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Use plain, cool tap water to clean produce

July 23, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Raccoons once had a reputation as being fastidious eaters. They were said to always wash dirt from the fruits and vegetables before eating.

Scientists have debunked that old superstition, though the reason for raccoons' occasional food washing remains a mystery. But washing fruits and vegetables remains a good idea for humans.

Food safety experts recommend washing all fruits and vegetables with plain, cool tap water to remove contamination.

Start by making sure your hands are clean. Then, scrub produce with plain water and, when possible, a vegetable brush.

Remove residue

Produce sprays or dip solutions are available. Although they're designed to remove unwanted dirt, they may not be marketed as antibacterial. There is no data to support antibacterial claims. If a produce wash makes an antibacterial claim, the EPA considers it a pesticide. Currently, none of these products are registered to remove, reduce or control bacteria.

While some consumers report worrying about pesticide residues on produce, it is important to understand that pesticides are strictly controlled by the FDA, USDA and EPA. If any residue remains on produce, it should be well below safe levels mandated by regulations. Some pesticides are also water-soluble; they come off with water.

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Produce can easily become cross-contaminated from many sources. Bacteria lives on towels, cutting boards, counter tops, utensils and other kitchen areas, This is why food safety experts call for frequent cleaning of kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water and sanitizing with a mild bleach solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to one quart of water.

Remove bacteria

Wash fruits such as oranges, cantaloupe and watermelon before slicing. Cutting can cause bacteria on the outer skin to cross to the interior of the produce.

Rinse in plain, tap water. Do not wash with bleach or soaps, because some fruits and vegetables can absorb liquids that could taint the taste of the product.

Prepackaged salad mixes are washed so consumers may eat or serve directly from the bag.

Wax coatings are used on some produce to retain moisture, reduce mold and maintain quality. These can be cut off.

When choosing produce, stay away from bruised or moldy fruits and vegetables. Store your purchases in the refrigerator to maintain quality and freshness, washing them as you are ready to use them, not before.

For more food safety information, visit www.fightbac.org or www.foodsafety.gov.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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