Feb 22, 2010

Washing Fruits & Vegetables: The Right Way

I never really thought much about washing fruits and vegetables before I had kids. However, knowing E. coli or other types of bacteria could make my children extremely ill - even kill them - makes me much more conscious of keeping our food clean.

But just how are you supposed to wash fruits and veggies to reduce the risk of poisioning? I mean, if we are supposed to wash our hands for 30 seconds with soap, should we be doing the same thing with produce? As I gave my kiddos fresh strawberries this morning, I couldn't help but wonder if I was doing enough to protect them from illness.

So I looked up the Federal Drug Aministration's (FDA) recommendations:
"All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.

Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.

Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.

Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present."
The FDA also cautions you not to assume pre-packaged produce (like spinach leaves or lettuce) are pre-washed. If the food is pre-washed, this will be clearly stated on the packaging. To be doubly sure, however, it may be wise to wash the produce again, just before using.

The FDA and other expert sources also say products sold for cleaning produce aren't any more effective than washing with plain water. And while the FDA doesn't mention what temperature the washing water should be, other sources, such as Joellen Feirtag, associate professor and extension food safety specialist in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, say warm water works better than cold.

I admit, to me it seems mere washing with water isn't going to remove harmful bacteria, but Feirtag says it "reduces bacteria that may be present” and that soaps leave residual you don't want on your food. She also says it's important not to wash fruits and vegetables until just before you cook with or eat them; many foods have a natural finish that protects them. If you wash them, then place them in the fridge, they will spoil faster.

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  1. Removing bacteria is important to us is our house, but even more important is removing the pesticides and wax that are so commonly used. My hubby is big on the Veggie Wash products that state they'll get rid of the wax and pesticides, but I personally question whether they're much more effective than plain water and a scrub brush. Any info on that aspect?

  2. According to the USDA, those veggie wash products do not work better than warm water and a scrubbing.