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How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

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Updated April 18, 2014

wash your hands iStockPhoto washing greens iStockPhoto washing tomatoes and peppers M. W. Penny

Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli may all be lurking on your produce, whether they are organically grown or conventionally grown. These bacteria all cause food-borne illness and need to be washed away.

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

  • Start by keeping your kitchen countertops, refrigerator, cookware and cutlery clean.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing meals and handling fruits and vegetables.
  • Wait until just before you eat or prepare your fruits and vegetables to wash them. They have natural coatings that keep moisture inside, and washing them will make them spoil sooner.
  • Wash all pre-packaged produce, even if the label claims they are pre-washed.
  • Clean the whole thing - even the parts you don't eat. Bacteria can live on the rinds or skins of foods like bananas, potatoes or rutabagas. Though you may peel them away and toss the coverings in the trash, the bacteria can be transferred from the rind to the knife, then on to the part you're cutting.
  • Gently rub fruits and vegetables under running water. Don't use any soaps, detergents, bleaches or other toxic cleaning chemicals. These chemicals will leave a residue of their own on your produce.
  • Commercial sprays and washes really aren't any better than cleaning thoroughly with plain water, so don't waste your money on them.
  • Firmer items, such as apples and potatoes, can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush while rinsing with clean water to remove dirt and residues.
  • Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage heads, and thoroughly rinse the rest of the leaves.
  • Rinse berries and other small fruits thoroughly and allow them to drain in a colander.

Sources:

"5 A Day: Tips: Washing Fruits and Vegetables." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/5ADay/tips/washing.htm

Phillips CA, Harrison MA. "Comparison of the microflora on organically and conventionally grown spring mix from a California processor." J Food Prot. 2005 Jun;68(6):1143-6.

Stolpa, D. "Wash Fruits and Vegetables - Why and How." University of Minnesota Extension Service, 2001. http://www.extension.umn.edu/info-u/nutrition/BJ779.html

Zander, A. "Washing Fruits and Vegetables." Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Boulder County. June 30, 2000. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columncc/cc000630.html

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