Washing Fresh Fruits and Veggies
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Fruits and vegetables are certainly some of the healthiest foods on the planet. But as produce goes throughout the process of being grown, processed and set out for sale, it can become contaminated from soil, water, and all the handling that it goes through. Therefore, proper washing is important in keeping fruits and vegetables safe and fresh to eat.
The best time to wash fruits and veggies is right before you’re going to cook or eat them, rather than when they’re first bought or picked. That’s because washing is going to leave moisture on your produce, which can make it spoil more quickly. If you do decide to wash your fruits and vegetables before you put them away, just be sure to dry them thoroughly. You can spin leafy greens in a salad spinner and wrap in a towel, and dry other foods with a clean cloth or paper towels.
When it’s time to wash, use cold running water and rub your hands over the food while the water is running. You don’t want to swish your fruits and veggies around in a sink full of water, because you run the risk of redepositing germs and bacteria back onto the surface. You can use a produce wash if you want to, but studies show that they don’t remove any more contaminants than plain water and a vegetable brush.
For foods with rinds, skin and grooves like melons, potatoes, citrus and cucumbers, you’ll want to scrub them with a brush under running water, even if you’re going to peel, because bacteria can get caught in the grooves, or stick to the waxy surface of citrus or cucumbers. This is important because even though you don’t eat the rind of a melon, any bacteria on the surface can be transferred to the fleshy interior when you cut into it.
Leafy greens grow close to the ground, which is where bacteria from irrigation systems tend to thrive. So it’s usually recommended that you remove a few outer leaves of foods like lettuce and cabbage where the most bacteria are likely to be. Then break off the remaining leaves and rinse thoroughly. Pre-washed salad greens are labeled ready-to-eat, but many people err on the side of caution and give them a quick rinse. I usually do this, not only to ensure that the lettuce is clean, but also because it refreshes the greens and brings back their crispy texture.
For berries and grapes, you’ll want to wash in a colander, preferably with a sprayer if you have one, and then dry on a clean towel. Berries in particular are highly perishable, so they’re best left unwashed until right before you’re ready to eat them.
Do you wash your bananas? Most people don’t but keep in mind that lots of hands have touched that fruit before you have. If you peel a banana and then break off a piece of the fruit with your fingers, you could be transferring harmful bacteria living on the peel directly onto the flesh of the fruit and right into your mouth. I get teased about this all the time, but I say, let them laugh. I’d rather be safe than sorry.