How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables: A Comprehensive Guide

Cleaning your fruits and vegetables with water is an effective way to reduce bacteria and residues. Most produce can be easily cleaned with a light scrubbing, while items with more crevices can be swished in a bowl of water to remove dirt.

Including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet is a healthy way to get essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

It has long been advised to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with water before consuming them to eliminate any undesirable residues from their surfaces.

Why it’s important to wash fresh produce

Regardless of a global pandemic, making it a habit to properly wash fresh fruits and vegetables is crucial to minimize the intake of potentially harmful residues and germs.

Before reaching your kitchen, fresh produce passes through the hands of various people in grocery stores or farmers markets. It’s prudent to assume that not every pair of hands touching the produce has been clean.

Given the constant flow of people in these environments, it’s also reasonable to assume that the fresh produce may have been exposed to coughing, sneezing, and breathing.

Thoroughly washing fresh fruits and vegetables before consumption can significantly reduce residues left on them during their journey to your kitchen.

How to Properly Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Cleaning your fruits and vegetables is a straightforward process, though it’s easy to miss a step that could compromise the safety of the produce. Here’s a simple guide:

  1. Choose Quality Produce: Start by selecting fresh produce without bruises, mold, or damage. If buying precut items, ensure they’ve been refrigerated or displayed on ice, and check the expiration date.
  2. Proper Storage: Keep perishable fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator (unless they’re best at room temperature) at 40°F or below. Always refrigerate precut items.
  3. Hand Hygiene: Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling fresh produce.
  4. Preparation Before Peeling: Wash the produce before peeling or shredding to prevent contaminants from transferring from the knife to the fruit or vegetable.
  5. Rinsing Process: Hold the produce under cool running tap water, gently rubbing it as you rinse. No need for soap, except for mushrooms. Use a sharp paring knife to cut away damaged areas.
  6. For Firm Produce: Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub surfaces of melons and winter squash.
  7. Produce with Uneven Surfaces: Soak bumpy produce like cauliflower and broccoli for 1 to 2 minutes in cold water (after removing outer leaves), then rinse again.
  8. Drying: Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry the produce before using it.

Special Attention to Salad Greens

  1. Leafy Lettuces: Discard wilted outer leaves, remove the root end, and separate leaves under cold running water.
  2. Smaller Greens (Spinach, Arugula): Swirl them in a bowl or sink filled with cold water for about 30 seconds, shake gently, and drain in a colander.
  3. Iceberg Lettuce: Remove the core by hitting the stem end on the countertop. Hold under cold running water, pulling leaves apart slightly, and invert to drain.
  4. Mesclun: Rinse in a colander or salad spinner basket.

Additional Tips for Safely Washing Fruits and Vegetables

When it comes to ensuring the safety and health of your produce, it’s natural to consider going the extra mile in the cleaning process. Here are some important reminders for washing fruit, vegetables, and lettuce:

  1. Avoid Soap or Detergents: Refrain from using soap or detergents when washing produce. Stick to simpler methods for effective cleaning.
  2. No Need for Special Washes: You don’t have to invest in specialized produce washes. Using cool, clean, running tap water is sufficient for cleaning fruits and vegetables.
  3. Wash Before Peeling: Clean all produce before using, even if you plan to peel it. Dirt and bacteria on the unwashed exterior can transfer into the fruit or vegetable when using a knife.

The Baking Soda Fruit Wash

A study at the University of Massachusetts Amherst revealed that a combination of baking soda and water was more effective at removing pesticides from apple skins than water alone. While our Test Kitchen found no harm in trying this fruit wash—soaking apples for 2 to 12 minutes in a solution of 1 tsp. baking soda and 2 cups water, then rinsing—we lack the tools to measure remaining pesticides.

Now that you know the right way to wash fruits and vegetables, you can confidently keep all your nutritious produce safe for use in berry desserts, healthy salads, or plant-based meals with just a little meat.

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