How to clean vegetables?

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Whether local, organic or even out of your own garden, a quick wash is the best way to ensure you’ll healthfully enjoy your fruits and vegetables with less risk of ingesting harmful bacteria or chemicals. This goes for produce you peel before eating, too. “The knife blade can pull contaminants from the outside through the flesh, so even if the avocado peel is not eaten, the utensil used to fabricate it will have contact with the soiled or outside portion and the clean or edible portion, thus resulting in cross-contamination. That is why handling contact surfaces—hands, knives, cutting boards, containers, sinks, et cetera—should all be clean and sanitized before having contact with fresh produce,” says Strohbehn.

You’ll find products on the grocery-store shelves marketed as fruit and vegetable washes, but those aren’t necessary.

“Research has found little significant difference between running water and commercial cleaners,” Strohbehn says. “Many producers use some type of post-harvest cleaning/sanitizing agent to reduce microbial loads … but for consumers, free-running water is still just as effective as purchased products.”

There’s debate in the food-safety community about the ideal wash-water temperature. Most sources, including the USDA and Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, recommend using water 10 degrees F warmer than the produce to prevent microbial transfer into the produce.

For some fruits and vegetables, a good rinse will do. Use these tips to further clean these types of produce:

  • Immerse lettuce and other leafy greens in cool water for a few minutes to help loosen and remove soil and dirt. Use a large, clean bowl instead of the sink, which might contain more pathogens. “If using the ‘bath’ rather than ‘shower’ approach, be sure to repeat a few times, or use a colander/strainer insert in the bowl,” Strohbehn says.
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommends scrubbing firm produce, such as root vegetables, melons or cucumbers, with a clean produce brush under running water to remove as much dirt and bateria as possible.
  • To remove dirt from mushrooms, the Colorado State University Extension suggests using a soft brush under running water or wiping mushrooms with a wet paper towel.

The only produce that you should not wash before consuming is produce that is sold as “ready to eat,” such as bagged salad mix, having been washed by the producer or packager. Rewashing this already-clean produce has a greater potential to introduce bacteria than it does to rinse it away, according to Strohbehn.

To prolong its storage life, don’t wash your produce until you’re ready to use it unless it’s really dirty.

Beyond Washing

Proper handling doesn’t stop at the sink. “Some fresh produce items need to be kept refrigerated after washing and/or cutting,” Strohbehn says. “Sliced melons, cut tomatoes and leafy greens should be kept below 41 F.” Store refrigerated fruits and vegetables away from raw meat and ensure meat drippings cannot contact your produce.

In the Garden

For homegrown produce, reducing the risk of contamination begins in the garden. Follow these guidelines for growing the safest produce:

  • Once the edible portion emerges, irrigate food crops only with potable water.
  • Don’t apply untreated compost or manure to the soil of food crops within 120 days of harvest if the edible portion is in contact with the soil; don’t apply to other crop soils within 90 days of harvest.
  • Keep pets and wildlife out of the garden.
  • Site your garden as far from animal pens and compost piles as possible.
  • Prevent rainwater and irrigation runoff from animal pens and compost piles into your garden.
  • Wash your hands, harvesting gloves, knives and containers before harvesting.

With many environmental and handling factors outside of your control, you can reduce the risk of food-borne illness for yourself and your family with a little effort and thoughtful produce preparation.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Hobby Farm Home.

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Have you ever made the mistake of leaving a carrot on the counter or putting it in the refrigerator without a cover on it? Within 24 hours you will find a limp carrot that has lost it’s crunch! No one wants to eat a chewy carrot, so here are a few tips on how to store carrots.

We have been picking carrots from our garden most the summer, but some days the kids are a little excited an pick too many. If you leave a fresh carrot with the green top on it will make the carrot wilt. The carrot is the root of the plant and the green tops take its moisture and nutrition from the root. So chop those green tops off right away.

At this point you can keep them with the dirt on and store them in cool sand or sawdust in a root cellar, or even a bucket in a cool dark place. BUT since I do not have one of those… I just wash them up and keep them in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator. If the carrots have to much moister they will mold, so I poke some holes in the bag to allow them to vent. Carrots can stay firm, and crisp for months at a time when stored properly.

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Federal health officials estimate that nearly 48 million people are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year, and some of the causes might surprise you.

Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent illness, produce, too, can be the culprit in outbreaks of foodborne illness. In recent years, the United States has had several large outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables—including spinach, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Glenda Lewis, an expert on foodborne illness with the Food and Drug Administration, says fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, produce may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water, and poor hygiene among workers. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.

If possible, FDA says to choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items—such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices—are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition, follow these recommendations:

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  2. If damage or bruising occurs before eating or handling, cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  3. Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  4. Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  5. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  6. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  7. Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

Lewis says consumers should store perishable produce in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees.

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You Asked: What’s the Best Way to Wash Fruits and Vegetables?

It’s a scary time to eat a salad, given the news of a vast E. coli outbreak in the U.S. spread by contaminated romaine lettuce. If the outbreak has you worrying about your produce-washing habits, you’re not alone. But washing your produce won’t protect you from E. coli.

A recent study in Food Science & Nutrition found that rinsing or submerging leafy vegetables in water doesn’t meaningfully reduce their burden of E. coli bacteria. Another study, this one from the University of Georgia, found specially designed produce washes were even less effective than a water rinse at clearing away E. coli. (In fact, the FDA recommends skipping those produce washes altogether.)

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you’re very unlikely to encounter E. coli on your fresh produce. “We see occasional outbreaks, but the risk of getting sick from eating produce is very, very low,” says Linda Harris, a department chair and food-safety researcher at the University of California, Davis.

But even though you can’t wash away E. coli, Harris says there are compelling reasons to clean your produce. “Produce is sold out in the open where anyone can handle it, and it comes from the soil, so there could be dirt on it,” she says.

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When it comes to removing that dirt, grime or anything else that could make you sick—including the pathogens sloughing off on your produce from other shoppers’ fingers—a simple rinse and, when feasible, rubbing and drying your fruits and vegetables is usually the most effective cleaning method, she says.

Of course, the advice differs a bit from item to item. “Something like an apple with a smooth outer surface, you can rub it as you rinse it,” she says. “We’ve done some studies that show doing this and then drying it with a clean towel can achieve significant reductions of microorganisms.”

While this method works for apples, pears and other hard-skinned items, Harris says it’s unreasonable with soft fruits like berries. “It’s impossible to rub a raspberry and still end up with a raspberry,” she says. With these delicate foods, a good rinse just before eating is best.

That “just before eating” part is important. “Moisture can encourage bacterial growth,” says Marisa Bunning, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University. So you don’t want to wash anything until you’re ready to eat or cook it, she says.

Also, be sure your hands, colander, salad spinner and anything else you use to rinse or prepare your produce are clean. If you don’t take these precautions, you’re as likely to spread something onto your produce as wash it off. “This is why we follow the FDA’s guidance not to wash the bagged and pre-washed greens,” she says. (You’re more likely to de-sterilize these items than to further clean them.)

Some steps you don’t need to take include scrubbing your produce with a brush, submerging it in a sink full of water or using baking soda to clean away pesticides. The first two methods are more likely to contaminate your produce than disinfect them. And while there is evidence that baking soda really can remove pesticide residues from contaminated fruit, Harris says she’s seen little evidence that pesticide levels in store-bought produce are a health risk. “There’s a lot of regulation on pesticide levels in the U.S., so the levels just aren’t there,” she adds. (If you’re still concerned about pesticide residues, there’s evidence that switching to organic will significantly reduce your exposures.)

To sum all this up, don’t wash items that are labeled “pre-washed” and/or “ready to eat.” For everything else, give your produce a good rinse and, when possible, use your fingers to rub away dirt or other residues. Dry your produce with a clean towel or paper towels. Do that, and you can feel confident your fruits and vegetables are safe to eat.

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7 Myths About Washing Your Produce

Most of the fruits and vegetables you eat are safe after a quick wash, but there’s a lot of confusion about produce safety. We did our research and debunked some outdated myths.

You need a fancy produce wash

Fruit and vegetable washes claim to kill more bacteria, but studies from the University of Maine have shown that tap water does as good a job or better. When produce is rinsed thoroughly, water can remove 98 percent of bacteria. It’s also unclear whether the residues left by produce washes are safe to eat. If you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water you can use distilled water. You can also make a safe homemade produce wash by mixing one part vinegar with three parts water. Note, however, that vinegar may change the taste or texture of produce, because vinegar is disgusting.
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You don’t have to wash organic produce…

Organic farms go to great lengths to keep produce safe, but consider the man in the grocery store who has to touch every single apple before he selects one. Even organic farms with carefully controlled conditions can’t assure that produce won’t be contaminated in transit or in stores.

… or homegrown produce

I hate to spoil the fun of biting into a ripe tomato fresh off the vine, but even produce from your garden should undergo a wash.

I hate to spoil the fun of biting into a ripe tomato fresh off the vine, but even produce from your garden should undergo a wash. The risk of contaminants in processed soil and manure is low but not nil, and municipal water can contain harmful elements. Unless you’re confident in your soil quality and you’re using drinking water to irrigate your garden, it’s still a good idea to wash before you eat.

You should re-wash pre-washed lettuce

Except in rare, highly publicized incidents, triple-washed and pre-washed lettuce is very safe. You can re-wash packaged greens, but be careful that you don’t expose already clean produce to contaminants in your own kitchen. A surface on which you’ve been preparing meat, for instance, can expose your produce to harmful bacteria.

You have to peel all vegetables with skins

You don’t have to peel your zucchini, but you should consider buying a produce brush to wash them. Brush the skin thoroughly and rinse carefully. If you do peel fruits and vegetables, you should still wash them first. If you don’t, you can actually transfer bacteria from the outside of the vegetable to the inside as you peel.

You should wash produce as soon as you get it home

Bacteria can grow while you store your produce, so it’s best to wash produce right before you use it. Additionally, washing fruits and vegetables before you store them can make them spoil faster. If you have a pathological need to wash produce the moment it crosses the threshold, be sure to dry it thoroughly with a clean paper towel, and wash it again before you eat it just in case.

Mold is the end of the world

If the fruit or veggie has totally succumbed to mold, throw it away (not that you’d want to eat a fuzzy avocado anyway). But if you just see a small section of mold on a hard, dense fruit or vegetable, it’s easy to salvage. Just cut away at least one inch of the area around the moldy spot. If the afflicted produce is a soft fruit or vegetable like a tomato, throw it away. Mold can spread under the surface of moist, soft produce.

Yes, it’s a good idea to wash all your produce. Yes, there are pesticide residues on a lot of fruits and vegetables, and some of those pesticides might be harmful. But before you eschew produce forever, know that your chance of getting a food-borne illness is slim. Precautions like rinsing your produce and cutting away mold make that chance even slimmer, but there’s no need to go crazy on your veggies with an expensive produce wash.

I’d love to say I’m never going to take a chance on the occasional roadside blackberry, but that’s just not the case.

Get proven tips on how to wash vegetables and how to wash fruits so you can protect your health and your family.

Almost everyone should be eating more fruits and vegetables. You know that. But do you know why it’s important to wash your produce before eating it?

In our modern world, almost no food is 100% free of pesticides. Surprisingly, even organic produce may contain some pesticide residues.

Washing produce is important to prevent foodborne illness and substantially reduce your exposure to pesticides.

To reduce your pesticide exposure, the conventional advice is to choose organic food when you can, especially for the foods most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. And then, to wash your fruits and veggies before eating or cooking with them.

But, what foods are the most important to buy organic? And what is the best way to wash your produce to remove pesticides?

Science has given us answers. And we’ll share them with you. We want to help you make the best use of your time and money and to ensure the food you eat and serve is as safe as possible.

First, we’ll explain why pesticides are used on produce, why organic produce has pesticides, and what foods are most important and least important to buy organic. But if you want to see the best way to wash fruits and veggies to remove pesticides now, .

Why Are Pesticides Used on Produce?

According to the EPA, pesticides are used to control pests and disease-carriers, such as mosquitoes, ticks, rats, and mice. They are also used to control weeds, insect infestations, and diseases.

There are many types of pesticides, including:

  • Herbicides – Glyphosate, which is manufactured by the company Monsanto and used in the production of their weed-killer, Roundup, is one type of herbicide that may be used on conventional (non-organic) crops. This common herbicide has been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.
  • Insecticides – Organophosphates are one group of insecticides commonly used on produce. Chlorpyrifos is one such organophosphate that has been in the news lately and is associated with damaging the developing brains of children.

A large body of evidence links exposure to pesticides to an elevated rate of chronic diseases including:

  • Cancer and diabetes
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS
  • Birth defects and reproductive disorders
  • Asthma, COPD, and more

These are very real risks for those exposed to pesticides. Many of the more severe cases often happen to agricultural workers who are exposed to pesticides on the job. This is one reason the average migrant farm worker in the U.S. is reported to live only to the age of 49.

Why Does Organic Produce Have Pesticides?

Many shoppers choose organic foods because they believe they are grown and produced without the use of pesticides. And because many pesticides are banned from organic agriculture, it is indeed a big step in the right direction.

But nearly all farmers — even organic farmers — use some pesticides. They just use different ones.

Why would organic farmers use pesticides? Like conventional farmers or anyone who has a backyard garden, organic farmers are faced with weeds, insects, and diseases.

Most of the pesticides on the USDA organic national list of allowed substances are natural in origin. Conventional farmers are allowed to use 900 different synthetic pesticides. But organic farmers are allowed to use only 25 synthetic pesticides – and then only in carefully regulated ways.

Why Choosing Organic Produce Is the Best and Safest Choice — Especially for Children and Pregnant Women

Eating organically grown foods reduces your exposure to both pesticide residue and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

This is backed by research from Stanford University, which analyzed 17 different studies comparing the health effects of organic and conventional foods.

While choosing organic is probably the safest option for everyone, it’s especially important for pregnant women and children to avoid exposure to pesticides.

Children are at higher risk for pesticide toxicity than adults. This is because the developing brain is more susceptible to neurotoxins and the dose of pesticides per body weight is likely to be higher in children.

Children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of pesticides have been found to have lower IQs compared to children with the lowest levels of pesticide exposure.

Also, children exposed to pesticides are at an increased risk for a variety of chronic conditions, including learning and behavioral problems.

According to a study in Pediatrics, higher than median levels of pesticide residue in the urine were associated with double the odds of ADHD compared to those with undetectable levels.

The Most Important (And Least Important) Foods to Buy Organic

Maybe you can’t always choose organic produce. But you can make informed decisions about what fruits and vegetables are best to buy organic.

Here’s a helpful tool: The Environmental Working Group compiles a list every year of the most and least contaminated produce and updates it every year.

Here is their list of the most contaminated produce (most important to buy organic) known as the Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Kale
  12. Potatoes

And here is their list of the least contaminated produce known as the Clean 15:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn*
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbage
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet peas, frozen
  7. Papayas*
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli
  10. Eggplant
  11. Honeydew Melon
  12. Kiwi
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Mushrooms

* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

How to Wash Produce

Do you usually wash your produce by rinsing it under cold, running water? Most people do.

This method works well to remove some of the pesticide residues from some forms of produce.

Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found that washing produce with running water reduced the amount of pesticide residue for 9 of the 12 tested pesticides.

So, running water can work, but what about using products called “produce cleaners?” Should you use them? Research has shown that most commercial produce cleaners are no more effective than plain water.

But several liquids have been shown to be more effective than plain water. Those include salt water, vinegar water, or baking soda water. Keep reading to see how to use them effectively.

Washing Produce with Salt Water and Vinegar

Salt water is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to remove certain pesticides.

In a study published in Food Control, researchers washed vegetables for 20 minutes in vinegar, a salt water solution, or plain water to eliminate the residue of four common pesticides – chlorpyrifos, DDT, cypermethrin, and chlorothalonil.

They discovered that a 10% salt water solution was the most effective, and far more so than washing with plain water.

Full-strength vinegar was found to be equally as effective. But using vinegar would get quite expensive and would leave foods with an unwelcome vinegary flavor, making it less than ideal for a daily vegetable wash.

The Best Way to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

What may be the best way to clean fruits and veggies comes from a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This study compared the effectiveness of plain water, a Clorox bleach solution, and a baking soda and water solution.

Perhaps surprisingly, the baking soda solution was found to be most effective at removing pesticide residues both on the surface and beneath the skin of apples.

The baking soda solution used in the study was very weak — a mix of only one ounce of baking soda mixed with 100 ounces of water. And it took 12 to 15 minutes of soaking to completely remove the pesticides.

What does all this mean for you? How should you use this information to wash your produce?

How to Wash Vegetables

In the studies mentioned above, researchers cleaned produce much longer than most of us would on an ordinary day. But this should not prevent us from putting their methods to use.

Most people would never wash vegetables for longer than a couple of minutes, so we’ve adapted the results of these studies to more practical everyday use.

Admittedly, it won’t be quite as effective as study results, but it should be more effective than plain water.

Here’s a quick and easy way to wash veggies using baking soda:

For leafy greens

  • Fill a salad spinner with greens, then fill with water.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda and mix well.
  • Soak your greens for a minute, swish, dump, then rinse, and spin dry.
  • If you don’t have a salad spinner, you can add the greens, water, and baking soda to a bowl, let them soak, drain in a strainer, rinse, then pat leaves dry with a clean lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels.

For mushrooms

There is some debate in the culinary world about how to clean mushrooms.

Some chefs prefer to gently wipe mushrooms with a damp towel. However, to clean mushrooms thoroughly, you can gently scrub mushrooms using a mushroom brush and then rinse them quickly under running water. After that, blot the mushrooms dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.

For other veggies

  • Fill a large bowl with water.
  • Then add a teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Add the veggies.
  • Soak for a minute or two.
  • Scrub with a brush.
  • And finally, rinse off the veggies.

How to Wash Fruits

Smooth skinned fruits, such as apples, nectarines, and cherries, can be washed in a baking soda bath the same way as veggies.

Berries can be rinsed under cold water in a mesh strainer, then gently patted dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels just before you intend to eat them.

Although your instinct may be to rinse off berries when you bring them home, doing so actually increases moisture and accelerates spoilage, microflora, and mold. Which is why it’s best to rinse them soon before you eat them.

What’s the Takeaway?

Try to choose organic produce as much possible, especially if you are a pregnant woman or when shopping for food for children. This is especially important for the “dirty dozen” listed above.

For practicing good food hygiene, learning how to wash produce is important, whether it’s organic or conventional. When washing your fruits and vegetables, making your own baking soda or salt solution may be the best option.

But this shouldn’t be something that causes you stress. Simply soaking your vegetables for a few minutes or rinsing your produce in running water for at least 30 seconds will help the food you eat and serve be safe.

Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do for your health. But take the next step and do the best you can to clean them, knowing you’re doing something very good for yourself and your health.

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Washing is perhaps the most important step in food preparation. Let me repeat that, it’s the most important step!

…Especially if you like to eat them raw.

You can say washing is your last line of defense against any food borne disease and possibly pesticide exposure that could lead to cancer.

Statistics say that 80% of pesticide consumed in the United States come from agriculture.

Wash even with organic

Even if you’re buying organic produce, washing is an equally important because organic produce also has natural pesticide in them.

In addition to that washing produce also removes any residual soil that can be a source of food borne illness like Escherichia coli.

If you have children, washing is an essential step because young kids because their immune system isn’t as strong as an adult and this endangers them to develop cancers later on in life.

Do I need to buy one of them veggies washes to wash produce?

The good news is, you don’t need to buy an expensive veggie wash to remove any pesticide or soil residue.

A study done by the University of Maine showed that washing fruits and vegetables with tap water do as good or even a better job than veggie washes. The study also revealed that thoroughly rinsing produce in water can remove as much as 98% of bacteria present.

Here are some tips to help you wash produce efficiently.

1. Add a little vinegar

If you’re familiar with the Dirty Dozen, it says there that there are certain fruits and vegetables that contain a higher level of pesticide residue than others.

You’ll notice that when you buy a conventionally grown apple, its skin has an oily texture that water alone can’t seem to remove. Enter the good old vinegar – it contains acetic acid that makes it potent in killing germs.

Helps remove pesticide residue

Vinegar also helps wash off pesticide residue and since it is non-toxic, it is the cheapest and the safest way to clean produce.

If you buy a conventionally grown apple, you will notice that it has a waxy coating that helps chemicals stick to its surface. Soaking it in a bowl of vinegar and water for at least 5 minutes will help dissolve that coating.

Washing berries with vinegar can actually extend its shelf life and prevent molding.

2. Sqeeze a bit of lemon

Lemon also is a great bacteria killer because it increases acidity. This acidity helps kill bacteria like e-coli.

Adding lemon to vinegar and water mix increases its potency and helps kill bacteria.

But make sure to rinse well to remove any residue and to avoid any sort of aftertaste.

3. Avoid using dishwashing liquid

I’ve read in some blogs suggesting dish washing liquid as a cleaning agent to wash fruits and veggies.

This is possibly the worst advice that anybody can give because of it contains chemicals meant to dissolve grease and kill germs on non-porous surfaces like plates and pans. But not porous surfaces like kale or apple.

Fruits and vegetables have a non-porous surface which means it absorbs stuff you put on like water.

So it’s a bad idea to wash produce with dishwashing soap because of this absorbent property.

Even if you soak it for hours, you won’t be able to rinse it off and when we eat it, we also consume dishwashing liquid.

4. Remove outer layers of green leafy vegetables

Before washing your leafy greens, make sure to give a quick visual check to see if there are parts that show signs of spoiling – parts that are turning yellowish or becoming limp.

Remove these parts before soaking leafy greens in water and vinegar.

5. If insist on buying produce wash – make sure it contains only natural ingredients

Research has proven that water can be as effective as produce wash in cleaning produce. But if you still insist on using these types of products, make sure to read the label. And make sure that it only contains natural ingredients that you can safely consume.

If it contains even a hint of toxic chemical ingredients, stay away from it. You’re just wasting your money and you put your family at risk.

6. Rinse well

Yes, even if you have bought organic kale or celery, you have to rinse it well because these are growth on soil. So there is high probability of having soil residue on them.

On several instances I’ve seen live worms and soil when cleaning celery. While it may be free from chemical pesticides, soil can be a source of food borne illnesses like e-coli.

Also make sure to rinse each individual leaf well, again we want to make sure that there isn’t any hint of soil residue.

7. If you’re cleaning hard fruits like apple or pears, try to use a food grade brush to agitate

Farmers spray conventionally grown apple with a waxy chemical so pesticide sticks on the surface. To remove this waxy coating you’ll need something to agitate it outside of using your fingers.

This will help remove most if not all of these waxy coating as well as soil trapped underneath the stem.

Avoid stiff brushes because this can damage the skin, instead go with a soft bristled brush like this that can flex and bend to the contours of the produce.

8. Avoid cutting or peeling before washing

Doing this can transfer bacteria from the skin to the inner parts thus doubling your work.

9. Wash your hands and kitchen utensils well

Your hands are one of the biggest sources of bacteria so when prepping food make sure to wash them thoroughly with a bacteria killing soap before handling anything.

This principle also applies to kitchen utensils like knives, chopping boards and storage containers.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with a anti bacterial liquid soap. I prefer using liquid soap inside the kitchen because it’s more convenient and actually saves you money.

For kitchen utensils, use a good dish washing cleaner like dawn or joy. To remove stinky smell from cutting board try to use vinegar and lemon together with water to disinfect.

10. Dry thoroughly

If you’re planning on storing them for later make sure to dry them thoroughly with a paper towel or a clean cloth. I prefer using a paper towel for sanitary purposes.

How do you do this? You could put whatever vegetable or fruit on a tray with several sheets of paper towel underneath to catch any excess water dripping. Or you could buy one of these instead to make the process faster without using any paper towels.

Some vegetables don’t respond well to refrigeration.

11. Choose well

Before putting that produce inside your shopping bag make sure to choose carefully. Aside from checking if it’s fresh visually you should also use your hands to check the firmness.

For example, when you buy a celery make sure the stems are firm, the color is bright green and not yellowish.

These are two important signs that tell you it is fresh. Remember fresh produce equals high nutrition.

Avoid produce that is soggy or limp when buying fruits like apple give it a light squeeze to see if there are parts that are soft because it will tell you that it’s nearing a decomposed state.

The bottom line

Whether you are cooking or eating them raw washing fruits and vegetables something you should not ignore because it will protect your family from possible pesticide exposure and food borne illnesses from soil and other contaminants.

You don’t need to buy expensive produce wash as water and vinegar will be more than enough to clean it, just make sure your hands are clean.

Recently, one SELF staffer found flies in her celery — blech! Another found worms in her corn — double blech!

Then, we came across a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) listing the dirtiest fruits and vegetables, based on the fact that they’re laced with pesticides and may be more difficult to clean.

Anyone else losing her appetite?

Here are the 10 dirtiest items in the produce aisle — and a few cleaning tips from culinary pros:

Especially important to add to your cleaning priority list, according to the EWG: Celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, sweet bell pepper, greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc.), grapes, potatoes and cherries

Five Fresh Apple Recipes for Fall!

No worries if your faves are on the list. Just be sure to give them an extra good cleaning using these expert tips:

* Give them an ice water bath. Soak veggies such as grapes (spider webs, mold on the branches = yuck!), asparagus (those pesky little leaves trap junk) and potatoes for at least five minutes before scrubbing them down, suggests Teri Gault, CEO and founder of Thegrocerygame.com. Add vegetable wash or baking soda (see below) for extra dirty produce.

The Flat-Abs Diet

* Choose carefully. It’s easier for bugs and chemicals to enter produce that’s beaten up — think bruising and breaks in the skin. Be superficial — pick the best-looking fruits and veggies.

The Smartest Grocery List: 20 Superfoods for Weight Loss

* Wash with baking soda: You can buy pricy produce washes, but don’t bother: It’s cheap and easy to play chemist and brew one up yourself. Simply fill a bowl (reserve it only for washing produce!) with cool water and add a few tablespoons of baking soda. Soak fruit or veggies in the water for 5 to 10 minutes, occasionally scrubbing with a vegetable brush. This is especially important for celery (bye-bye, flies) which has thin grooves and is angled in, making it a pesticide- and dirt-trapping machine.

Analyze and Customize Your Diet — For Free — With SELF’s New Nutrition Data Tool

* Buy organic: Obviously, when it comes to avoiding pesticides (the EWG found more than 50 different types on some of the veggies they studied), your best bet is to buy organic. Click here to find a farm near you.

* Clean your produce promptly: If you wait until you’re ready to cook to clean your fruits and veggies, you’re less likely to do a thorough job — because by that point you’re starving and just want to eat already! So, when you get home from the grocery store or, even better, the farmer’s market, clean and cut up the goods (if appropriate), then store them in air-tight containers to keep them fresh up to 33 percent longer. We love Rubbermaid’s Produce Saver Set.

Do you do a good enough job cleaning your produce item? Ever discover something especially nasty in your groceries?

Cooperative Extension Publications

Food Safety Facts

Developed by Jason Bolton, Alfred Bushway, Kristi Crowe, and Mahmoud El-Begearmi, University of Maine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Cooperative Extension.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu.

With the recent food-borne outbreaks related to produce, consumers, more than ever, have heightened concerns over the safety of fresh produce. It is important to know how to prevent food-borne illness related to these types of foods. Washing fruits and vegetables is the best way to reduce your risks for food-borne illness. In this publication we will explore the procedures for proper produce washing and handling. In addition, effectiveness of commercial fruit and vegetable cleaners will be investigated.

We hear that eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will keep us healthy. Research has shown that eating lots of fresh produce reduces the risk of some cancers and other diseases. Due to promotions such as the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s 5 A Day The Color Way campaign, people in the U.S. are encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables as a part of their normal diet. This is good for public health. On the other hand, we also hear safety warnings about raw fruits and vegetables. News reports have linked Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks with alfalfa and other sprouts. Fruits and vegetables are often eaten raw, without cooking to destroy pathogens. Thus they are potential sources of food-borne illness.

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), you should wash raw fruits and vegetables very well before you peel, cut, eat or cook with them. Washing reduces the bacteria that may be present on fresh produce.

What are the best ways to keep raw fruits and vegetables safe?

  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Clean your counter top, cutting boards, and utensils after peeling produce and before cutting and chopping. Bacteria from the outside of raw produce can be transferred to the inside when it is cut or peeled. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Do not wash produce with soaps or detergents.
  • Use clean potable cold water to wash items.
  • For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.
  • Produce with a lot of nooks and crannies like cauliflower, broccoli or lettuce should be soaked for 1 to 2 minutes in cold clean water.
  • Some produce such as raspberries should not be soaked in water. Put fragile produce in a colander and spray it with distilled water.
  • After washing, dry with clean paper towel. This can remove more bacteria.
  • Eating on the run? Fill a spray bottle with distilled water and use it to wash apples and other fruits.
  • Don’t forget that homegrown, farmers market, and grocery store fruits and vegetables should also be well washed.
  • Do not rewash packaged products labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.”
  • Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40ºF or below.
  • Do not purchase cut produce that is not refrigerated.

How To: Washing Fruits and Vegetables (YouTube)

What are the best ways to wash leafy greens?

  • Leafy greens from the farmers market, grocery store, farm or garden should be stored at 35-40°F within two hours of harvesting or purchasing.
  • Wash greens by separating leaves and soaking them in a bowl of cool water for a few minutes. Drain the greens using a strainer or colander and repeat this process. The goal here is dilution.
    • Another technique is to presoak greens for five minutes in a mixture of vinegar and water (1/2 cup distilled white vinegar per two cups water), which should be followed by a clean water rinse. This has been shown to REDUCE but NOT eliminate bacteria contamination, and it may slightly affect texture and taste.
  • Drain leafy greens with a clean strainer or colander, then dry with a clean towel or salad spinner. Salad spinners should be thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water after every use.

Do commercial fruit and vegetable rinses/washes actually work?

Chemical rinses and other treatments for washing raw produce—usually called fruit and vegetable washes—are now being sold. They are often advertised as the best way to keep fresh fruits and vegetables safe in the home. But are these washes effective?

In the fruit and vegetable product industry, chlorine is commonly used to remove microbes such as bacteria and mold from produce. In the home, a water wash, either with or without the help of a produce brush, is typically used to clean fruits and vegetables. So how do water washes hold up to the new “fruit and veggie” washes?

In the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine, researchers tested three commercial wash treatments:

All three products were tested according to product directions. We used low-bush blueberries as the produce. A water wash was also tested, using blueberries soaked in distilled water for one to two minutes. Here are the results:

  • Fit® washes got rid of roughly the same amount of microbes as distilled water. Both Fit® and distilled water reduced the level of residual pesticides compared to the unwashed samples.
  • Both ozone systems—the Ozone Water Purifier XT-301 and the J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer—removed microbes from the blueberries. However, the distilled water wash was more effective than either of the ozone washes.
  • Because some produce washes are costly, we advise consumers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables with distilled water. Soak all produce for one to two minutes to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

Why use distilled water? Because distilled or bottled water has been filtered and purified to remove contaminants. NOTE: You can also used very clean cold tap water to clean produce instead of distilled water.

Help prevent food-borne illness from striking you and your family. Wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2004, 2011, 2013

Call 800.287.0274 (in Maine), or 207.581.3188, for information on publications and program offerings from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, or visit extension.umaine.edu.

The University of Maine is an EEO/AA employer, and does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender expression, national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veteran’s status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Sarah E. Harebo, Director of Equal Opportunity, 101 North Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5754, 207.581.1226, TTY 711 (Maine Relay System).

When it comes to fruits and veggies, it’s never totally clear how deeply they need to be cleaned to be safe to eat. When something is covered in visible dirt—like carrots, potatoes, and other things typically pulled from the ground—I always instinctively give them a good scrub before I cook with them. But when something appears to be relatively clean, like apples or berries, I’m never sure if a simple rinse is enough or if I technically should be doing more.

So we decided to break down what might actually be on unwashed produce, how much good washing really does, and how to clean different types of produce effectively.

Here’s what could be on your produce before you wash it.

Even when a piece of produce appears to be squeaky clean, it probably isn’t, Philip Tierno, Ph.D., a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF. Just because there’s no visible dirt doesn’t mean it’s not covered in microbes and potentially harmful pathogens that it picked up somewhere along the way.

The FDA reports that around 48 million people contract foodborne illnesses from food products contaminated with harmful pathogens each year, most commonly listeria, E. coli, and salmonella bacteria as well as viruses like hepatitis A and norovirus.

The good news is that there are agricultural standards in place to minimize the amount of pathogens entering the produce system, Randy Worobo, Ph.D., professor of food microbiology at Cornell University, tells SELF, so the odds of actually buying contaminated produce in the first place are typically pretty low. But while the chance you’ll contract a foodborne illness from fresh produce is relatively slim, it is always a possibility, depending on what your fruits and veggies came into contact with on their journey to you. Things like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria may be present on produce as a result of poor farming practices, but it’s also possible for produce to be contaminated with a virus that was spread by humans, like norovirus and hepatitis A.

“There’s a whole host of people that handle raw fruits and vegetables,” Tierno says, “including the growers, the pickers, the truckers—many hands which contain different types of germs, potentially pathogens.”

And if you’re worried about pesticides, know that the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration work together to first establish what level of pesticide residue is safe for human consumption, and then enforce those rules (if you’re interested in getting more details on that, you can read this recent FDA report. Rinsing your produce will remove some of that residue, Worobo says, adding that after washing there may still be some pesticide residue on your produce, but the amount is so small that it doesn’t pose any real threat.

How much does rinsing really do?

The reality is that washing produce with water is usually enough to remove most stray pathogens, and at the end of the day, consuming something with a few germs on it likely won’t make you sick anyway, so you’ll never know the difference. Unless you are immunocompromised, your body does a good job of dealing with a few unsavory microbes here and there, says Worobo.

When it comes to big outbreaks, like the recent romaine lettuce one, it’s sort of out of your hands as the consumer. Outbreaks typically depend way more on whether or not farmers are using proper practices, says Worobo. If a food has become so contaminated that it’s making people sick, chances are there are a lot of pathogens on it—way more than normal—and those pathogens are likely deeply entrenched in the fruit or veggie, versus just sitting on the surface. In these cases, rinsing won’t be enough to get them off and make them safe, Worobo says, which is why health officials err on the side of caution and simply advise consumers to throw out potentially contaminated foods. (Worobo also says it’s a good idea to avoid buying anything with a visible bruise or cut because that can be an entry point for pathogens to infect the produce from the inside.)

Here’s how you should be washing *most* of your produce.

For the majority of produce, just rinsing it off with water and rubbing it with your hands is sufficient. In fact, in most cases—we’re talking your average fruit or vegetable that was grown and handled properly and may have just a few surface germs on it—it’s enough to get rid of 90 to 99 percent of the bacteria present, according to the FDA. (If something is recalled because of an outbreak, always follow instructions to throw it away.)

Americans have long had a torrid love affair with garden chemicals. In their quest to have the perfect yard or picture-perfect vegetables, consumers spend millions on lawn & garden chemicals. In a per acre study, American consumers outpace farms in their use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides tenfold.

Sevin Dust and liquid are one of the most popular. What is Sevin Dust exactly?

Sevin is a pesticide. Pesticides are neurotoxins, which in plain English means that they act on the nervous system of the insect.* In insects they scramble nerve impulses causing neurological misfires and ending in paralysis and death.

History

Carbaryl (1-naphthyl methylcarbamate) is the chemical name for Sevin. It’s been around for a long time, developed in the 1950’s by Union Carbide. It was touted by Carbide as a broad spectrum insecticide and pushed to American farmers, supposedly with little after effects or residue. As a kid in the 50’s I remember my Dad using Sevin Dust on his tomatoes and in the garden. Today many people still use it on their gardens and especially on their vegetable plants to kill a wide variety of insects.

Over the years Sevin was proffered on third world countries as a savior for their insect ravaged crops. Latin America was targeted first, then India. What wasn’t realized at the time was that the drier conditions of western Asia naturally lead to crop failure in the first place and no miracle chemical, even Sevin, could save them. Unknowingly Union Carbide’s Sevin insidiously poisoned and sickened the people of this region.

Those old enough probably remember the horrific Bhopal disaster in 1984 at the Union Carbide plant in India. The plant was built in 1980 and would not only produce carbaryl, but also two other key ingredients used in the manufacture of Sevin, Methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic, flammable liquid and phosgene, also highly toxic and carbon monoxide were produced at the Bhopal facility. It was due to phasing out of the plant in 1984, cutbacks in maintenance and personnel that precipitated the Bhopal accident which killed 3,000 people outright, sickened thousands and led to the death of thousands more in the following weeks. For years thereafter many died from illnesses related to the accident. Dow now owns Union Carbide.

Why NOT To Use It?

Human exposure, be it from direct skin contact, inhalation or ingestion, leads to nausea, impaired cognitive development and tremors. Higher incidences of Parkinson’s disease have been reported by the Harvard School of Public health and the Mayo Clinic. The American Veterinary Medical Association shows related cancer rates in dogs exposed to lawn care and garden chemicals. Other concerns: the compounds that make up Sevin are mutagens causing fetal abnormalities during pregnancy, reproductive dysfunctions in males and females, kidney and liver damage and behavioral problems in humans and animals. Carbaryl is an inhibitor of the cholinesterase enzyme, found in nervous tissue, red blood cells. It is also a carcinogen and has shown to induce DNA damage in humans, animals and plants. Breakdown of this chemical in the stomach, coupled with ingestion of sodium nitrate, a common food additive, forms nitrosocarbaryl, a more potent mutagenic compound.

Sevin is highly toxic to bees, aquatic invertebrates, and mollusks. Groundwater contamination and subsequent runoff affects the entire food chain. It also increases the toxicity of another common yard chemical, 2-4-D or Scotts Weed & Feed or Miracle Grow.

Is it SAFE?

For all those wondering if Sevin is safe: no it is not. It is not a “natural” or “organic” garden chemical. It is dangerous. It is toxic. Eating food treated with Sevin Dust or Sevin liquid will cause low levels of poisoning (see above) and in higher doses *will* cause damage and illness to the human body.

Continuous inhalation of Sevin Dust can cause pneumoconiosis, more commonly referred to as “Black Lung Disease,” which is routinely found in coal miners, but the indication is also prominent in those who work in certain manufacturing industries. Pneumoconiosis causes hardening of the air sacs in the lungs caused from inflammation. Complications of pneumoconiosis include: heart failure, lung cancer, respiratory failure.

Pregnant women should avoid exposure to Sevin Dust because it can cause fetal abnormalities: cardio and pulmonary, nervous system development, spontaneous abortion, ADD in their child and a host of other difficulties. Additionally, women whose pregnancies fall between the months of highest Sevin applications – May and September – have the highest instances of fetal distress in development.

Read the following post on this site: “If You Use Pesticides, READ THIS” for more information. If you’ve read the package warnings, it’s enough to scare anybody. Bottom line: it’s poison not only for insects but for humans and animals. DON’T USE this on your garden or in your yard.

When you use any pesticides on plants you are growing for food, you are eating that chemical! Whether in dust form or spray, the plant absorbs the chemical from the soil and leaves. In the end it gets into that food you are growing — and eating!

SEE ALSO: Sevin Dust – Why Grow Vegetables And Put Poison On Them?

Better Choices

Plenty of home remedies exist but you have to accept one fact: your garden will not be 100% perfect and yes, the bugs will eat some things. Better to let them have a sacrificial plant or veggies that aren’t picture perfect. I’d much rather eat something that has no chemicals on it than its opposite choice.

Old fashioned insect deterrents include good old soap and water to retard fungus, watering wisely as in don’t over water which encourages disease, keeping areas around plants clean of dead leaves (especially roses) and using certain natural ingredients such as hot peppers to put the bite on bugs.

Some of my favorites: Save your bath water. It’s got soap in it which is a natural insect deterrent and acts as a natural fungicide. Even better if you’ve taken an Epsom salts bath: the magnesium from the Epsom salts promotes growth in plants. Use this to water your plants. Add some cayenne pepper to the mix and pour it over your plants. Bugs will get a big surprise when they bite the leaves. Murphy’s Oil Soap is another great garden pest killer. Mix a small amount in a bucket of water and douse the plants in your garden. It also kills Japanese beetles on contact! Need a weed killer? Boil about a half-gallon of white vinegar. Mix in 1-2 cups of salt. Stir until salt dissolves. Add a few squirts of Dawn dish detergent. Use a spray bottle or handheld sprayer. Your weeds will be toast in a day or two.

Last summer I battled tomato hornworms and other nasties quite successfully with self rising flour. The little monsters will chomp on a leaf, ingest some of the flour and soon after — BOOM! The flour will rise in their moist guts and they’ll blow up, becoming instant compost! Another plus was that I planted mums all around my garden. I had very few instances of bugs chomping things.

Living in the country, I’ve got a problem with critters dumping my potted plants or digging up my newly planted ones. Take some jalapeño peppers (or hot cherry peppers) and rub it around the rim of the pot. Sprinkle some hot, hot cayenne or bird’s eye pepper around the base of the pot (or around the plant) in just inside the rim. Mr. Skunk or Possum will be in for a big shock when he gets a snoot full of that stuff! Trust me; your plants WON’T be dug up!

My long time plant hero, Jerry Baker, has been an inspiration to me for over 40 years. Visit his website to learn some of my favorite gardening tricks – and garden without Sevin, Round-Up, Weed-B-Gon or other poisons!

*They also act on the nervous system of humans.

Very Important Read below

If You Use Pesticides, READ THIS!

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on my old site, Good Food 4 All. Some of the articles I still have in my archives and will republish. This one in particular bears repeating because gardening season is coming up again and many people think Sevin Dust is harmless.

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Author: BT Hill

Humanitarian, environmental and food activist, blogging on current societal issues. My blogs cover what’s in our food and how it affects our health; the effects of our seemingly small actions regarding chemical and pesticide use in and around our homes and its impact on our Earth.

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