Many of us depend on fruits and vegetables we buy from markets and delivery trucks.
When you get home from the market and begin sorting and organising them; do you also wash your produce before putting it away?
Some people go on to cook their vegetables or eat their fruits immediately. Others wash before keeping.
There are those who even soak first before washing, others rinse and lightly dry before storing the fruits and vegetables.
However, some health workers have advised that you need to clean your produce with vinegar or even a brush and produce wash concoction. So, is just washing not enough?
Dr Michelle Smith, a senior policy analyst in the US division of produce safety at the FDA, recommends just water.
“The best way to safely wash your fruits and vegetables is extremely simple: All you need is water,” she says.
Smith explains that fresh fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy and nutritious diet, but come with harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water, which contaminate them.
They can also be contaminated during transportation, storage or handling. Since produce is often consumed raw, it does not have the crucial step of cooking, which would kill the harmful bacteria.
“Therefore, it is important to wash the produce before eating it,” he says.
“Even if you do not plan to eat the skin, it is still important to wash produce first so that dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting produce.”
Smith explains that there is a proper method to follow that is not only the safest, but also the most effective way to wash your fruits and vegetables.
“Washing fruit and vegetable surfaces thoroughly under clean running water should reduce any potential contamination from soil, residues or microbes. We do not recommend using vinegar or store-bought washes to wash your fruits and vegetables. Produce is porous. Soaps and household detergents can be absorbed by fruits and vegetables, which can make you sick, that is what we are trying to avoid in the first place with washing,” Smith says.
She, however, insists that the water should be clean. Asked about the washing brush, Smith says for melons and cucumbers, a produce brush is a good tool to use but even without it, you can effectively wash your vegetables and fruits as long as you rinse under water.
After washing, you can dry with a clean rag or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may still be on the surface.
If you want to increase the longevity of your fruits and vegetables, Smith advises that you choose products that are not bruised or damaged. If they are pre-cut, bagged or packaged, select only those that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
“Avoid contaminating produce during handling and preparation. For instance, bag and keep produce separately from meat, poultry and seafood. Begin the washing with clean hands. This means washing your hands for at least 20 seconds before washing the vegetables. Again, wash your hands after handling the produce,” she advises.
Pre-washed produce do not need to be rewashed because a home wash can bring on more risks. Another factor to consider is proper storage, says Smith.
She recommends storing perishable fruits and vegetables (such as strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius or below.
Make sure to refrigerate all produce that is pre-cut or packaged, too.