Best Way to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

My Garden Life
June 23, 2021
Table of Contents
Even the purest home-grown foods can make you sick if you don’t wash them properly. Viruses, bacteria and pesticide residue can cling to your fruits and vegetables long after they’ve come in from the field or out of the orchard. You’ll want to learn the best way to wash fruits and vegetables to keep you and your loved ones safe from food-borne contaminants.

According to the most recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 people get hospitalized, and approximately 3,000 people die each year as a result of foodborne pathogens in the United States. In addition to cleaning food properly, it’s also important to know how long you can safely store foods whether refrigerated or frozen. The last line of defense against foodborne illness occurs in your own kitchen as you follow proper guidelines to safely clean and prepare your food.

Here are tips on how to clean your produce:

1. Wash Fruits and Vegetables with Cold Water

wash fruits and vegetables-a person washing a head of leaf lettuce with water in a sink

Experts agree that the best way to get contaminants off your fresh produce is to rinse them well in cold water for one to two minutes. For hard-skinned fruits and vegetables, you can use a soft brush to scrub.

2. Scrub Produce Clean, Even if You Peel

hands washing an avocado with water before peeling

It may seem silly to scrub the outside of a melon or an avocado you intend to peel before eating. But the skin of produce can hold minuscule particles of disease-carrying dirt. These particles can get on your counters, hands or cooking surfaces. Using a soft brush to scrub the skin of all fruits and vegetables before peeling or slicing will help give them the most thorough cleaning.

3. Use a Vegetable Wash and Rinse with Water

woman spraying a bunch of bananas with a sanitizing fruit and vegetable spray

Use a vegetable wash in addition to, rather than instead of, a cold-water rinse. You can find fruit and vegetable washes on sale online and in the produce sections of most grocery stores. There are differing opinions about how much these products add to food safety, but if they are made with natural ingredients, they shouldn’t hurt.

Avoid commercial produce sprays that contain soap, bleach, preservatives or unrecognizable chemicals. These can change the taste of your food or even make some with sensitive stomachs sick. Also, if you use a spray wash, make sure you continue to rinse your produce under cold water for up to two minutes, scrubbing if possible. A spray alone is not strong enough to dislodge the specks of dirt that may carry contaminants.

4. Save Money, Make Your Own Vinegar Vegetable Wash

bottle on a kitchen counter containing a vinegar and water mix for spraying and sanitizing fruits and vegetables

Put 1-part vinegar to 4-parts clean water in a spray bottle and shake well. Many people believe vinegar has unique antiviral and antibacterial properties.

In addition to using diluted vinegar for cleaning produce, you can use a fifty-fifty vinegar and water mix to help clean and disinfect many surfaces such as ceramics, glassware, windows, glass sliding doors, and the interiors of microwaves and refrigerators. Vinegar is one of the best solutions for helping to dissolve water mineral buildups around faucets or the showerhead in a bathroom and can be helpful for removing mold and mildew. Note, you do not want to use vinegar for cleaning natural stone countertops or floors, wood, or rubberized parts of appliances (such as refrigerator door seals) unless you know for certain that they are of a material safe from deterioration by the acids in vinegar.

5. Watch Out for Cross Contamination When Cooking

raw chicken and vegetables on a cutting board

The most common way produce picks up toxins like E. coli is from cross-contamination while preparing a meal. It’s easy for viruses, bacteria and other contaminants to transfer from cutting boards or other surfaces to fruits or vegetables. So, make sure you clean countertops and cooking surfaces often and well. You should also be vigilant about washing your hands, before and while you are cooking. This is especially important if you are working with raw meat of any kind.

Don’t forget that fruit and vegetable scraps are a great addition to a compost pile. If you don’t have the space for a large compost area, then direct composting might be the perfect solution for you. Learn more in our Guide to Direct Composting.

person placing kitchen scraps direct composting into a garden

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