Should I Wash My Fruits and Vegetables?

The information in this article does not apply to produce irrigated with contaminated water. If someone is unsure of the source of their water, they should contact their local city.

Nutritionists recommend that we eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But along with the increased emphasis on Five a Day has come concern about the effects of pesticide residues and bacteria left on fresh produce.
Many new spray wash products have been introduced to the market to clean fruits and vegetables. These products are often located in the produce section of local supermarkets and claim to neutralize pesticide residues, remove wax from the surface of produce such as cucumbers, apples and oranges, and to kill bacteria such as E. Coli.
Does the research on these products match the claims made in the advertising? Tests conducted at the University of Wisconsin, Colorado State University and the University of Maine show that while these products are safe to use, nothing indicates they are any more effective than using cold water and a vegetable brush to clean produce. If you purchase these products, you could be spending more money than you need to.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that all fruits and vegetables, including those that are organically grown, benefit from a thorough washing to reduce soil, surface microbes and some pesticides. Ann Zander, Colorado State University Extension, notes that an average of four people handle an apple before it gets to the consumer, and up to 20 may have handled a tomato.
The following steps will limit the residues and bacteria on your produce.
  • Rinse all produce under running tap water to remove exterior bacteria. Don’t let your produce sit in a sink full of water. Running water works best for rinsing.
  • Use a brush to scrub produce such as melons, cucumbers, winter squash, citrus fruits and potatoes. Potatoes and melons have grooves that can’t be completely cleaned with your hands. If they are not thoroughly scrubbed, remaining dirt from the outside can be transferred to the inside when the produce is cut open.
  • Remember to rinse bananas. Many hands have touched the fruit before it gets to your mouth. Your hands could transfer bacteria on the unwashed peel to the inside flesh.
  • FDA experts recommend removing the outer layer of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage before thoroughly rinsing the leaves in water. They recommend rinsing until you can’t see any visible dirt, then spinning them in a vegetable dryer. If you are saving your lettuce and cabbage for later consumption, dry the leaves before refrigerating to prevent bacteria growth.
  • Rinse bunched fruit, including blueberries and grapes, under running water in a colander. A spray nozzle is easiest to use.
  • Some consumers use mild detergents and soap to clean their produce. Neither the USDA nor the FDA recommends washing fruits and vegetables in anything but cold, drinkable water. Dish soaps have not been approved as a food cleaning item, and a soapy residue left on the produce can cause diarrhea. It can also change the flavor of the food.
  • Use hot, soapy water to clean your utensils and cutting boards after preparing each food item.
  • After purchasing produce, it is best to put it away promptly and use it within a few days of purchase. Wash your hands and counters before preparing any food, especially fresh vegetables or fruit.


By: Barbara R. Rowe - Feb. 16, 2007