Washing Fruits and Vegetables

Washing Vegetables

By: Sally

A benefit of juicing is the increased intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in our diets.  A single glass of juice will require approximately one pound of fresh produce.  While the ability to convert that amount of  food into an easy to consume drink is the advantage of juicing, this also increases our exposure to pesticide chemicals, pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites.

According to the CDC, approximately one out of every six people in the United States will get sick this year from eating contaminated food.   Of all food poisoning cases, Salmonella was the most common infection, with 1.2 million U.S. illnesses annually and the most common cause of hospitalization and death.

We might relate Salmonella and Escherichia coli (commonly abbreviated E. coli) bacteria with chicken and ground beef, but, contaminated fruits and vegetables may represent nearly a quarter of  all Salmonella outbreaks.

There are other concerns, of course.  In addition to pesticides and bacteria, pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium botulinum, and Bacillus cereus are naturally present in some soil, and their presence on fresh produce is not uncommon.  Even organic produce or the foods we grow ourselves have to be considered.   Organic produce may have fewer chemicals, and the food from our own gardens may have fewer avenues for bacterial contamination, that doesn’t mean they are safe.

We can’t always control the causes of contamination, so washing all produce is probably the number one thing we can do.  Here are some fruit and vegetable washing tips to help you remove unwanted bacteria and pesticide residues.

  • Clean your work area first.  Start with clean wash basins, cutting boards and cutlery to help prevent kitchen contamination from spreading to your produce.  Don’t forget to wash your hands too.
  • Washing your produce under running water will help remove more contaminants than just soaking.  As it turns out, regular tap water is fairly good at removing most common pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables.
  • Use a vegetable brush to scrub hard produce like carrots and potatoes to help remove dirt from creases and crevices.  Wash these items even if you plan on peeling them since cutting and peeling dirty produce will spread contaminants.
  • Try to remove any protective wax coating from fruits and vegetables.  While food grade wax itself is harmless, the coating may be covering residual pesticides.

Make your own fruit and vegetable wash solution.

You can purchase produce wash at most grocery stores — or — you can make your own effective produce wash with a few common household items.  Note: Soaps, detergents and bleach should not be used for washing produce.

Vinegar – The acetic acid found in vinegar is an antimicrobial which may be used help kill bacteria on fruits and vegetables.  Vinegar also helps dissolve protective wax coatings which are applied to some commercial crops.   The wax is harmless, but removing it will help rid your produce of residual pesticides.  A vinegar wash is especially useful on leafy greens and broccoli florets which can be difficult to wash with water alone.

Use one cup of vinegar to each gallon of water to make an effective soaking solution.  Then soak vegetables for a few minutes before final rinsing.

Vinegar + Salt – A Vinegar soaking solution can be more effective with the addition of table salt.  A few tablespoons of salt added to your soaking solution will provide an inexpensive boost.

Vinegar Spray Wash  – To make a convenient spray wash, simply mix a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and purified water in a clean spray bottle to keep near your food preparation area.  This ratio of acetic acid probably poses no adverse health risk, but, just in case, be sure you clearly label the bottle and keep out of the reach of children.

Vinegar Spray + 3% Hydrogen Peroxide Spray – The idea of using two complimentary spray washes together was first made popular by Dr. Susan Sumner while she was working at the University of Nebraska.  Dr. Sumner found that a fine spray mist of commonly available 3% strength hydrogen peroxide by itself was fairly effective as a germ killing wash on fresh produce that she deliberately tainted with Salmonella, Shigella, or  E-coli O157:h7.  Her further tests showed that better germ killing results were obtained by complimenting the hydrogen peroxide spray with an additional mist of acetic acid (vinegar).  The order of application did not matter.   This two spray combination was also found to be useful for cleaning counter-tops and cutting boards.  Again, as a precaution, be sure each bottle is clearly marked and kept in a safe place away from children.  Also, never mix peroxide and vinegar in the same bottle.


Food Safety: Produce Washing 


About Chris Bede

I have always been interested in nutrition and health topics and the scientific aspects of nutrition on health, well-being and longevity.