Fruits and vegetables are essential in a healthy diet, and summer is peak season for fresh produce in many areas. Whether you’re getting produce from your local farmers market or your weekly grocery store trip, performing a comprehensive fruit and vegetable wash is always a good idea.

Why Should You Clean Your Fruits and Vegetables?

When the clock is ticking and the kids are hungry, it can be tempting to do only a quick splash or skip the process altogether. But washing your produce helps remove dirt, debris, and pesticide residue, and can reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses like E. coli. The U.S. has seen multiple outbreaks of illness in recent years caused by contaminated produce like tomatoes, lettuce, and cantaloupe. 

Here’s how to safely handle your fruits and veggies:

Buy and Store Smart

Careful buying can help you preserve your food before you get it home. Select fruits and vegetables that aren’t bruised or in poor condition and choose items that are refrigerated or in ice when buying packaged. When it gets to the fridge, store your perishable produce at a temperature below 40 degrees F separate from raw meat and seafood. 

Prepare Correctly

The process of safely preparing produce should begin and end with clean hands. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Guidelines, you should wash your hands “for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.”  Examine your produce, cut off any bruised areas, and discard any items that look rotten. 

Wash Thoroughly

Since moist surfaces can be a breeding ground for bacteria, it’s best to start the process right before you’re ready to start cooking. To perform a fruit and vegetable wash, simply hold the item under cold running water and give it a gentle rub. Even items that you plan to peel should be washed.

Here are some techniques for specific produce:

  • For herbs and leafy greens, it’s best to soak them in a large bowl or sink basin filled with cold water. Dry them well with a salad spinner or towels. 
  • For root vegetables and other produce with a tough exterior, use a clean brush to firmly scrub while washing.
  • To preserve the integrity of delicate items like berries, you can set them in a colander and dip them in a bowl of water.

Most bagged or packaged items come pre-washed under strict guidelines, so there’s no need to re-wash them – but make sure to read the packaging to confirm.

Dry Off

Immediately after washing, dry your produce with fresh paper towels or a clean kitchen cloth.

Avoid Any Soaps or Sprays

Experts recommend washing with just water. Using any kind of soap or produce wash isn’t necessary, and you should never use diluted bleach to clean anything you plan to eat.

Here are a few more ways to practice food safety:

  • Use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat.
  • Don’t let cooked food sit at room temperature for more than two hours; if it is 90 degrees or higher, limit it to an hour or less.
  • Discard cooked leftovers after four days.

For more tips on healthy eating, visit the Nourishing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.