleaning fruits and vegetables has always been important, but y’all know COVID-19 has made us all far more aware of pathogens than ever before.
So, what’s the best way to wash fruits and vegetables to get rid of pesticides, waxes, critters, and germs? And do you have to wash all of the fruit and veggies you bring into the kitchen, or are there some you can skip?
The CDC recommends scrubbing any produce (even with peels) with water to help reduce bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Rinsing, at a minimum, is better than doing nothing at all, but the best approach depends on the specific produce you’re grabbing for that morning smoothie.
Here are some best practices for how to wash vegetables and fruits once they hit your kitchen.
Is washing produce important?
The best way to prevent any food-borne sicknesses is to cook your produce. But if you’re planning to eat it fresh (mm, summer salads), then giving them a scrub with plain water is your best bet. This includes foods with peels where germs can sneak into the inner parts when you cut into them.
Rinsing your produce under the tap is step one for all fresh fruits and veggies. That also includes organic produce because it can still have pesticides, bacteria, and other germs lingering on the surface. Here are some tips for a produce shower:
- Warm water will be somewhat more effective than cold, but be careful when washing delicate things like fresh raspberries because too much heat will cause them to fall apart. This can also happen if the water from the tap is flowing on high.
- Don’t use soap, bleach, or other chemical cleaners. Stick with the CDC’s choice of plain water to keep yourself safe.
- And always remember to wash your hands before rinsing produce. You want to clean the produce, not add germs and bacteria from your hands. Plus, it’s just solid practice to wash your hands whenever you get back from being outside. Pro tips, friends.
- Use a clean colander to rinse greens, snap peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and other small items that might be difficult to hold by hand. Move them around with your fingertips to ensure all the dirt, germs, and bacteria are getting rinsed away.
- Dry everything with a clean towel or paper towel before putting it away in the fridge or on the counter in a fruit bowl; otherwise, the moisture could cause mold to grow quickly.
Soaking produce is another method of cleaning your fruits and veg, especially the more delicate kinds that won’t play well with running water. Here’s how to soak with style:
- More delicate produce that comes in bunches (like grapes and berries) can be soaked in cool or lukewarm water for anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes to help the water loosen any dirt, bugs, and other unseen villains.
- You can add a bit of white vinegar — about a 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar per 1 cup of water — since it’s a natural bacteria killer. You’ll want to rinse your produce in clean water after soaking, especially if you use vinegar since it can leave a faint smell. You can also use lemon juice instead of vinegar. But generally this isn’t required.
- If you’re soaking produce in your sink, you should wash the sink itself first. After your produce soaks, make sure to dry everything completely before storing it, to keep it fresh longer.
For produce that can take a bit more of the rough stuff, scrubbing can get more dirt and bacteria off efficiently.
- Produce with thick skin, like squash, melons, carrots, and other root vegetables should be scrubbed with a stiff brush under running water to ensure they’re clean, even if you plan to peel it. The brush itself should also be cleaned after each use so it’s not trapping and spreading bacteria.
- Some produce has a wax coating you can choose to eat, like apples, cucumbers, and lemons. If you want to eat the skin, you can use some baking soda as a natural scrub to help remove the waxy layer.
- You can also very briefly dunk these items in boiling water or pour the hot water over the produce. Then, give them a scrub to loosen the warmed-up, softened wax and any invisible pesticides and bacteria.
How do I clean produce with a rind, skin, or peel I’m not going to eat?
Wash them! In fact, you should take extra care to wash fruits and veggies when you’re going to peel them or cut through the whole fruit or vegetable (including melons, citrus, and avocados). If you don’t clean this type of produce first, you might get bacteria from outside the food inside when cutting it.
If you’re going to be roasting the produce in question, you might think it’s okay to skip cleaning it because the high heat will kill any germs and microorganisms that may be present. But there may be some microorganisms that can live through it, if you can believe it. We’d recommend cleaning the produce just in case.
How do I clean mushrooms?
You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to wash mushrooms, but it’s actually fine to do. Just don’t let them stay in water for a long time because they will start to soak it up. Instead, just dunk them quickly and give them a gentle scrub with your fingers.
Should I use a commercial fruit and vegetable wash?
We know there are many companies that sell produce washes, but we don’t generally recommend them.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these products are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on foods. The FDA also says people should not use soap or detergent because they could end up eating leftover soap and get sick.
Don’t make cleaning fruit and vegetables harder than it has to be. Use clean water and sanitized surfaces, and gently stir with clean hands or use a clean brush to get rid of any bacteria or germs on more hardy veggies. Then, enjoy your clean produce in a big ol’ salad.