Do You Need to Use Produce Washes?

by FoodPrint

Published: 4/16/19, Last updated: 4/17/19

Has news about produce recalls or dangerous pesticides got you looking askance at your fruits and veggies, wondering if they’ll make your family sick? We get it, food safety is very important to us, too.

There are three main reasons people wash their fruits and vegetables: removing dirt, removing harmful bacteria and removing chemicals like pesticide residues. If you wash your veggies thoroughly, you’re taking care of the dirt. But, bacteria, pesticides and chemicals are a bit harder to get off.

Bacterial contamination in food — the presence of microbes like E. Coli or listeria — is scary because it can lead to illness, or in the worst scenarios, death. We’re told to cook meat thoroughly to avoid getting sick, but you don’t cook romaine lettuce. So, what can you do? Pesticide residues are another worry. Whether it’s linkages to cancer or developmental issues in children, there are many reasons to steer clear of pesticides.

Commercial Fruit and Vegetable Washes are Pretty Much a Waste of Money

Before you buy those fancy — and expensive — produce washes to give yourself some peace of mind, we’re here to tell you that there’s a better way. Nearly all of our research found that the washes you can find in the store aren’t any more effective than common household products or even just water alone.

The University of Maine tested produce washes to see how well they removed microbes and found them no more effective than a soak in distilled water. A Tennessee State University study had similar findings as did a more recent study by the University of Athens, Georgia. As for their effectiveness in removing pesticides, the same seems to be true: “There is little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied,” found researchers at Connecticut State.

Sure, clean water may be just as good as those produce washes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more effective options. We’ve put together some produce washing tips to help you feel more confident when cooking with fruits and vegetables.

Three Ways to Effectively Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables to Remove Bacteria and Pesticides

Use Clean, Fresh Water and a Vegetable Brush

Washing your produce — particularly firm produce like apples or peppers — in fresh water is a great idea. But before you do, make sure your hands, sink, bowl and colander are clean. Especially if there’s been raw meat in the kitchen. Use a vegetable brush to scrub away the dirt (and anything else less visible) on your veggies. Even better is soaking your fruits and vegetables for more than a minute — maybe two — before using them. This is especially good for softer-skinned fruits like berries.

A note on timing: One of the main things that hasten fruit and vegetable spoilage is moisture. So, don’t wash your fruits and vegetables right when you get them home. They’re much more likely to spoil quickly and there’s a very real possibility that you, your family member or roommate may contaminate it again.

Use Vinegar to Clean Produce of Microbes

Adding some vinegar to the water you’re using to wash/soak your fruits and veggies is an even better way to kill some of the bacteria that are living there. Making your own wash is simple, just mix one part vinegar with four parts water. Either spray the solution on your produce or soak items in the solution and let sit for one or two minutes. Then wash thoroughly.

Use Baking Soda to Clean Your Produce of Pesticides

An interesting study from 2017 shows that using baking soda may be the best bet for removing pesticide residues from fruits and veggies. The study found that soaking produce in a solution of one teaspoon of baking soda to two cups of water for two minutes outperformed other methods. The length of time needed to remove the pesticides entirely may surprise you: the researchers found that they had to soak the produce for 12 to 15 minutes to completely remove the pesticides. That makes sense for firmer fruit, but may not be feasible for soft items that would get soggy with such a long soak.

Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables to Cut Out Dangerous Pesticides

If pesticide residue is a major concern for you, your best bet is to buy USDA Certified Organic produce. Yes, organic growers do use some approved pesticides very minimally, and you should wash off organic produce just as you do regular produce, but going for organic is the best way to protect yourself from the most concerning pesticides. We get that it’s hard, not to mention costly, to buy everything organic, so we follow the Environmental Working Groups Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and focus on their list of “Dirty Dozen” produce items, making sure to buy those items from organic producers.

At the end of the day, only you can decide what’s best for you and your family. There’s a spectrum of ways to reduce your exposure to harmful microbes and pesticide residues. One great way to have full control of your food? Grow your own food! (Just remember that you’ll still want to wash your garden’s produce before eating it, too.)

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