Do you wash your produce? If so how? If not, what made you decide to skip it? Over time, I’ve heard many reasons that people choose to eat their produce without washing it. Some people just don’t want to; others don’t think they need to because they only buy organic foods. Regardless of what you have heard before, ALL produce needs to be washed before consumption to prevent any food-borne illnesses. Even if you buy only organic, contamination can happen at any time from farm to your house. All it takes is one person at the grocery store to touch the apple you later buy for you or a family member to get sick. Are you a big gardener? You should even wash the produce you grow because there could be contaminants in the processed soil or manure you use.
When is the best time to clean your produce? Many people wash their produce as soon as they get home from the grocery store before even putting it away. While this is a good practice, it may not be the best. Bacteria can grow while you store your produce, so it is best to wash it right before you use it. Also, waiting to clean it off may mean you can store them a bit longer.
Another question when washing produce is what is the best way? Nowadays, there is a ‘great’ product for all occasions. There are now rinses and other treatments usually called fruit and vegetable washes. The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine decided to test three commercial wash treatments. These were Fit, Ozone Water Purifier XT-301, and J0-a Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer. They used a distilled water soak (for two minutes) as their control. Products were tested, according to the directions, on low-bush blueberries.
Here are their results: Fit wash was approximately the same as distilled water at removing both microbes and residual pesticides. The two ozone washes, Ozone Water Purifier XT-301 and J0-a Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer, removed microbes, but were not as effective as distilled water. One thing to keep in mind is that these specialized products are relatively new to the market; there are no long-term studies on how safe their continued use is and what type of residue they leave behind.
Based on this small study, researchers recommended washing produce with distilled water by soaking for one to two minutes. Distilled water is recommended because it has been filtered and purified to remove all contaminants. You can also use very clean cold tap water instead. Another common washing method for produce is vinegar and water. Use 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar to every 2 cups water and let the fruit or vegetable sit for five minutes, and then rinse with clean water. Be aware that because of the vinegar, taste and texture may be affected. Also, while this method has been shown to reduce contamination, it has not demonstrated that it eliminates contamination.
While cleaning produce may be tedious and time-consuming, it is a reasonably simple way to help prevent any food-borne illness from showing its nasty self!