Cleaning

How to Efficiently Wash Your Fruits and Vegetables

April 15, 2016

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! 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. 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.

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.

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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?

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!

24 Comments

Kay D. April 22, 2018
One of the ways in which I was taught to wash vegetables and fruit to ensure that all dirt, insects and pesticides were removed was to use vinegar in water. Soak the fruit or vegetable for a short time, then do the thorough rise described in the article.
 
Peter S. September 24, 2016
"In California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, each acre is treated with an astonishing 300 pounds of pesticides." Womb.<br /><br />What a ridiculous sentence. The number is meaningless with no point of reference. It's meant to scare you but lacks any evidence to support fear. There is a difference between a hazard and a risk.
 
Faith September 24, 2016
ppm of glyphosate is carcinogenic. ppm of pesticides will utterly destroy your gut's microbiome. It takes two weeks of eating organic to rid the body of this pesticide. At minimum children should be fed organic foods.<br />
 
Mary August 29, 2016
In addition to the other comments about bio-accumulation, tissue penetration of the chemicals, etc., I think it's important to note that our body's hormones are measured in parts per billion. There is some recognition that for some chemicals toxicity can be worse in smaller doses. <br />There are a number of other ways in which this article misses the mark and shows a large lack of research, more complex issues include bio-mimicry as a contributor to autoimmunity, liver overwhelm and the increased toxicity when phase 2 liver detox does not keep up with phase 1, etc., etc., etc. It's clear that toxicity is a major contributor to the chronic illness that overwhelms this country.
 
Nancy K. July 29, 2016
I grew up in the Central Valley of California in the '50s and '60s and '70s with a farmer and packer and shipper for a father. I ate All Kinds of fruits and veggies and melons and nuts sprayed with all kinds of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. I also grew up with all kinds of fruits & veggies & nuts perfectly natural- organic. I watched my mom - as I do now - was Absolutely Everything thoroughly at the kitchen sink and dry it thoroughly and store it properly, either on the counter or in the fridge. My family and I are perfectly healthy. Our blood work is perfectly healthy. In the '80s, I watched a man sit on the steps of the California State Capitol and drink a jar of Malathion to prove it wouldn't kill him - and it didn't. My point is, don't let anybody scare you into thinking pesticides will kill you - you'd have to ingest an Enormous Human Amount to be harmed. Just wash your produce and do what you're supposed to: ENJOY IT!!! Eat your fruit and veggies!
 
Harriet K. July 29, 2016
I once read that some potato farmers grow separate patches for their own families. Will not let them eat the ones that they grow commercially. That was all I had to read. Started buying organic and the first thing that struck me was the taste! So much better. Now, I always buy organic root vegetables.
 
Stephanie April 25, 2016
I always add a little white vinegar to a bowl of water when I clean my fruits and vegetables. I think this helps keep berries from spoiling for a few more days.
 
Doreen C. April 25, 2016
I lived in central America growing up. Of course now we are much more concerned. This is not about vegetables, but about pesticides in general. A book was written in the 60's or 70's called Silent Spring, by Rachel Carlson. This talked about the accumulation of pesticide in meat, due to the cattle grazing and it being stored in their tissues. While we don't spray the pasture, it may be adjacent to vegetable fields. Of course today we have much more pesticide, producing that much more food for a more populous world. A host of things such as runoff, and now the GMO issues, are involved in produce and meat today. <br />I also own a small care home for elderly, where we vigorously wash with a brush, the firm items like potatoes & carrots, and wash others soaking in the sink with vinegar/water, baking soda, peroxide, depending on the food. I had a caregiver who used to wash Everything, even bananas (separately) and I noticed that bananas Looked more appetizing, as opposed to having random spots of things, and <br />People Ate More good foods that are healthy.... The same goes of course for making a pretty plate. We think about it for ourselves, to impress our friends perhaps, or to make our plate nicer so we eat less and lose weight, while still enjoying it. <br />But it's worth thinking about for our elderly family members and children, to be sure they eat more healthy foods, so they don't become the fast food crowd (or keep eating habits that aren't necessarily good for them) left to their own devices, many will ask for cookies and if we keep them, eat things with HFCS instead of natural sugars that help to stabilize blood sugar, rather than spike it.<br />Fruits and veggies are so critically important in elder care and the vast majority of my colleagues largely ignore them.
 
Susan April 25, 2016
What's the appropriate way to wash organic produce?
 
susan G. April 25, 2016
It's just the same - pure water
 
Jo M. April 25, 2016
I have been living in China for 6 years, I pay a huge amount of attention to washing the fruits and veggies I buy. I don't buy in supermarkets, I buy in a really good 'fresh' market. Many of the veggies (spring onions, celery, coriander leaves aka fresh cilantro, parsley, mint and other herbs, cucumbers, lettuces etc) come with dirt from the farm still attached. I don't worry too much about pesticides - though I probably should. What worries me is e coli and other fecal contamination. When I get home from the market I wash everything carefully in 3 changes of water. Air dry for a few minutes and then bag up and put in the fridge. So far my dear husband and I have never had any stomach problems from food I have produced - it has been a different story from time to time when traveling within China and eating at restaurants. One tip - if in China avoid restaurants serving 'Western food' or 'salads'!
 
Helena April 24, 2016
"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."<br /><br /><br />*facepalm*<br /><br />Science was not your strong suit in your schooldays, I can only presume.
 
Panfusine April 25, 2016
AGREE! its not about the residue that say a big fat muscle in your system sees.. its the gut microflora that 'sees' these toxins the last molecules before they fizzle out into their own set of individual non living molecules
 
mj A. April 24, 2016
what is more important in this entire world than good health?<br />Stop buying new electronics - BUY ORGANIC EVERYTHING!!!!!
 
Kathy W. April 24, 2016
Even though the amount of pesticide on each bite (piece) of vegetable or fruit is minimal, the accumulated affect is tremendous. That is the problem...
 
BJ April 17, 2016
A large spoon of vinegar in the water is more than enough ,then rinse in water. if some vinegar residue so what. In this country USA its is almost an option to be so concerned about pesticide, in other countries where there is little government control there you have to be very concerned . I do not eat any vegetables in restaurants especially parsley and lettuce <br />B JURDI
 
John N. April 17, 2016
ok, here's some info I found. <br />http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm<br />this is the last section, which explains part of what I was trying to find out: in some cases you can wash it off, but in others, there is just too much pesticide absorbed by the plant through the roots, and there, it looks like organic is the way to go.<br />this is from the Consumer Reports study:<br /><br />Can you wash away pesticides?<br /><br />About half of the people in a recent Consumer Reports survey believe that peeling fruit or vegetables removes or reduces pesticides and 43 percent think you can remove them by washing. And they’re right—sort of. Rinsing can remove the surface residues, as well as dirt and bacteria. But you can’t completely wash away the pesticides—or the risk. Pesticides can stick to soft skins, and the wax coating used on some produce can trap pesticide residues. And some pesticides are systemic, that is they are taken up by the plant’s root system and get into the fruit or vegetable flesh so they can’t be washed off. What’s more, the USDA measures pesticide residues after produce has been rinsed in cold running water and/or inedible peels and rinds are removed. So the pesticide residues used to calculate our dietary risk guide are those that remain after the fruit or vegetable has been prepped the way you would at home.<br /><br />Wash your produce—conventional and organic—in running water. You don’t need any special washes. Researchers at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station compared rinsing fruit and vegetables in plain water for one minute with washing them with vegetable washes (four different ones) and a solution of dishwashing soap and water. Water alone was as effective as any of the washes or soap. Rubbing produce with soft skins like peaches or using a vegetable brush on harder items like potatoes or carrots will help remove residues, dirt and germs.<br />
 
John N. April 17, 2016
I didn't mean that I depend on the rain to wash the berries off. I wash mine in the sink before use, like many of you mentioned. I've also used a diluted vinegar solution which does help them last longer. It also depends on how your store them in the fridge as well: some like lots of air, some like to be sealed up.<br />My question was, when pesticides are sprayed on fruit, does simply washing them in the sink remove those residues adequately. If so, then wouldn't rain, or irrigation also keep washing them off. I'm wondering if those pesticides have something that makes them stick to the fruit even when wet, so they help it ward off disease and pests. If that is the case, I think just a spritz in the sink wouldn't get rid of them. It would be interesting to know how much pesticide residue is actually still on or in fruit when you buy it at the grocery store, and will a simply wash really get rid of it.<br />
 
kim April 17, 2016
Uhm, it doesn't rain that much in California. Like, rarely at all, especially lately,(for years now) in So Cal, which is where strawberries are so enormously grown. So depending on rainwater to wash berries is not the most efficacious idea. I agree, organic is great, when affordable, but I am not going to avoid fruits and vegetables if they need to be well washed (and in some instances, a vinegar spritz to keep the mold away a little longer for the delicate varieties, like soft skinned strawberries and raspberries). Seems to work very well for us.
 
Susan B. April 16, 2016
I use a half peroxide half vinegar mix for hard fruits and veggies but for berries, just running water. And I also wash my shrooms, sorry, can't help myself.
 
Panfusine April 15, 2016
I read somewhere that washing berries in lukewarm water with vinegar added prolongs the shelf life, inhibiting mold
 
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Leslie S. April 15, 2016
That's also true! You may have read that here: https://food52.com/blog/6970-how-to-keep-berries-fresh-for-longer
 
Vicki April 15, 2016
If I'm just washing a single serving (berries on my cereal every morning all summer!), I put them in a strainer and rinse them well under running water. If I'm washing the whole box at a time (party!!!), I wash them in the sink with enough water for me to swish them around gently, and if the water seems dirty after the first wash (lookin' at you, strawberries...), I will do it twice.