Confused about Washing Fruits and Veggies

I believe the FDA does not currently recommend using soap when washing fruits and vegetables. I wonder, though, about pesticide residues that don’t dissolve in water and those waxy preservatives that encase apples. I also see shoppers hunting through produce bins - even organic fruits and vegetables could be filled, it seems, with oil-based fingerprints (I suspect a bag of nectarines could keep a CSI busy for many days). I tried finding reliable information about this topic and came across a fascinating video (runs about 4 minutes). Although very impressive, I don’t know whether I should accept the views and suggestions this video presents. Clearly, I’m confused about washing fruits and vegetables . . . .

Yes, I never understood why some people think water alone cleans fruits and vegetables enough. Ironically, the government keeps making a big deal about washing hands with soap, yet they say water alone magically washes off the same microbe-infested, oil-based fingerprints that touch every piece of supermarket produce.

I took a look at the video you suggested. You’re right, it’s really fascinating, especially the visually striking difference between a broccoli head that’s truly clean and one that’s merely been washed with water. I also like their practical suggestions for cleaning food quickly and properly.

Yes, nice point about the government’s contradiction about using soap for hands but just water alone for fruits and vegetables, even though the hands of consumers touch produce all day long at the market . . . . I’m starting the think that video is right on track.

A Scary Food Danger You’d Never Suspect

You’re supposed to eat five a day for good health, but beware! There could be danger in your salad bowl and fruit cup.

Illnesses linked to fresh produce are on the rise. Fruits and vegetables are now responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry and eggs, reports The Wall Street Journal. Fully 12 percent of food-borne illnesses are caused by fruits and vegetables, up from 1 percent in the 1970s.

Why is lettuce more dangerous than hamburger? There are several reasons, including centralization of produce distribution, an increase in produce imports and the popularity of pre-chopped, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables. In November 2005, 250,000 bags of Dole packaged salads were recalled due to E. coli bacteria, while in 2003, green onions imported from Mexico are thought to have caused the largest hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history in which 500 people were sickened and three died.

The fruits and veggies causing the most problems are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Melons, especially cantaloupes
  • Lettuce
  • Sprouts
  • Green onions

How do fruits and vegetables become tainted? It’s tough to trace the specific origin, but it is known that once the protective skin is broken, it’s easier for bacteria to enter, reports The Wall Street Journal. In the case of tomatoes, the bacteria can penetrate through the stem or cracks in the skin. Bacteria from irrigation water, manure or wildlife can seep through the cracks and crevices of a cantaloupe rind.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family? The Partnership for Food Safety Education offers these tips:

  • Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of purchasing.
  • Before and after preparing food, use hot water and soap to clean cutting boards, peelers and other surfaces and utensils that touch fruits and vegetables.
  • Do not use the same cutting board for fruits and vegetables and for meat without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after food preparation.
  • Cook or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or their juices.
  • Remove and throw away bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables when preparing to cook them or before eating them raw.

this is something I posted a while back in Cooking Tips -

Ok - “Antiseptic Annie” believes in washing everything. It’s just something that has been done in my family for generations - and I am just as bad if not worse.

Sure, potatoes are “dirty” - you can see and feel it when you touch them. Immediately after purchasing, I place them in my wicker potato basket and store in a cool, dry place (and not near my onion basket!) When I am going to use them - I scrub them with the pastry brush. Even if I am not eating the skins - they get washed.

And even bananas and watermelons - even though you don’t eat the skins - get washed. Yes bananas! Do you know that a good 100 people could have touched those bananas before you even touched them? Just think about it - how many of those people had something contagious, or the flu, or better yet - USED THE BATHROOM AND NEVER WASHED THEIR HANDS?

All produce should be washed at home just before it is eaten. Washing it in advance will cut down on its shelf life and promote bacterial growth.

No soap. Don’t be silly! Do you want everyone to get sick?? There are special produce washes - but I prefer not to use them - I can just imagine what is in them! Cool running water is much easier, more economical and just as effective.

Want a special wash??? Make your own wash - water, lemon juice and baking soda - that’s it - it’s that simple.

And use running water. Hold your produce under running water for 20 to 30 seconds at least.

Root vegetables need much more agressive cleaning - like scrubbing with a brush.

Delicate (easily bruised) items should be held under cool running water and gently scrubbed by hand. Pay attention to any crevices or other parts that may hold dirt and microbes can hide.

If you are using a brush or a scrubber, be sure to wash the scrubber after each use. If you have a dishwasher - toss it in. Eradicate the bacteria!

Remember that peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes have more pesticide residues than any other produce.

Onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and papaya have the least amount of pesticides.

BANANAS, AVOCADOS AND WATERMELON: Scrub skin with a scrubber to eliminate contamination that could be trasferred to flesh after touching or cutting through the exterior.

CANTALOUPE: This needs EXTRA scrubbing! There have been many salmonella outbreaks caused from cantaloupes.

APPLES, PLUMS, TOMATOES, PEARS AND PEACHES: These bruise easily so it’s best to wash under cool running water.

RASPBERRIES: Rinse with a gentle spray of cool water.

LEAFY GREENS: Remove the outer leaves (Iceberg, cabbage, etc.) and rinse the inner portions and use your salad spinner to dry them.

PREWASHED BAGGED GREENS: First of all - I do not believe in these at all. I call them pre-embalmed mixes. Think about it - buy the items fresh and store them in your fridge for a week and take a good look at them - they are ready to be tossed. But yet - these bagged items sit for how long on the store shelf and have an expiration date 2 to 3 weeks or more away! If you must buy them - I would definitely wash them under running water for quite some time!

MUSHROOMS: These are pourous and they have a spongelike reaction to water and should not be washed. Instead it is said they should be gently rubbed with a soft brush or a clean rag to clean them. I wash them before using them.

BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER: Break and cut into florets; transfer to colander and rinse under cool water. Do not soak broccoli - but I do soak cauliflower in salted water to kill the parasites.

I wash it all - peel and trim carrots and wash; peel onions and wash - I rinse my roasts, steaks, ribs, chicken, fish, etc. before cooking - everything gets washed. Habit, habit, habit.

You can also make your own fruit and veggie wash -

For Hard-skinned Fruits and Vegetables:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water.

  2. Then, spray the solution onto your fruits and vegetables; rub it in; and rinse.

For Soft-skinned Fruits and Vegetables:

  1. Fill a bowl with equal parts white vinegar and water.

  2. Then, soak your fruits and vegetables in the solution for a minute or two, and rinse.

The acetic acid in vinegar kills bacteria and helps to dissolve the wax and pesticide residues found on the skins of many fruits and vegetables.

  1. Use a scrub brush to work the solution into the skin

  2. Store your fruit and vegetable wash out of the reach of children

  3. Always label the contents of your spray bottles

BTW - I don’t believe in those “pre-washed” bags of lettuce mixes, spinach, etc. Just what do they do to them to make them last on the store shelves for weeks???

If you have to buy them - wash them with you veggie wash - very thoroughly. You’d probably be better off ingesting the pesticides than the stuff they use on those bagged products.

another thing you can use to clean veggies and fruits is vinegar. my granma used to use it. she would fill up a clean sink with warm water, add a little of the vinegar and then rinse them in the other side as she took them out of the soak. she’d soak for about 5-10 minutes. i’m not sure just how much to use, but i know she would only soak whole foods, not the stuff she chopped in it.

we found the best way to clean potatoes was with warm running water and taking one of those scotch brite sponges with the scrubby side. i have one specifically for that and one for washing dishes. it not only takes off a lot of the dirt, but it also does a little bit of the peeling!

another thing to be aware of, as i was watching a show on parasites, mystery diagnosis i think it was called, was not to chop lettuce! slugs can hide in between folds and can’t be seen. they carry all sorts of parasites that cause trouble. the BEST way to take care of lettuce is to tear it apart, wash under warm running water as you do in a colander, and then shake it dry or pat dry. i will never ever cut my lettuce again. you also have to be wary of packaged salads too. i wash mine now, even knowing that most are washed from the factory, i’m not taking the chance. i also am wary of pre-made salads, like at a restaurant.