You've Been Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables All Wrong

A quick guide to some of the most common produce cleaning mistakes

You've Been Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables All Wrong
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Properly washing produce can help eliminate harmful germs or bacteria and can help prevent food-borne illness.

It’s seems like a no-brainer; if you’re going to eat the skin of a fruit or vegetable, rinse it under cold running water first. But most people are unaware that all fruits and vegetables should be washed — even those with inedible skins or rinds. Millions of people are sickened each year by contaminated food (as many as 48 million, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration) and many times the source of the outbreak is produce. Properly washing produce can help eliminate harmful germs or bacteria and can help prevent food-borne illness.

Click here to see How You’ve Been Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables All Wrong (Slideshow)

There are several ways that produce can become contaminated. As it is grown it comes into contact with animals, soil, water, and farm workers — all of which can introduce harmful substances to the fruits and vegetables. Once produce is harvested it passes through several sets of hands (as it is packed, shipped, purchased, prepared, and stored), each of which has the potential to contaminate the food with harmful bacteria and germs.

As a general rule, you should always wash your hands with warm soapy water both before and after preparing fresh produce. Almost all produce can be washed under cold running water (no need to use soaps or detergents) — produce that is either firm or thick-skinned should be gently scrubbed with a brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.  Then, once your produce is washed, be sure to dry it with a clean towel or paper towel so that you don’t re-introduce germs. Once your produce is properly washed and dried, it can be peeled, sliced, or cut.

There are a few fruits and vegetables, however, which require special attention when it comes to cleaning — here's a quick guide to washing them.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

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Broccoli and cauliflower have lots of crevices where germs can hide. Soak broccoli and cauliflower in a bowl of cold water for two minutes before rinsing them under cold running water.

Avocado

(Credit: Shutterstock)
You probably don’t think to wash the skin of an avocado before cutting it but the skin can harbor harmful bacteria and can contaminate your knife as you cut. Be sure to rinse the skin and scrub it gently with a brush before cutting the avocado.

Click here to see other ways You’ve Been Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables All Wrong

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.


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7 Comments

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A single drop or two of dish detergent works for me. Rubbing the fruit or vegetables under warm water until the soap is dissipated will remove any contaminants that otherwise may remain. Remember, fruit and vegetables are handled by migrant workers, field hands, stock boys, baggage handlers and the like. Don't believe that they always wash their hands before handling your produce. You use the same soap to clean your dishes and flatware.

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A single drop or two of dish detergent works for me. Rubbing the fruit or vegetables under warm water until the soap is dissipated will remove any contaminants that otherwise may remain. Remember, fruit and vegetables are handled by migrant workers, field hands, stock boys, baggage handlers and the like. Don't believe that they always wash their hands before handling your produce. You use the same soap to clean your dishes and flatware.

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With the new generation of antibiotic resistant bacteria and frequent outbreaks of food contamination, I like to add vinegar to the water when washing vegetables or use an organic vegetable wash especially on produce that the surface can not be mechanically rubbed . Any pesticides residue is more likely to be diminished too. However I'm concerned that many of the water soluble vitamins and nutrients can be washed away too so I try to strike a balance. Organic farms often used chicken manure which could easily carry salmonella.

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Agreed. While there isn't a high likelihood of illness, how hard is it to wash before preparing/eating? I've been diligent about washing melons, avocados, etc. before cutting since the listeria outbreak in 2011. A local woman died despite early diagnosis and treatment. I've also cut down on the pre-sliced fruits and vegetables I serve my family.
<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html" title="http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html">http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html</a>

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I think your are a bit of a germphobe. What your describing here is not necessary and may even be unhealthy itself. You need exposure to germs to create a resistance.

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Somehow I've manage to live 65 years with never scrubbing raw vegetables. Usually I don't even rinse in water. I guess I've been lucky to never had a food-illness. Must be do to not being a germophobe and my body getting good and bad bacteria to be able to not be affected by this.

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This is missing the mark. You can't get your produce clean with just water any more than you can get your hands clean with just water. So what to do? Make a baking soda/vinegar and water bath. 2-4 cups veggies (mixed, small pieces, whatever you are doing that keeps veggie intact. -although I do tear up lettuce into bite size pieces, put in bowl or outer bowl of salad spinner loosely. put on about 2 tbsp. baking soda, 2-4 tbsp. wite vinegar--it will foam up- and cover with water. Swish for a couple of minutes--the water wil get a little slimy. DRain, rnise with clear water then spin dry. YOu will be amazed at how good your veggies taste. Then you will know that simply rinsing them with wter is not enough. Whole furit, veggies, squash, etc? Scrub with baking soda paste until clean. This will remove dirt, waxes, and just about anything that is attached. Then pep as desired. Don't cut into uncleaned fruit-whatever is on the outside will be forced onto the fruit, and then you'll eat it.
This is not a very good solution for mushrooms. I soak those and gently swish in warm water repeating until the water runs clear.

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