The Safe Way to Wash Produce

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Ever wonder if you’re actually washing your produce the “right” way? It’s easy to get spooked about foodborne illnesses, but will rinsing fruit and veggies even make that much of a difference?

The truth is—it does! Plenty of food specialists have run tests to prove that you can remove 98 percent of bacteria by thoroughly washing produce in water. Even the FDA opts for clean drinking water over commercial produce “cleaners.” So long as you give your food a 30-60 second rinse, you should be in the clear and be able to get rid of any bacteria on your produce. But there’s one catch: Not all water is created equal. To make sure you’re really keeping your produce safe, you’ll want to wash it with your best drinking water. Washing with contaminated tap water won’t do you any good.

If you have a reverse osmosis filter, go ahead and use that water for prepping your fresh produce. Because those water filters take out chlorine and just about any other contaminants that might be in your regular tap water, RO water is a much safer kind of H2O for your produce. (Not to mention a yummier way to brew coffee, and a delicious base for your favorite soup recipes!)

3 Myths on How to Wash Produce

Now then, assuming you have safe water, all you have to do is turn on the faucet and scrub on! The consequences for not washing produce are way too risky. Eating foodborne bacteria typically leads to illness within 1 to 3 days, and you might even experience some harsh symptoms in a quick 20 minutes. Vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are all common. It might even feel like a bad flu with body ache and fever. Avoid these produce washing myths, and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping you and your family healthy and happy.

1. You can skip washing if you’re going to remove the peel or rind

This is false. Even produce you peel needs a good wash. Use a mini scrub brush if you’d like, but normally just rubbing your food with your hands under water can do the job. When you peel vegetables or fruits with skins and skip washing, you can actually transfer bacteria from the outside onto the parts you plan to eat. Not cool!

Washing cantaloupe is extra-important. Its rind has a unique texture that’s really good at holding on to bacteria. Listeria outbreaks linked to cantaloupe have turned deadly in the past (check out page 26 of this Purdue report), so it’s pretty serious business. Wash your fruit before cutting it, and then wash the cantaloupe pieces again to help them stay safe and delicious.

2. You don’t need to wash organic produce or bagged lettuce

Wrong! Even your local or organic produce needs a good wash. Just because they might not have grown around any pesticides, bacteria can still get on food during any point from that farm-to-table process. Rinsing in cold, running water is always a good idea.

As for pre-washed bagged lettuce, the pros and cons for washing are a little more complicated. Much like our city tap water, those types of salads are typically treated with a water and chlorine. The chlorine works as a sanitizer, and a lot of people prefer to wash it off their leafy greens. Of course, you can always side-step the dilemma by opting for heads of lettuce and washing it yourself. Up to you!

3. You should wash produce right when you get home

Well, yes and no. It’s fine to give your goodies a rinse before putting them away, but what’s most important is that you wash items right before you plan to eat them. Your fridge’s produce drawer might be dirty, or you might accidentally contaminate the produce later on, so it’s wise to wash before you take your first bite.

The exception to this rule might be for, say, a picnic or camping trip. In that case, go ahead and wash your food before you pack up—even if you don’t intend to eat that apple for a few days. Unless you have a great system for purifying your camping water, you’re probably better off washing it ahead of time. You might not have the right facilities to tidy up in the woods.

It’s a lot easier to prep food safely when you have good water. And you really can be the epitome of clean eating when you wash your produce the proper way. Stay safe and eat well!

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