Washing is perhaps the most critical step in food preparation. Let me repeat that, it’s an essential step, especially if you like to eat them raw.
You can say washing is your last line of defense against any foodborne disease and possibly pesticide exposure that could lead to cancer.
Statistics say that 80% of pesticides consumed in the United States come from agriculture.
Wash even with organic
Even if you’re buying organic produce, washing is equally essential because organic produce also has natural pesticides in them.
In addition to that, washing produce also removes any residual soil that can be a source of foodborne 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 veggie washes to wash fruits and vegetables?
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 does 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 certain fruits and vegetables 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 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 extend its shelf life and prevent molding.
2. Squeeze 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 thoroughly to remove any residue and to avoid any sort of aftertaste.
3. Avoid using dishwashing liquid
I’ve read in some blogs suggesting dishwashing liquid as a cleaning agent to wash fruits and veggies.
It is possibly the worst advice that anybody can give because 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 – pieces that are turning yellowish or becoming limp.
Remove these parts before soaking leafy greens in water and vinegar.
5. If you insist on buying produce wash – make sure it contains only natural ingredients
Research has proven that water can be as adequate 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 thoroughly because these are grown on soil. So there is a high probability of having soil residue on it.
In 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 foodborne illnesses like e-coli.
Also, make sure to rinse each leaf thoroughly, 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 scrub it outside of using your fingers.
It 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 most significant 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 an anti-bacterial liquid soap. I prefer using liquid soap inside the kitchen because it’s more convenient and saves you money.
For kitchen utensils, use a good dishwashing cleaner like dawn or joy. To remove the stinky smell from the 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 celery, make sure the stems are firm, the color is bright green, and not yellowish.
These are two vital 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 soft parts because it will tell you that it’s nearing a decomposed state.
The bottom line
Whether or not you’re cooking or eating it raw, washing fruits and vegetables is an essential step and shouldn’t be ignored. Doing this step will protect you and your family from possible pesticide exposure and foodborne 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.