How to Wash Produce Properly

Reader Contribution by Vicki Mattern
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What’s the best way to handle fresh produce to minimize the chance of foodborne illness? 

Routine recalls of mangoes, sprouts, bagged lettuces and other produce have some shoppers worried. Even certified organic produce can sometimes harbor disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli.

Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly with cool, briskly running water is the best way to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. And that even goes for “pre-washed” bagged salad greens, which (despite their label) still could contain a range of bacteria, according to tests conducted by Consumer Reports.

Here’s a list of produce safety recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

• Clean vegetables and fruits just before preparing them for use, not before storing them. (Moisture encourages bacterial growth and hastens spoiling.)

• To clean produce, use plain, cool, running water and rub gently with your hands or a brush. Special rinses aren’t necessary; they have not been shown to be any more effective than plain water.

• Cut out any damaged areas where germs might thrive.

• Remove and discard outer leaves of leafy greens, such as head lettuce, cabbage, kale, etc. Rinse the remaining leaves individually. Blot them dry with clean towels, or use a salad spinner.

• Rub tomatoes and soft fruits gently under cool, running water for 30 to 60 seconds.

• The uneven surfaces of rough- and hard-surfaced produce, such as cantaloupe, squash and some root vegetables, provides an ideal hiding place for bacteria. Scrub these foods thoroughly with a vegetable brush under water before you cut into them. Also clean smooth, hard-skinned produce you plan to peel, such as mangoes, papayas and cucumbers. Rinse them for 30 to 60 seconds under water, while rubbing them with your hands or a veggie brush. Dry the produce before you peel it, then eat it right away.

• Rinse berries and small fruits in a colander using the sink sprayer. Gently toss the fruit with your hand so the spray reaches all fruit. Blot dry gently with clean towels.

• Contrary to oft-repeated advice that suggests mushrooms become too soft when washed, it’s OK to rinse mushrooms quickly under running water to remove surface dirt.

Keep your refrigerator bins clean by washing them in the sink using warm, soapy water. Rinse and dry the bins before replacing them in the refrigerator. Be sure the refrigerator temperature stays 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Store meat and seafood in closed or sealed containers, away from produce.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Above: Wash fresh produce thoroughly with cool, briskly running water. 

Photo By Petro Feketa 

Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .