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How to Efficiently Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables

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When the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released their annual Dirty Dozen list, we didn't want to look. The list reports which fruits and vegetables have the the highest detectable pesticide residue, and it's always a line-up of our most beloved produce. This year, for the first time in five years, apples lost their spot at the top of the list as the "dirtiest fruit"—to be replaced by strawberries.

The best way to guard against pesticides? Wash 'em off!
The best way to guard against pesticides? Wash 'em off! Photo by James Ransom

Of all the strawberries sampled, 98% had pesticide residue and 40% had residue from ten pesticides or more. The report claims, "In California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, each acre is treated with an astonishing 300 pounds of pesticides." Womp.

There is a silver lining: While the pesticides protect plants from insects, weeds, and disease, and are largely considered to be toxic, the amount of pesticide residue is so minute that it likely doesn't pose a longterm risk. They're measured in parts per million or billion (even in organic produce, which is pesticide-free whenever possible, but uses "naturally-derived pesticides" when necessary).

So fresh and so clean, clean.
So fresh and so clean, clean. Photo by James Ransom

And properly washing fruits and vegetables can remove most of the existing residue on the surface (the pesticides that are absorbed by the roots are unavoidable but are a very small percentage of the overall pesticides). Here's how to properly wash your produce:

1. Make sure your hands are clean.

A step that is often skipped with washing produce is clean hands! If your hands are dirty when you start washing the produce, you'll transfer the bacteria that's on them to your fresh, beautiful vegetables. To be safe, wash them for at least twenty seconds with soap and warm water before preparing your vegetables.

How to Select, Store, and Eat Blueberries
How to Select, Store, and Eat Blueberries

2. Rinse your produce under running water.

The FDA's guide to preparing produce for consumption does not recommend using any soap or commercial produce wash—if you think about it, adding soap to your produce is like adding more chemicals to get rid of chemicals, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. For the cleanest fruit, just run it under clean water and for firmer produce, use a clean produce brush to rub off any dirt or residue. See you later, pesticides.

Even if you're eating something that requires being peeled (like cantaloupe and avocado—which are both on the EWG's "Clean Fifteen" list!), rinse it before preparing it. Cutting through the skin with a knife will only carry whatever pesticides or bacteria are on the surface through the fruit itself—remember the lemon-rinds-pocalypse?

A Better Way to Put Strawberries into Salad (It Involves Bacon)
A Better Way to Put Strawberries into Salad (It Involves Bacon)

3. Dry with a clean towel.

Once your produce is squeaky-clean, dry it off with a clean dishtowel to further reduce the amount of bacteria it comes into contact with.

Still feeling a little iffy about the whole "Dirty Dozen" thing? Their list of the "Clean Fifteen" might be just the thing to lift your mood. (There are lots of our favorites there, too!)

Do you always wash your produce before eating it? How concerned are you about pesticides? What steps do you take to avoid consuming them? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags: Food Safety, Strawberry, Vegetable, Tips & Techniques, Sustainability