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Clean fruits and veggies in water

July 16, 2013|Lynn Little

Fresh produce can harbor bacteria, fungi and other microbes along with trace amounts of chemicals. Traditional cleaning of fruits and vegetables by washing with plain tap water is the best method for removing contamination. Food safety experts recommend washing all produce with plain, cool tap water.

Start by making sure your hands are clean. Clean counter tops, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water before peeling or cutting produce. Then, scrub the produce under running water, rubbing briskly with your hands and/or a vegetable brush if your produce has a firm skin. Washing will help remove any residual pesticides along with the dirt, bacteria and stubborn garden pests. 

Fruit and vegetable washes are often advertised as the best way to keep fresh fruits and vegetables safe at home. The FDA advises against using these commercial produce washes because the safety of their residues has not been evaluated and their effectiveness has not been tested or standardized.  

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Do not wash fruits and vegetables with bleach or soaps. Many types of fresh produce are porous and could absorb these chemicals, changing their safety and taste.

For firm produce, wash well or peel to remove waxy preservative. Peel potatoes, carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, or clean them well with a firm scrub brush under lukewarm running water. 

Wash fruits such as oranges, cantaloupe and watermelon before slicing. The rough, netted surfaces of these fruits provide an excellent environment for microorganisms that can be transferred to the interior surfaces during cutting. To minimize the risk of cross contamination, use a vegetable brush and wash thoroughly under running water before peeling or slicing.

Separate and individually rinse the leaves of lettuce and other greens, discarding the outer leaves. Leaves can be difficult to clean so immersing the leaves in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes helps loosen sand and dirt. Adding vinegar to the water (1/2 cup distilled white vinegar per 1 cup water), followed by a clean water rinse, has been shown to reduce bacterial contamination but may affect texture and taste. After washing, blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

Washing produce before storing may promote bacterial growth and speed up spoilage, so wait to wash fruits and vegetables until just before use. Generally, soil has been removed from fresh produce but if not, and you wash before storing, be sure to dry produce thoroughly with clean paper towels before storing.

Produce that requires refrigeration can be stored in vegetable bins or on shelves above raw meats, poultry, or seafood to prevent cross contamination. Storing fresh produce in cloth produce bags or perforated plastic bags will allow air to circulate. 

Trim well. Cut tops and the outer portions of celery, lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables that may be bruised and contain more dirt and pesticide residues.

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. Do not keep cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees) and store in the refrigerator in covered containers.

Visit www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm256215.htm for more fruit and vegetable safety information.

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

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