In the early days of the pandemic, I washed my fruits and vegetables with soap and water when I was wiping down other groceries with it. However, I could taste the soap when I cooked the vegetables. So, I only washed the ones with skins I wouldn’t be eating such as bananas.
Several months ago, I stopped wiping down my groceries deciding that information showed that the main way the coronavirus is transmitted is through close contact indoors.
A recent article, “Why You Shouldn’t Be Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables With Soap,” in The Washington Post caught my eye. It said produce may absorb soap or you may not rinse off all the soap residue. Soap can irritate the gastrointestinal system, leading to vomiting or diarrhea. It may also interfere with good microbes in the digestive system.
Since the types of fresh produce vary widely, from root vegetables to delicate berries, the recommended methods of cleaning depend on the type and characteristics of the produce.
The Colorado State University Extension offers the following information:
No cleaning method completely removes or kills all microbes on produce, but studies show that thoroughly rinsing fresh produce under clean running water is an effective way to reduce the number of microorganisms. Rinsing fruits and vegetables not only helps remove soil, bacteria, and garden pests, but it can also help remove pesticide residues.
Wait to clean. Cleaning produce before storing may promote bacterial growth and speed up spoilage, so it’s recommended to wait and rinse fruits and vegetables until just before using. If you choose to rinse before storing, dry thoroughly with clean paper towels.
Store safely. Produce that requires refrigeration should be stored at 35-40°F in vegetable bins or containers on shelves above raw meats, poultry, or seafood to prevent cross-contamination. Storing fresh produce in cloth produce bags or perforated plastic bags will allow air to circulate.
Trim well. Cut away damaged areas and remove torn outer leaves of leafy vegetables before rinsing.
Start clean. Bacteria from the outside of produce can be transferred to the interior parts during cutting or peeling, so the best approach is to start with clean hands, cutting boards, and utensils before washing and preparing fresh produce.
- Rinse under running water and rub fruits and vegetables with your hands to remove soil and surface microorganisms.
- Use a clean bowl if you’re immersing produce in water. It’s a better choice than the sink because the drain area often harbors microorganisms.
- Use a vegetable brush to scrub produce with a hard rind or firm skin.
- Make sure rinse water is no more than 10 degrees colder than the produce to prevent entrance of microorganisms into the stem or blossom end of the produce.
- Don’t use chemical rinses and other treatments for washing produce. The FDA advises against using commercial produce washes because the safety of their residues hasn’t been evaluated and their effectiveness hasn’t been tested or standardized.
Cleaning different types of produce
Apples, cucumbers, and other firm produce. Rinse well under running water and scrub with a vegetable brush, including the stem area, before peeling and cutting.
Grapes, cherries, and berries. Store refrigerated until ready to use, but discard spoiled or moldy fruit before storing to prevent the spread of spoilage organisms. Rinse gently under cool running water right before use.
Herbs. Rinse by swishing in a bowl of cool water or under running water and dry with paper towels.
Leafy green vegetables. Separate and individually rinse the leaves of lettuce and other greens, discarding the outer leaves if torn or bruised. Immersing leaves in a clean bowl of cool water for a few minutes helps loosen attached soil. Adding vinegar to the water (1/4 cup distilled white vinegar per 1 cup water) followed by a clean water rinse has been shown to reduce bacterial contamination but may affect texture and taste. After rinsing, blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.
Melons. Be aware the rough, netted surfaces of some types of melons can harbor microorganisms which can be transferred to the flesh during cutting. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, use a vegetable brush and rinse melons thoroughly under running water before peeling or slicing. Rinsing with hot water has been shown to reduce bacteria on the surface of unpeeled melons without impacting texture.
Mushrooms. Rinse under cool running water and pat dry with a paper towel right before use. Avoid soaking in water to prevent changes in texture.
Peaches, plums, and other soft fruits. Rinse under running water and dry with a paper towel.
Peppers. Rinse well under running water. When rinsing hot peppers, wear gloves and keep hands away from eyes and face. Wash hands well afterwards with soap or wear gloves.
Root vegetables. Peel potatoes, carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, or clean them well with a firm scrub brush under lukewarm running water.
I’m headed to the co-op shortly so I’ll get a vegetable brush that’s dedicated only to fruits and vegetables. I can see now why you shouldn’t be scrubbing dishes with it, too.