In our fast-paced lives, sometimes it’s difficult to choose fresh produce options and take the time to prepare them, let alone wash them properly. But washing is a crucial step in maintaining the safety of our food, especially since most of it has traveled across many miles and passed through many hands before finally reaching our plates.
Taking a few extra seconds to cleanse your produce of bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms is easy to do if you have a few different options to choose from. Here are seven tips for washing various fruits and vegetables:
1. Wash your hands first! It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s also easy to forget. Many foodborne illnesses are the result of cross-contamination from unclean hands, rather than from the food item itself.
2. Firm produce with peels, such as apples or cucumbers, are a good candidate for scrubbing with a produce brush underneath cool running water. This can help loosen and remove dirt more effectively than water alone. Produce with grooves on the surface, such as cantaloupe, are especially important to brush because of the microorganisms that can become trapped in each cranny. Produce brushes come in all different shapes in sizes, but any basic brush with stiff bristles will work.
3. Always wash the outside of your fruit or vegetable, even if you don’t eat the outer portion–for example, melons, kiwi, or squash. Bacteria from the surface of the food can enter the edible portion while slicing, or become cross-contaminated on the cutting board.
4. For softer produce like berries, rinse and toss repeatedly in a colander under cold running water until evenly washed.
5. For firm produce, another method of washing is to mix one part vinegar (can be either white or apple cider vinegar) with three parts water, then either spritz or soak your produce and let them sit for about ten minutes before rinsing with water alone. The acidity of the vinegar kills bacteria while the rinse afterwards gets rid of the strong vinegar flavor and remaining debris.
6. Greens can be more difficult to wash due to their layers and texture, so letting them soak in a bowl of cold water helps loosen dirt and other microorganisms before rinsing under the faucet. You can also use the vinegar mixture, but this may effect the texture of some leafy greens. Blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.
7. What about the produce washes you find in bottles at the store? The FDA doesn’t recommend these products, and some research has shown that they remove the same amount of bacteria as distilled water, making their comparatively high cost not worth it.
Enjoy your fresh produce to the fullest by making sure it’s as clean and safe as possible. Even little ones can help–let them explore the different textures as you show them how to rinse!
Written by: Lauren Mesaros