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Do all vegetables need washing—even organic?

To keep your family's food safe to eat, you need to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Even if there is no visible soil clinging to your produce, bacteria can be present. Once ingested, that bacteria could cause illness. It's a good idea to always wash your hands and produce before preparing any meal or snack.

Washing Technique

The good news is, you do not need to spend money on a special rinse to make your produce safe to eat-but you do need to use proper techniques. The goal of washing is to remove any potentially harmful organisms such as bacteria, soil and spray residue. Washing does not remove toxins that may have been absorbed by the plant while growing.

There are several options for washing lettuce and leafy green vegetables:

  1. You can gently rub each leaf while holding it under a strong stream of water, washing both sides.
  2. You can put the separated leaves in a sink full of water (make sure the sink has been cleaned and rinsed thoroughly first.) Swish the greens around, lift out of the sink and rinse. Do not let the water drain out of the sink with the greens still in the water, as they will fall to the bottom and pick up sand and dirt that may be left as the water drains away.
  3. Using a salad spinner is also a good way to clean greens. Tear or cut them into pieces and place in a salad spinner. Before putting on the lid, place the spinner under a solid stream of water and move the greens around with your hand for a minute or so, tossing them a bit so all sides have a chance to be washed. Then place the lid on the spinner, and let the stream of water run into the hole on top while spinning for another minute or so, remove water and spin dry.

You can get rid of bacteria on fruits and vegetables other than leafy greens by holding them under a strong stream of water and using the appropriate scrub brush. Don't skimp here, trickling water does not have enough force to help dislodge and wash away offending bacteria. Scrub produce while holding it under the water and then give it a final rinse. Use a soft brush for tender items, such as summer squash, so you don't damage the skin. Use a firm brush for tougher items, such as apples and melons.

It is also very important to wash produce with thick skins, such as citrus fruit, melons and winter squashes, with their skin or rind still intact. Bacteria from the soil, fieldworkers' hands, and from other shopper's hands' as they look over the produce, can accumulate on the skin. If you peel an orange and eat it without washing it or your hands after peeling, you run the risk of ingesting bacteria. If you slice into a melon, the knife blade can carry potentially harmful bacteria into the center of the melon, which makes a perfect growing medium for bacteria, especially if left at room temperature. So always wash produce, even the fruits and vegetables you plan to peel.

Very fragile items, such as berries, should be washed in a colander or strainer, using a moderate flow of water while gently tossing the fruits. To avoid rapid spoilage, wait to rinse berries until right before using and do not rinse before hand.

Never use soap to wash produce. Soap residue, consumed in large enough quantities, can cause gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea.

Many produce items have a thin wax applied to prevent them from drying out-check out the list of waxed produce at your grocery store; it is often posted near the door to the back room of the produce department. Although washing will not remove wax or any bacteria trapped beneath it, waxed produce is washed before the wax is applied. The most effective way to remove the wax is to peel the produce. If you choose to do this, use a peeler that takes only a thin layer of skin, as many healthy vitamins and minerals lie right below the skin.

Even Organic?

Even organic fruits and vegetables need a good washing, as described above so it is a good idea to get in the habit of washing your fruits and vegetables under a strong stream of running water. All soil contains bacteria. In addition, the natural fertilizers used in organic agricultural may also contain bacteria. Properly aged manure no longer harbors harmful bacteria, but why take the chance that some of the natural fertilizers coming into contact with your produce may not have been aged long enough?

Although organically grown salad mixes in bag often are pre-washed, they still need to be pre-washed. It's always a good idea to rinse all produce, even "pre-washed" greens under a strong stream of running water, then toss or spin dry. The process only takes a minute, and you'll be certain your greens have been properly cleaned. To ensure the produce you eat delivers only the building blocks of good health into your body, even your organic fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly.