Fruits and Vegetables (even organic ones) NEED washed before eating. The conventional ones are loaded with pesticides and herbicides. Even organic produce can have pesticides on it, plus it can be just downright dirty (it is grown in the dirt, of course). Also, your produce is handled by many pairs of hands before it reaches your kitchen, and you can’t be sure that they all washed their hands before handling your produce. Fruits and vegetables may be handled at the farm, during packing, and then handled perhaps dozens of times by store associates and other customers. Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli can all find a home on your fruits and vegetables, both conventional and organic. These bacteria can cause food-borne illness and need to be washed away from your produce. Just because we can’t see bacteria and chemicals doesn’t mean they are not there! We need to get fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet, just not the chemicals, bacteria, dirt, and insects that may come along with them. You want to get as much of the pesticide residue, etc off of your produce as possible!
It’s also important to wash your hands during the preparation process. Dirty hands are a common source of bacterial contamination. And another source of contamination is our own kitchens- cutting boards, knives, counter tops, sponges, dishes, utensils, cookware, refrigerator, etc. We usually don’t think of this, but if our utensil or cutting board came in contact with the unwashed produce and then we wash the produce, and then we cut it with those same utensils, we have allowed some of the bad ‘stuff’ to get into the part of the fruit or veggie we’re going to eat. For example, an orange… a lot of people don’t wash their oranges. They just start peeling it, with their hands, and then when they get to the fruit, they break it open into slices and continue on with eating it. Now anything that was on that outside of that orange got onto our hands and then onto the part that we ate. See the importance of washing? It’s not paranoia, it’s simply trying to keep the ‘bad’ stuff out of your digestive system- it doesn’t belong there!
Here’s some guidelines for good washing:
Never use soap on your produce. It doesn’t come back off of your fruit/ veggie!
Plain running water is perfectly acceptable. Buying overpriced “Veggie Wash” is a waste of money, in my opinion.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a good cleanser and is what I use.
You have a few options for washing, depending on what kind of produce you’re cleaning:
SOAK & RINSE: For anything that you can, the most thorough way of cleaning is to soak the fruit/veggie in a sink of water (I add some apple cider vinegar to my sink water) and then rinse well (& scrub- see below) under running water. Things you can let soak for a few minutes include: melons, potatoes (even if you plan on peeling), apples, oranges, other fruits with rinds, hard fruits/veggies with tough skin such as cucumber, zucchini, carrots, etc. Also, grapes, plums, pears, avocado, etc. Pretty much, anything you can soak, do it! But, it’s best not to soak until you’re ready to use. So you wouldn’t want to soak all the produce in your grocery cart right when you get home. For most produce, do it as you need the items so that they don’t get mushy.
You may wonder why you need to wash an item like avocados or melons when you’re not going to be consuming the rind. Well, back to the cross-contamination idea, your knife and cutting board is more than likely going to be touching the rind as well as the edible part, so the goal is to keep your edible part as clean as possible, by not having a ‘dirty’ rind that ‘infected’ your utensils.
SCRUB: After soaking, if the produce item is tough enough, scrub with a clean produce brush under running water. Make sure to get in all the crevices and grooves.
Fruits with stems should have their stem removed before cleaning, when possible (apples, pears, etc), because bacteria can get trapped where the stem meets the fruit.
TIP: Even during soaking, some agitation will help break loose anything that might be “stuck” to your produce. So give that sink water a swirl or two while you’re waiting to complete the soaking process.
Here are some ways to handle the not-so-tough produce:
Assuming you’ve already soaked if it was possible, get a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar. Spray onto your item, wait a couple of minutes, then rinse clean. And again, if even light scrubbing is possible, go for it!
Berries: Place in colander and rinse thoroughly. Spray with your ACV spray and let sit a few minutes. Rinse again under running water, moving the berries around during rinsing.
Leafy Greens: Soak for a few minutes, rinse well, then place in a colander to drain.
Cruciferous Vegetables: (Broccoli, cauliflower, etc) There’s a lot of crevices in these types of vegetables. Soak for a few minutes, then rinse well. Soaking will help ensure you got in those crevices.
Mushrooms and other soft, mushy produce: Rinse well, lightly agitating while in your hands or a colander. Pat dry.
TIP: Drying produce with a clean hand towel may further reduce any bacteria or pesticide residue.
Even though these steps may seem lengthy, especially if you’re not used to washing, they’re not. It’s easy, and once you’re in the habit of doing it, you won’t even notice the extra step in preparing your food!