Why Wash Produce?
The produce on grocery shelves generally looks clean and appetizing. So why wash it? Rachel Allen, a licensed practical nurse who is furthering her studies in the Health Coach program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition explains:
“Chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers are commonly used on conventional produce. Normally the produce is sprayed several times during the growth season to keep pests away and ensure good growth…It then can remain on the produce during transport and sale.
She then explained what consumers can do to help combat the potential for chemicals littering their produce.
“Organic produce does not use the same chemicals and chemical fertilizers but rather natural fertilizers and natural pesticides. These natural fertilizers are usually a type of manure, animal waste, and can leave different types of bacteria on the food. With both conventional and organic, the produce is washed before transport but not thoroughly enough to remove the contaminants.”
Some conventionally grown produce contains higher concentrations of dangerous pesticides than others. The worst offenders have been dubbed “The Dirty Dozen” since there is a main factor of 12 of them.
Busting Produce Cleaning Myths
Many consumers believe exceptions exist when it comes to having to wash produce. In most cases, the experts would beg to differ:
- Organic produce: While you don’t have to worry about chemicals, Allen reminds us that organic produce may still be coated with traces of manure and bacteria that could cause illness.
- Produce that you peel: Some people feel that if you’re not going to eat the peel, you don’t need to wash the produce. Unfortunately, if you haven’t washed the produce first, your knife can transfer pesticides, fertilizers and germs to the inside of your fruits and vegetables.
The jury is still out when it comes to “pre-washed” produce. Although many experts feel it’s fine to skip that extra wash, others, including Hooker, disagree. She states:
“I would wash all produce. It is far too easy to contaminate by handling the produce and other foods.”
What to do if you’re unsure sure whether produce is safe to eat without washing? Ms. Allen from Chop Your Veggies advises:
“If in doubt, wash it.”
Avoiding Microscopic Misery
Consuming pesticide or fertilizer residue may result in health problems that won’t become apparent for years. If you eat produce that’s coated with certain bacteria on the other hand, the unpleasant effects will make themselves known much sooner.
Wash conventionally grown and organic produce thoroughly to avoid:
- E. Coli: E. Coli is naturally present in the intestines of many animals. If you’re unlucky enough to ingest enough of this bacterium, the symptoms can include severe diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain lasting for five to 10 days. A few strains of E. Coli can even be life threatening.
- Salmonella: A Salmonella infection brings symptoms including headache, stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever that may last between four and seven days.
- Listeria: Ingesting Listeria can also create major suffering with fever, headache, upset stomach and vomiting. Listeria may be life threatening in some cases.
Just running produce under the tap for a few seconds probably isn’t enough to insure a safe eating experience. Instead:
- Wash your hands first to avoid contaminating your produce with any new germs.
- Cut away damaged, punctured or bruised areas of produce.
- Thoroughly wash produce under running water. Ms. Allen suggests using warm water and gently rubbing the produce by hand. Steer clear of soaps, detergents, chemicals or bleach, which could leave behind dangerous residue. If you feel you must use something beyond water, consider a solution of one part distilled vinegar and three parts water.
- Dry produce with a clean paper towel.
When it comes to delicate berries Ms. Allen recommends a little TLC:
“I wash berries by placing them in a bowl and swishing the water around as it runs, pouring it out and repeating a few times. This cleans the berries and keeps them better intact.”
These other fruits and vegetables also require special attention:
- Leafy greens: Before washing, Ms. Allen advises separating tightly bound leaves to be sure all surfaces get cleaned. Then gently wash greens, soak for a few minutes and drain.
- Mushrooms: After a quick rinse, gently wipe fragile mushrooms with a clean, damp paper towel.
To further reduce your risk of food borne illness, choose produce that’s less likely to be contaminated with high concentrations of bacteria in the first place. Ms. Allen recommends careful but relatively simple inspection:
“I feel the best way to choose produce is to look for healthy produce. Look at the produce stacked with it to make sure none of the produce around it has gone bad. If it has been stacked- pick it up and feel it. Is it firm or soft? Is it dry and intact or soft and slimy in spots? Also smell it. Does it smell good or like the compost pile? Does it smell at all? For example, carrots should be firm and orange and have green leaves on top; the leaves should have firm stems, not soft. “