By Kristen DeAngelis
Have you ever popped a blueberry in your mouth before washing it and wondered, “Is it really clean?” Many people only wash their produce if it’s visibly dirty, or only if they remember, or maybe only if it’s conventional produce. Did you know that on average, just from the grocery store alone, up to 20 people may have handled your tomato before you pick it up?
Foodborne illnesses have become a serious issue. Just this past year we saw outbreaks with salmonella linked to cucumbers, a parasite outbreak linked to cilantro, and currently there is an ongoing investigation of alfalfa sprouts. It’s important that we know what to do to protect ourselves and it starts with nothing simpler than cold running water.
The following steps will help to limit the amount of residue and harmful bacteria on your produce:
A scrub brush has been shown to remove slightly more bacteria than just water alone. Use your brush on thick-skinned produce like melons, carrots and potatoes while washing under cold running water. The firm, nylon bristles in the brushes are perfect for scrubbing away microbes and are generally dishwasher safe and easy to handle.
Do I really need to wash my innocent looking organic blueberries? Yes! Even if it’s organic, there is a risk of microbes and harmful germs residing in the crevices, skins, and leaves of your produce. A 2006 study looking at farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, found E.coli contamination similar in both organic and conventional produce. Researchers found E.coli’s presence was more dependent on the type of produce rather than whether it was organic or conventional (leafy greens being more likely to contain these microbes despite having been grown pesticide-free).
The bottom line: Both organic and conventional produce need to be thoroughly washed under cold running water.
While commercial washes are highly advertised, research has shown there isn’t a whole lot of benefit over just using plain water. A study at University of Maine, found that water was the same, if not slightly better, at removing microbes. Another study at University of Tennessee, found no significant difference between the veggies washes and plain water.
The bottom line: Stick to cold running water and do a thorough wash, especially for fruits and veggies with tiny crevices like tomatoes and apples.
While the research shows it’s not really necessary, if you want to use a homemade rinse, it won’t hurt. Use a spray bottle with 3 cups water and 1 cup white vinegar. Spray your produce just enough to coat the surface, and then rinse it under tap water before consuming. Use your homemade spray for smooth skinned fruits and veggies like apples, pears, and cucumbers.
Pre-washed bagged lettuce is generally very safe and you don’t need to re-wash it again. If you still prefer to re-wash packaged greens, just be careful to avoid cross-contamination.