Why truly clean eating starts at the sink.
Rinsing all fruits and vegetables—organic or not—is crucial, but “produce washes” are unnecessary and may leave behind unsafe residues. Although “organic” indicates that your produce is free of pesticide residue, it doesn’t mean that it’s clear of dirt, debris, and bacteria, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of the The Flexitarian Diet. In other words, the gross stuff that can make you sick—like E. coli—may be lurking on your organic pear!
Even fruits and vegetables with skin you won’t consume, like watermelon or butternut squash, still need a good scrubbing. Dirt and bacteria can linger on the rinds and when cutting through to the flesh, you can contaminate the part you do eat, says Blatner.
The only exceptions to the wash rule are “prewashed” items. You may think it’s a good idea to rewash “prewashed” bagged fruits and vegetables, but experts actually say it’s ok to skip that step. “They’ve been properly cleaned and can be served directly from the bag,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, RD, professor and food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Fargo, North Dakota.
Scrub smart in three simple steps:
1. Wait until close to serving time before rinsing your produce, especially when dealing with fragile items like berries or grapes. Wetting fruits and vegetables ahead of time will speed up the spoilage by introducing moisture, says Garden-Robinson.
2. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you start on the produce, and double check that your cutting boards and knives are grime-free. (You want clean hands and surfaces before you even touch that apple.) And if you need to immerse your fruit or vegetable in water to clean it, use a large bowl instead of putting it directly in the sink. Sink drains may harbor listeria, a type of bacteria that can grow at refrigerator temperature once it’s found its way onto produce, says Garden-Robinson.
3. Under running water (warm or cold, whichever you prefer), wash the edible by scrubbing it with your hands. Detergents, bleach and other chemicals are not recommended by the Food and Drug Administration because some of these “produce washes” leave behind residues that haven’t been tested for safety, according to Garden-Robinson. Instead, think of how you wash your hair: Use your fingertips to rub all over the fruit or vegetable’s surface, says Blatner. Then, dry it with a clean towel. With delicate fruit like strawberries, use particular care not to bruise or puncture the surface. With rough produce, like potatoes, use a vegetable brush.