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Yes, Produce Should be Washed - Here's How To Do It


If you’re not washing your produce before consuming it, you’re putting your health at risk. While giving your fruits and veggies a quick rinse under the tap is a good start, chances are you’re barely diluting what’s lurking on them. 

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, you may feel more encouraged to go above and beyond when it comes to cleaning frequently touched surfaces, including the food you eat. Just like with hand washing, following the process correctly yields better results. 

So, while rigorous hand washing has become the new norm, washing your produce should too. This will reduce your chances of contracting germs left by previous handlers and clear harmful chemical residues you’d otherwise ingest.   

What You Can’t See Can Harm You 

I have a feeling once you know what’s on your produce, you won’t think twice about washing it…no matter how hungry or little time you have. Let’s take a look…

1. Pesticides 

Give yourself a big pat on the back If you’re already eating organic produce. Research has proven that compared to conventional, organic produce contains significantly less manmade pesticide residue (if any at all) AND higher concentrations of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. If it costs more, trust me it’s worth it!

As described by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences“A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. Pesticides include herbicides for destroying weeds and other unwanted vegetation, insecticides for controlling a wide variety of insects, fungicides used to prevent the growth of molds and mildew, disinfectants for preventing the spread of bacteria, and compounds used to control mice and rats. 

While we know pesticide use is widespread in conventional farming, it’s true that organic produce can contain trace amounts as well. This results from nearby farm cross contamination and is unfortunately more common than you’d think. 

It’s no secret that exposure to pesticides is associated with a higher risk for chronic disease, neurodegenerative disorders and certain cancers. Children are especially susceptible to pesticides’ adverse effects.

You can read hundreds of studies supporting this connection on the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database.

The heaviest pesticide containing produce is known as the “dirty dozen.” If you can’t always buy organic, at least buy the organic version of these 12 and you’ll dramatically reduce your toxin load.

Your "Buy Organic" List

✔️ Celery

✔️ Lettuce

✔️ Peaches

✔️ Blueberries

✔️ Strawberries

✔️ Apples

✔️ Nectarines

✔️ Bell peppers

✔️ Potatoes

✔️ Cherries

✔️ Grapes

✔️ Spinach, kale & collard greens

2. Microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi)

Wouldn’t it be great if your hands were the first to ever touch your food? It’s unsettling to think of all the surfaces and hands (and breathing, sneezing, coughing people) that your produce comes into contact with…before you even buy it. 

The most common pathogens linked to produce that cause the most illnesses, hospitalizations, or deaths in the U.S are:

➤ E. coli

➤ Norovirus

➤ Salmonella

➤ Listeria

➤ Hepatitis A

Your produce becomes even more risky if handled by someone who is sick. From the field to your fork, chances are some type of microbes find a home on your produce. 

Proper produce washing frees your produce from harmful germs, parasites, pathogens and bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, infections, and disease. 

How do Germs Get in Your Produce?

Pathogens can invade your produce from many angles starting from the growing process.

The very water used to irrigate crops can be contaminated with pathogens. Water becomes toxic and contaminated from manure, fertilizers, unkempt equipment and unsanitary human practices. Fertilizers that contain feces or poorly composted wastes carry dangerous pathogens that can infiltrate fruits and vegetables. Microorganisms easily invade plants via their stems, leaves, roots and fruits. 

Then there’s the risk of contamination from humans handling the equipment and products. I’ll spare you the nasty details here and refer to these contributing factors as “poor hygiene.”

Now that you know why you should always wash your produce, here’s how to do it properly…

How to Wash Your Produce Properly

Wash and scrub ALL produce with just water! 

But wait… wash your own hands first with soap and water. Then, use your clean hands to rub fruits and vegetables under cool running water. Keep a scrub brush just for cleaning produce and use on items with tougher skin. There’s no need to use hot water or special sprays, soaps or detergents. These have not proven to be helpful and can make things leave residues that undermine the cleaning process. 

Wash/scrub all produce under running water that you intend to eat or cook, even if you plan on removing the peel since germs on the outside can penetrate the inside of produce when they’re cut.  

Always clean produce before eating, cutting, peeling or cooking.

Produce should be washed the same way even if it's from your own garden or a local farmer’s market. Be sure to cut away any damaged or bruised parts after washing and before consuming.

Note: If produce is packaged and it states that it has been washed, then you’re off the hook on washing it again. You often see this with leafy greens and salad mixes that may have a “triple washed” label.

Salad and leafy greens tend to contain more dirt and grit making them tricky to clean. This is made easier if you put them in a colander that’s inside a larger bowl. Submerge the greens in water and swish them around then lift them out of the bowl and repeat the process with new water at least one more time. Use paper towels to dry the greens or better yet, a salad spinner - an inexpensive and really handy kitchen gadget. 

Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth, just like you would dry your hands after washing. I think a disposable paper towel is best so you don’t risk contamination from bacteria that can fester on a towel. This drying step should not be skipped because it can remove remaining bacteria and discourage further growth (bacteria need water to thrive). 

Clean Produce Helps You Stay Healthy

Produce should be the bulk of your diet and of course you want to make sure you’re reaping its benefits not taking risks when you eat it. 

Pandemic or not, organic or conventional - you need to wash your produce! While you can’t control if your apple rolled across the grocery store floor or if your avocado got sneezed on, you can take the simple step of washing to reduce your exposure to these inevitable pathogens and chemicals. 

Here’s a virtual high five to everyone already practicing good hand and food prep hygiene!

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