What Is The Right Way To Clean Vegetables And Fruits?

Share this with a friend

Your Name
Recipient Email

5 Min Read

Raw foods can be contaminated from soil, manure, pesticides, and water. Remove any damaged or bruised areas and wash under running tap water. Wrinkly vegetables can harbor pathogens in their nooks and crannies. So soak them for 1 to 2 mins in cold and clean water. For leafy veggies, separate the leaves and soak in vinegar and water mix (1:4) for 5 mins, and then rinse with clean water.

Every year, one in six Americans fall sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Ever wondered if those luscious, farm-fresh vegetables and fruits could also be the cause? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), apart from raw foods of animal origin, consuming contaminated raw fruits and vegetable is one of the major contributors to food-borne illnesses in the United States.1

How Do Fruits And Vegetables Get Contaminated?

On their way from the farm to your fork, vegetables and fruits can get contaminated by pathogens, that is, disease-causing viruses, bacteria, parasites, or harmful chemicals at any point.

  • In the farm due to contamination from soil, manure, pesticides, water, or contact with animals or insects or due to poor hygiene among farm workers.
  • After the harvest, while being transported or during storage.2
  • In the kitchen, while preparing food using a contaminated knife, cutting board, or other utensils.3

Cleaning the produce is the basic step to ensure safety from these contaminants.

What Is The Best Way To Clean Farm Produce?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most effective way of removing contaminants is to wash the fresh produce with water. You can easily follow the steps recommended by the FDA.4

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before starting prep.
  • Remove any damaged or bruised areas of the vegetable or fruit.
  • Hold produce under plain running water and give it a gentle rub. So contaminants from the skin do not get transferred to the knife or utensils, wash before peeling.
  • Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.

The key is to wash under running water as it is more effective than soaking. While these are the basics, some vegetables and fruits might need extra attention.

Melons and cucumbers need to be scrubbed using a vegetable brush. With the rough exterior, it might not be possible to fully remove the dirt. If you want to be extra vigilant, wash after cutting again to ensure no contaminants have been transferred from the skin to the flesh.

Wrinkly vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce can harbor pathogens in their many nooks and crannies. Such vegetables should be soaked for a minute or two in cold and clean water.5 The FDA recommends throwing away the outermost leaves of a cabbage and lettuce.

To clean leafy greens, first separate the leaves. Follow this by either of the following methods

  • Soak in clean, cool water for a few minutes and then drain using a clean colander or strainer.
  • Soak in a mixture of vinegar and water (half cup vinegar for every two cups of water) for five minutes, and then rinse with clean water. This method can affect the taste of the greens and is only effective in reducing but not eliminating the risk of pathogens.

This should be followed by drying with a clean towel or salad spinner.6

Produce that is labeled as pre-washed and ready-to-eat need not be washed again.

Commercial Fruit/Vegetable Rinses – A Good Idea?

A study conducted by the University of Maine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Cooperative Extension showed that chemical rinses were not more effective than washing with distilled water or clean tap water.7 The FDA does not recommend using soaps, detergents, or any chemical rinses as these can add to the chemical residue on the skin of the produce.

Going Natural

The antimicrobial activity of turmeric is well-known and has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years.8 Before rinsing produce, soaking in water along with a pinch of turmeric can help in reducing the microbial contamination.

Another organic product gathering followers is bio-enzymes. Variations of bio-enzymes have been used in Asian countries for a while now for cleaning pesticide residues. One such enzyme was developed by Dr. Rosukon Poompanvong, a Thailand-based practitioner of alternative medicine. The eco-enzyme, popularly known as the “garbage enzyme,” is gaining popularity as a versatile cleaning agent. This enzyme can be made at home by fermenting vegetable peels with jaggery or brown sugar and water for three months. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend soaking produce in a solution of one part eco-enzyme and 100 parts water to remove pesticides.

References   [ + ]

1. Foodborne Germs and Illnesses.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015.
2. Barinas, M., et al. “Food safety for fruits and vegetables”. Fact Sheet, Ohio State University Extension. 2010.
3, 4. 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
5, 6, 7. Bolton, J., Alfred Bushway, Kristi Crowe, and Mahmoud El-Begearmi. “Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables”Bulletin #4336. The University of Maine.
8. Prasad, Sahdeo, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. “Turmeric, the golden spice: from traditional medicine to modern medicine.” (2011).
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.