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The Best Ways to Clean Fruits and Vegetables

We have looked at various options when it comes to the produce we purchase for ourselves and our families in the posts Make Your Organic Dollars Count, Affordable Alternatives to Certified Organic and How to Buy Local for Your Food. Regardless of what kind of produce you purchase, you should still be taking the step to thoroughly clean before eating.

It does not matter if your produce is organic, natural or conventional it is possible that through the harvesting process, transport to the market or grocery store and customer handling that germs and bacteria can be collected and growing. These all should be washed off before consuming to ensure that you are not getting sick.

Even certified organic produce should be washed because it can contain some pesticides, since according to the USDA certified organic standards farmers are able to use more natural or conservative pesticides in a very limited and specific way for the produce to be considered certified organic. Or it could be exposed unintentionally to synthetic pesticides due to nearby crops or shared handling facilities that process both organic and conventional produce.

Ways To Clean Produce

Rinsing Under Water

This seems to be the #1 way that most people clean their produce. It can be effective at rinsing away dirt, pesticides and bacteria. This cleaning method alone can remove some pesticides depending on what pesticides have been used, what type of produce you are washing and if you are also rubbing the fruit or vegetable while rinsing.

Fruit and Vegetable Scrub Brush or Cloth

These are great tools for cleaning some of the firmer fruits and vegetables you purchase and are better than just using water. They help to scrub away the dirt, bacteria and pesticide residues. It is helpful to scrub the produce under running water to rinse away the pesticides, dirt, germs and bacteria as you clean.

Look for a scrubbing brush that is made for cleaning fruits and vegetables with firm bristles like the ones listed here. I like having at least two in the kitchen so there is usually a clean one ready to go when I need it.

Another option is a fruit and vegetable scrub cloth, like this Veggie and Fruit Scrub cloth from Norwex. I love using the rough side to scrub hard fruits and vegetables such as apples, cucumbers, squash, peppers and potatoes. It is such a great scrubber it will actually scrub off the potato skin if you rub it too much! Some people use this cloth instead of a peeler to remove potato skins because it is so easy to do.

The soft side of the Veggie and Fruit Scrub cloth is great on more delicate produce items such as tomatoes, peaches and grapes. It will also polish up items such as apples.

Norwex Fruit and Veggie Cleaning Cloth with Apple

Use Salt

Soak produce in a bowl of 1/2 cup salt and 4 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly.

Studies have shown that washing in a 10% salt solution for 20 minutes can be effective at removing the majority of pesticides on various produce items. This would be 1 part salt to 9 parts water.

Use Vinegar

Soak produce in a bowl with 1 cup vinegar and 3 cups of water for 20 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly.

Studies have also shown that washing produce in a vinegar solution for 20 minutes can be effective at removing the majority of pesticides on various produce items.

Use Baking Soda

Soak produce in a bowl of water with 1 tsp baking soda for every 2 cups of water for 12-15 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly.

This study shows that a low baking soda solution can remove all pesticides on the peel of an apple after soaking for 15 minutes, it seems that the baking soda solution is the best option for removing pesticides from produce. Although, it should be noted that it is unable to remove the pesticides that have been absorbed through the peel of the apple.

This option is also the most cost effective, as baking soda is very cheap and it uses the least amount of cleaning agent per water volume compared to the other options. It also takes the least amount of soaking time to break down the pesticide residue and has a higher pesticide removal rate.

salt, baking soda and vinegar with fruit in bowls

How I Wash My Produce

First, I will rinse off any dirt, germs and bacteria. Then I like to let it soak in a bowl of water with baking soda for the 15 minutes that are recommended from the study referenced above.

I like to clean some of our produce right away and have a bowl full and/or cut up to store in glass containers that make it easy to grab and eat. I find this helps my family to eat more fruits and vegetables during the day, instead of just grabbing a processed snack that is sitting in the pantry.

To do this, I usually fill a huge stainless steel bowl with about 5 quarts of water and 10 tsp of baking soda to soak. I also find this to be the most time effective as I can easily clean a whole bag of apples or a bag of lemons all at one time. I am not sure how practical it would be for me to soak one apple at a time for the full 12-15 minutes, especially when it is usually for one of my littles ones who will not wait that long for a snack.

I try to do my produce cleaning as I am cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry or other types of meal prep. During this soaking time I will give the water a stir randomly to help ensure that all parts of the produce are being exposed to the baking soda water. If I am pressed for time I will let it soak for only a few minutes, as it is better than just rinsing with water.

After the baking soda water soak, if it is a firmer vegetable or fruit I will then scrub quickly with either a vegetable and fruit brush or my Norwex cloth. If it is a more delicate item I will only rinse.

Then I will spray with undiluted white vinegar, to ensure as much of the germs and bacteria have been killed off. I will let this sit for a few minutes if I am able, then will give it a good rinse.

I feel that this whole process helps to remove any lingering pesticides on the produce as well as ensure that all germs and bacteria are killed or removed as well.

Overkill? Perhaps, but for anyone who has been following my journey knows I am a bit of a clean freak and that totally goes for the things I put in my body and feed my family. Also, this cleaning process is what happens when I am able to do it, but since we live in the real world there are times when an orange, peach or apple just gets a quick soak with the baking soda or scrubbed under running water with the Norwex Veggie and Fruit Scrub cloth.

Tips When Cleaning Produce

If looking to soak your produce, it can be helpful to wash most or all of what you purchase so it can be “ready to eat”. Some say that this opens the produce to collect bacteria again that could make you sick. Especially considering how quickly bacteria can multiple. If this is your preferred method, maybe give your produce an extra rinse right before consuming.

Others prefer to wait and wash their produce just before eating. But then you are introducing whatever bacteria that is already on the produce into your home and produce storage spaces, such as a refrigerator.

Really it is your preference on how you manage your produce cleaning. Find a way that is convenient for you that helps to encourage you to actually eat it before any spoilage occurs.

Keep in mind for berries, they should be washed just prior to eating. Washing before storing just adds moisture that can cause a quicker rate of spoilage. It is frustrating to go to the refrigerator for a quick healthy snack only to find you have to throw the whole thing away, especially if you shelled out the extra money for organic or spent the time to pick. UGH!

Also, remember to wash any produce that you will be cutting or peeling, even if you do not plan to eat the outside. Examples would be watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, lemons or carrots as you will be cutting through the skin and exposing your knife or peeler to any germs, bacteria and pesticides that will then touch and cross contaminate the flesh of the fruit or vegetable.

If you are not able to wait the full 12-15 or 20 minutes to soak your produce, a few minutes is better than nothing and will help to break down and remove some of the pesticide residue. And a short veggie soak would be better than cleaning with just water.

Cherries in water

Things To Avoid When Cleaning Produce

  • The sink is full of microorganisms, especially in and around the drain, that can contaminate your produce. Using a large bowl to wash your produce is a better option. I like using glass bowls when cleaning smaller amounts of produce or a huge 8 quart stainless steel bowl like these ones:


  • Using dish soap or other soap products, such as antibacterial soap. These products are not designed to clean produce and some of the potential chemicals that they contain can leach into the porous skin of many fruits and vegetables. Or some soap residue may remain on the produce and then you end up consuming it. I know I have been guilty of this one in my efforts to effectively clean the food we eat.
  • Some produce cleaners or washes can have the same issue as soaps and over all tend to be as effective as just rinsing the produce with water. If this is something you prefer to use, take the time to research the ingredients so you know what your food, and ultimately you, will be exposed to.

Conclusion

Cleaning produce is an important step to take regardless of it being organic or not. Besides trying to remove any pesticide residues that might remain, it is good to remove any dirt, germs and bacteria that might end up on your food.

Sometimes it might be easier to do a quick wash or soak for your produce, which is much better than doing nothing at all. And other times you might be able to take the time to thoroughly soak and wash your produce.

I always think about the harvesters of the fruit and vegetables out in the field and wonder what kind of bathroom facilities might exist because I have not really seen much from driving by the different fields. For this reason alone I want to make sure I wash my produce thoroughly!

How do you clean your produce? Any tips or suggestions?


Disclaimer: For informational and educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a health concern, a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any medication please consult your healthcare provider.