Nearly all nutritional guidelines say, “eat more fruits and vegetables”. However, the most nutritious way to eat fruits and vegetables is raw. But this also means that any bacteria or germs on the outer layer doesn’t get killed as it does when cooked. Cooking kills most harmful bacteria and chemicals, and it unfortunately reduces, if not eliminates, valuable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as well. So, most doctors and researchers agree that all fresh produce should be carefully washed before eating. But what’s the best way to remove these germs? And how can you be sure that your veggies are clean?
Getting fresh fruits and vegetables clean begins even before you get them home. Choosing fresh, undamaged produce is the first step to cleanliness. Select vibrant, colorful, items which have little to no visible bruising or damage. Bacteria can enter these fruits and veggie through damage to the outer surfaces. So, carefully inspect anything for signs of damage and excessive handling (keep in mind, light damage can be easily cut away before using). Generally, certified organic products contain fewer chemicals and other contaminants. And buying local produce from your area may mean that it has been handled less and has been harvested more recently (yes, it's probably fresher!).
Also, always wash your hands (with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds!) before preparing any fruits and vegetable for consumption. This is also true for cutting boards, knives and preparation utensils. Wash the outside of anything you plan to eat, including avocadoes, melons and other peelable treats (apples, carrots, potatoes, and zucchini). Leafy greens should be washed after removing the outer 1-2 layers of leaves.
Water, sprays, vinegar, or baking soda?
The most important question may be WHEN to wash rather than HOW. The rule of thumb is to wash produce “just before eating”, which means that harmful bacteria has less chance to rapidly grow on wet or moist surfaces. Also, never rewash any lettuce greens, fruits or vegetables which have been pre-washed or labeled “ready to eat”. You run a high risk of recontamination.
Less may be more when it comes to produce washing. Some research states that a thorough rinsing with clean, cold water can reduce up to 75% to 80% of pesticide residue. This is already a great start to getting rid of germs, but soft fruits like grapes, apples, guava, plums, mangoes, peaches and pears and fruity vegetables like tomatoes and okra require two to three washings, as do green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. It is important to make sure you do a thorough clean and really get into all the crevices on fruits and vegetables where pesticides can often linger.
In general, most commercial veggie sprays tend to do more harm than good, and can be very expensive. If you prefer using some type of extra solution, research how to mix your own natural cleaning solution (most health professionals recommend mixtures of vinegar, baking soda or hydrogen peroxide). Even though most research indicates that clean water is all you really need, this extra step may put your mind at ease.
For most produce, a good thorough, rinse or soak removes a good number of germs. But be sure to use a scrub brush or your own fingers to rub away dirt or other types of unwanted residue. Take the time to dry off the fruits and veggies with a clean towel or paper towels. Focus on and eat the majority of the fresh produce from this list of “Clean 15”, because they tend to be less contaminated.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas, frozen
- Honeydew Melon
These measures will help clean your fruits and veggies make them much safer and tastier to eat.