Keep it Clean: Vegetable & Fruit Washing 101


Washing TomatoesTwo years ago my mother scolded me for feeding my then six-month old a banana that had been unwashed. Why? I asked. I don’t eat the banana peel, why should I wash it? Slightly miffed that I hadn’t noticed her washing our fruits and vegetables all those years, my mother gently explained the necessity of doing so.

While I may not eat a banana peel, any bacteria on it will transfer to my hands when I peel it. These are the same hands which I put in my toddler’s mouth to feed her fruit. It’s no fault of our own that this bacteria exists. Vegetables and fruits, no matter how organically and/or naturally grown, still have bacteria and debris from the outdoors on them when they get to our kitchens. Worse, if a fruit or vegetable has not been grown organically it may be covered in pesticides or herbicides. Washing produce in warm water, carefully and thoroughly, can get rid of all of these things in a snap, protecting everyone from ingesting potentially harmful bacteria and pesticides. Here’s how:

1. Warm Water Washing: To wash fruit hold it under running tap of warm water, or place it in a colander under the faucet. Actively rub the fruit for about 20-30 seconds to make sure the water washes over all of it. Smaller fruits like berries or cherry tomatoes can be left to drain in the colander. Larger fruits can be dried with paper towels or clean cotton kitchen towels.

2. Scrubbing: Fruits or vegetables with heartier skins like potatoes or radishes can be scrubbed with a vegetable scrub brush. I like this one from OXO. These brushes are made to get dirt out of any little nooks and crannies.

3. Leafy Greens and Corn: Leafy greens and herbs require a slightly different kind of treatment. Gently peel back the leaves and rinse them in the warm water. Dry them with a kitchen towel and wrap them in damp paper towels or kitchen towels before storing in the crisper. Corn should be washing gently after the husk has been peeled off and before it is prepared. Hold the ear under the faucet and gently rub the kernels to remove any bacteria or debris.

4. Steer Clear of Chemical Washes: Studies have shown that commercial fruit and vegetable washes are no more effective then warm water. In fact, some chemical mixes may leave harmful residues on the fruit so it is best to avoid them.

5. Notes: Only wash fruits or vegetables right before consumption. Washing them long before you intend to eat them will increase the likelihood they will spoil before you get to eat them.