Tips for Washing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

By , SparkPeople Blogger

My aunt and uncle have a farm with a garden, and many fruit trees and bushes. They enjoy vegetables as well as fresh picked apples or pears and berries right off the bush. While it takes work, they enjoy their nutrient-rich bounty throughout the year.

Even with so many fresh, organically grown choices, they still purchase items from the dirty dozen list from time to time. Since it is important to wash all fresh produce whether conventionally or organically grown regardless if it comes from the "dirty" list or the Clean 15, it is important to know the most effective way.

Washing fresh produce is important to remove various types of bacteria such as e.coli, salmonella, or Staphylococcus aureus. The FDA recommends washing produce with a large amount of cold or warm tap water and using a scrub brush on tougher skinned produce such as cucumbers or apples when the skin is going to be consumed. Although supermarkets do not typically wash produce before putting it out for sale, those with store misters do provide a benefit. The routine misting not only keeps the produce from drying out, it also repeatedly drains off surface residue similar to undergoing a light wash under the kitchen faucet.

There are chemical fruit and vegetable washes that claim to remove wax as well as pesticides and 99.9% of surface bacteria. The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine tested three commercial wash treatments following product directions on lowbush blueberries. They found that one removed about the same level of microbes as distilled water and both (the wash and distilled water) reduced levels of residual pesticides. While the other two ozone systems removed microbes, distilled water was more effective. Natural cleaners containing acetic acid are another option. A study several years ago by the editors of Cook's Illustrated did some comparative cleaning of apples and pears to see how rinsing with a vinegar and water solution compared with water alone, antibacterial soap or scrubbing with a brush. The vinegar and water solution was the hands down winner removing 98% of present bacteria compared to only 85% from scrubbing.

While organic produce may not be grown using conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, it is very important to wash them thoroughly. Many beneficial natural fertilizers come from micro-organisms, compost, and dried manure. All of these pose potential health risks if produce is not properly washed before consumption. So whether you are purchasing your produce at a farmers market or the supermarket, or growing them in your own organic garden, here are several safe and effective ways to make your own produce cleaners to ensure your favorite fruits and vegetables are as safe as possible.

Soaks - You can make your own natural super soak using common household items. Mix equal parts vinegar (white or apple cider) with distilled water or dissolve one teaspoon of table salt for each cup of water to create your soak. Allow fresh produce to sit in the mixture for 10-20 minutes and then rinse under cool water.

Sprays - You can easily make your own super solution for a spray-topped misting bottle. Mix one tablespoon lemon juice, two tablespoons baking soda per one cup of distilled water. Spray fruit or vegetables, let sit for five to ten minutes and then rinse under cool water. If you prefer not wasting prep time waiting, mix one tablespoon lemon juice, two tablespoons distilled white vinegar and one cup distilled water, spray fruits or vegetables and pat dry.

Do you worry about organisms, pesticides, or fertilizers on your produce? Do you already use a wash or rinse on your fresh produce? Will you begin to use one now?

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PATRICIAAK 4/25/2020
:) Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Good reminder! Report
thanks Report
Thanks for good ideas Report
Yes, carefully wash those fruits and veggies. I was in the grocery store last week and I saw an employee picking up produce and throwing it back up into the bins. I will never buy produce there again. Also, look at apples carefully. It isn't hard to find little marks from fingernails in them where people pick them up to check them. Report
I always wash my fruits and veggies before eating or use, but I am going to try the vinegar or baking soda wash. Report
I always scrub produce with plain water but now I'm going to try one of the methods that I learned about here. Thanks! Report
Yes, I do wash my produce no matter where I get it. I will use the recommendation for the salt solution instead of buying the spray or using just salt and water with a brush. Report
I do worry about pesticides and fertilizers on my produce. Here in the Caribbean they are used on most produce so I will be washing my vegetables with the products you recommend. Report
Thanks for this info! I normally just rinse my fruit and veggies, but want to be a little cleaner. It can be really expensive to buy special cleaners though, so this is a perfect option! Report
POPEYETHETURTLE, you bring up a great point about the number of individuals who may have touched fresh produce before others buy it.

I read a recommendation that shoppers should not place fresh food/produce on the seat of shopping carts. The reason given was that sometimes young children have accidents or leaky diapers. Report
I know I don't wash my fruits and veggies well enough. I just rinse them under cold water. I usually buy my greens pre-washed, but have heard that is really not good enough, and they should be washed again. I'll try the spray bottle. good idea! Report
OK, my sister has been trying to get me to do this for years. Guess I'll pay more attention to it now! Report
Thanks for the tips. I have been buying a spray but will save my money and try the quick spray you mention at he end of your article. Report
I never really worry about it, honestly. I'm a firm believer in the Hygeine Hypothesis, so when it comes to washing my produce I just want to get the grit off. Report
All one has to do is stand in the produce department of any grocery store for 5-10 minutes observing to be convinced about washing your fruit I produce.

Hands that just wiped up baby vomit seem to particularly linger over apples, pears, onions - etc. Even if it's not so obvious, most people don't avail themselves of the sanitary wipes before marching down the aisle, picking up broccoli here, cauliflower there, part of a bundle of bananas in another section, etc.

On the other side of that story is the fact that at 65 I have no allergies and have not had a single bout with either the cold or flu bug in the past 20 some years. As a child, I thought if you just dunked freshly pulled garden carrots in the horse trough and rubbed the dirt off that was as sanitary as you needed to get. Report

For particularly waxy fruit or vegetables, try this mixture:

1 cup water, half a cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon baking soda and dash of grapefruit seed extract. Spray mixture onto the produce and leave for an hour before rinsing and eating.

I eat many items on the dirty dozen list daily, so it definitely concerns me! I know that buying organic is important to me, especially for those items. If I get a little dirt, I'll be okay, it's those chemicals I'm worried about! Report
i really like the soak idea...thanks! Report
Thanks for these tips -- since seeing the new Dirty Dozen list, I've been concerned about cleaning fruits and veggies better, esp. when I can't find organics. Report
I use a 3 liter mixing bowl or a large basin and do the vinegar/water soak for 2 minutes, then rinse very well under running water. But I also wash/prep a lot of produce at a time and then refrigerate it for future meals. This approach does go through a lot of vinegar, but given the number of food-borne diseases we are now seeing, I'm really reluctant to do less.

And one other consideration -- I don't know how the produce, even organic produce, I've bought has been transported or stored before I buy it. For all I know, somewhere along the line someone has stacked boxes of raw chicken on top of the boxes of produce (don't ask why I worry about this). Report
Thank you for one of the most practical and important articles I've seen in awhile. I will be using these recipes! Report
Something I should pay more attention to washing berries. I freeze them in the containers they come in and just pop them on what I eat. Hmm. If I wash them before freezing, they will be a frozen mess.
If I wash them before serving, they will be mushy.
What to do, what to do? Report
I read that produce must be rinsed under a fairly strong stream of running water to ensure that bacteria is pushed off. Soaking is not effective against
e-coli and other bacteria. I use dish detergent on all fruits and vegetables and rinse thoroughly to ensure my health. Report
I have always washed my produce, but I find that removing the wax on apples is almost impossible. Is there a good way to do that? Report
That soak, mixing vinegar and water: I suppose you're not supposed to reuse it? Seems like a waste, especially of vinegar. Here, a gallon is $1.70 and the way we eat fresh produce, I'd go through gallons a week. I can't do that on my budget. Report
Thanks for the info…I always wash my fruit before I eat it! Report
We have an Epidemic in germany right now, caused by EHEC (a very agressive type of E.Coli). It is abolutly important to wash all fruit and vegetables you want to consume raw. More than 30 people died already. This is important to kow.
Does soaking with vinegar and tap water work as well? (Is there an alternative to lugging home gallons of distilled water?) Report
Thanks for the cleanser recipes. I buy a commercial fruit and vegetable wash, but it's expensive. I'm going to try the vinegar soak. Report
Some veggie washes are better than others. I like the ones that are very thick and contain baking soda and citrus as part of the ingredients list. With a scrub brush, that type even removes wax, which the other methods don't do very effectively. Report
I don't worry much about it, but I do know Dr. Mercola has a recipe for soaking vegetables to remove residue. Report
I always rinse my fruits and vegetables; now I will use the spray bottle method. Thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks for the recipes; I have used dish soap in the past, right after the lettuce scare, but then went back to just tap water. I will try the vinegar. Report
Thanks for the info! I will try it starting today! Report
Good to know! Report
I try to buy organic whenever possible but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't wash them (think ecoli - yuck!) I used to buy cleaners at WholeFoods etc but now I just make my own with vinegar/water and it works fine. Also when there is a scare I sometimes use food grade peroxide/water for the ones that I can't scrub (strawberries etc). I don't ever take the word about the washed and ready to use - the manufacturers, even on the triple washes, usually recommend rewashing when you get it home. Invest in a nice big colander and it's a breeze. Report
I like to use a little hand brush for mushrooms especially, they can be a bit grimy. Report
I never gave it much thought about washing my produce. I didn't realize until I saw a tv show about what our food is covered with that I started to take care with it. The suggestion on making our own wash was great and I will have to use some of them. Report
You know, I have never given much thought to this. I do clean my produce, but apparently not as well as I should. Report
Smiley always wash them even if it says washed and ready to use. Mistakes happen, & bacteria can be very harmful. I do the spray already with a fresh lemon. Report
I'm getting better about washing these days. Used to just rinse under cold or warm water. I'm now putting dish soap on my cantaloupe, watermelons, apples, oranges & cucumbers to wash before cutting. Still just rinsing and rubbing most others except potatoes which I use a brush on. Report
I wash my produce with plain old dish soap. Just wash it up like you'd wash a spoon or your hands. Rinse it well and eat it. Stuff like potatoes, I just peel and then I give them a good rinse, rubbing them with my hands or a brush. Consider how many hands touch your produce; soaping them up is a good idea, imo. Report
I wash some of it quickly under cold water now, not sure that does much good. Some spinach and lettuce I buy says on the container it is washed and ready to use. I take their word for that.

I like the idea of the spray bottle above. I may start doing that. Report