Have you ever wondered why the experts giving advice on a specific subject can’t all agree? In the case of a procedure like how to wash produce, you would think there would be a right way and a wrong way, or at least that all the recommendations would follow along the same lines. This is important to me. I see people in stores munching on apples and mothers bagging up grapes to give their toddlers as they shop. On the Food Network television cooking shows, many of the cooks use berries directly from the unopened store packaging without even the pretense of rinsing them, and mushrooms receive nothing more than a cursory dab with a damp towel (usually only on one side). Bagged salads are just dumped in the serving bowl. I can’t be the only one bothered by this!
Recently there have been three produce recalls in our local grocery stores from E. coli contamination. Produce shopping is getting very scary, so I spent some time last night trying to find out what the current recommended procedure is for washing produce. Mostly what I found were more contradictions. Most sources seem to agree that ALL produce should be washed before being eaten, even if it is going to be peeled… and that includes melons and even bananas. They talk about scrubbing potatoes with a brush but advise gently rinsing berries… which makes sense considering that berries are more fragile than potatoes. But what about the bacteria? If melons and bananas have to be washed before they are peeled, and potatoes need to be scrubbed with a brush, how can berries that are only gently rinsed or mushrooms dabbed at with a cloth be considered safe?
Everyone seems to agree that certain types of E. coli can’t be removed, regardless of how vigorously the fruit or vegetable is washed… also that washing will only remove surface bacteria, and not the bacteria film that forms when bacteria has been left on the produce for a while. Then there’s the question of the bacteria that can’t be removed because electrical charges make it cling to the produce. Or how about this… supposedly if fruits and vegetables are sprayed or soaked with water that is colder than they are, the bacteria you’re trying to wash off can actually be absorbed right into the produce.
So in light of all these disgusting facts, what do these experts want us to do? Here are the most current guidelines and information I could find.
1. Rinse all produce under running tap water. Soaking produce in water is not effective. Running water and scrubbing with your fingers or a brush is necessary to wash the bacteria away.
2. Produce with rinds, grooves, or waxy skin should be scrubbed with a brush under running water. This includes melons, cucumbers, citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, squash, etc.
3. Discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables like lettuce or cabbage, rinse under running water, and pat dry or use a spinner. Advice on bagged, pre-washed salad greens varies from using without washing to giving the greens a thorough rinsing.
4. Sprouts are a special case because the seeds themselves are often contaminated with E. coli. Even home-grown sprouts could be contaminated because there is no way of removing the contamination if it has gotten inside the seed.
5. Grapes and blueberries should be rinsed with running water, preferably from a sprayer. One source actually advised scrubbing each grape with a paper towel under running water!!!!!
6. Berries and mushrooms… some sources still advise dabbing at mushrooms and splashing small amounts of water on berries. Other sources advise rinsing both and debunk the idea that sogginess will result.
7. Wash and cut produce before using, not before storing, because if there is bacteria present, the cut surfaces are more susceptible to bacteria growth.
8. Don’t wash produce with detergents or bleach. Most sources (except the ones selling the product) advise against produce washes, even the homemade ones.
9. Lastly, be sure that the produce you buy is fresh. Produce that is marked down because it is bruised or almost past its prime is no bargain because it is much more prone to bacteria contamination than fresh produce.
So here’s my question: What are we supposed to do with all of this scary and conflicting information? I’ll continue to rinse — and rinse — and rinse — produce like lettuce, berries, and grapes, the same way I do now… although I doubt that I will start scrubbing items I peel (like bananas) before I eat them. I’d love to hear how you all handle this question… how do you wash the produce you buy?
This scares me too. I’d be interested in knowing in how you clean fresh mushrooms? Thanks for this post.
Shirley (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity)
Tanya, I’m afraid the “experts” wouldn’t approve of my mushroom washing method, because I actually do wash them under running water with a little mushroom brush. I would rather have the mushrooms be soggy than full of contamination… and when I cook them, I don’t think it really matters anyway. I don’t use mushrooms in salads as much as I used to, but when I do, the washed mushrooms are fine (to us, anyway).
I’ll add in about the mushrooms that they really don’t get soggy when put under running water, even when soaked. Good Eats on the Food Network did a myth busters show where they tackled all sorts of assumptions about cooking and that was one. They soaked the mushrooms for varied times, ran them under water and also did a dry wipe– each technique with a very negligible change in “water weight.” So, rinse away.
I peel my mushrooms with a paring knife, just removing a thin layer. Somewhat time consuming but they look good!
I just rinse apples, pears and the like. Bananas are eaten just as they are. All berries are rinsed. some more then others if they look suspicious for some reason. all potatoes, carrots are scrubbed with a scrubby, this will also remove their skins. leaf type veg get just a rinse; anything grown in the ground gets scrubbed. If I hear of a problem with something I do not eat this product for several months after the problem has been resolved – as you never know. Patricia, RN
I often wonder about this, too. I think the only way to guarantee the safety of our food is to grow everything ourselves, which, of course, is impossible. The next best thing is to make sure to rinse off fruits and vegetables. I don’t use any kind of soap or bleach, but I do make sure I thoroughly rinse everything, except things that need to be peeled, like bananas or melons. I think there is always a risk of contamination in our food supply, unfortunately, but I usually hear more about contamination related to meat than to fruits and vegetables, which, luckily, if it is cook thoroughly usually kills bacteria. It is not a pleasant thing to think about, but I doubt if there is a foolproof way make sure we never eat contaminated food.
Hi there. I’m kind of a fanatic about washing my produce, but not ONLY because of e. coli bacteria scares. About a year ago I heard a statistic — from a reliable source, though it escapes me now just what that source was — that each piece of produce is handled by an average of 17 different people from the time it leaves the ground/bush/tree to the time it reaches your kitchen. Yikes! That completely freaked me out! Mind you, I’m a germophobe, so hearing that that many people had touched the food I was putting in my and my family members’ mouths was enough impetus to get me doing some extra scrubbing. That includes berries, mushrooms, bagged greens, melons, citrus fruits AND bananas. I know several commenters said they don’t wash their bananas, but think about your hands — or your child’s hands — holding that dirty banana peel while eating it. Pretty creepy to me!
Thanks for this one. I’m a big “washing” fan too. And I’m bothered when vegetables or fruits are served without washing them thoroughly. Esp when preparing a salad.
When it comes to things that need to be ‘scrubbed’ I use exfoliating shower gloves on my hands. I’m talking about the really cheap $2/pair kind. It’s great because it’s as easy as hand-washing things but with a little abrasiveness. It works great for potatoes and other root veggies.
The best part is that they’re machine washable. I just throw them in a load of whites with bleach and they come out clean and germ-free. I guess you could clip them to your dishwasher rack with a clothespin, too.
Works for me!
As a mother of a child who has suffered thru E coli., I want to let you know what the Dr.’s told me… Usually only the very old and very young, or fragile– do get E coli.– However, the reality is that it only takes a small amount — about the size of a dime to make someone sick. We as a family never buy bagged produce, it is just to dangerous in my opinion– the bottom line really is that if there is E coli on your food and you are at risk– then you might get sick.—
I hope I don’t sound angry or bitter about this topic—
Just wash what you can, and Trust in the Lord!
Scrub your bananas- if you don’t wash the banana you contaminate your knife as you cut into it. Then you use your contaminated knife to further cut the flesh of the banana. Scrub your thick skinned fruit or vegetable- it comes a very long distance for us in North America and has been handled by many people and been in many places before it arrives in your kitchen. It only takes 20 seconds or less to throughly scrub in running water. Careful hygiene protects your family and you’re worth it!
I can’t imagine just dabbing at mushrooms. I have to give mine a good washing just to get the dirt off of them… I’ve never had soggy mushrooms, but I’d rather have a little sog than eat dirt.
I understand washing vegetables, and I do so myself, but I also don’t overly panic about it. I don’t wash anything I’m going to peel. I do wash lemons if I’m going to squeeze them, but not an orange if I’m going to peel and eat it. I pretty much give things a good rinsing, I don’t scrub unless it’s something that just came out of the garden that has dirt on it. Except for mushrooms, like I said before. I’m sure if I had a family member with a compromised immune system or if I had a bad experience, I would do more, but after over 20 years of married life, it seems that what I’ve always done is adequate.
I’m a veggie washer, including ‘shrooms, though I only seldom wash bananas. And if I’m peeling cukes or potatoes, they get only minimal scrubbing. I have family members who never wash lettuce, and I assume that restaurants probably never bother, either. Ick.
Thanks for finding this info. I’m bothered by the sprouts-they’ve been recalled often enough that I only use them if I sprout them myself. I never realized that wasn’t necessarily going to protect us-I just thought they likely got contaminated in the warehouse/packaging process. As I don’t use them frequently, I’ll just continue as I have but I was sure disappointed to find this out.