Are you in the habit of washing fruits and vegetables you buy from grocery stores or farmers markets before eating them? It is easy to think of nature’s bounty as a pure source of good nutrition that can’t have any ill effect. You would be right if it was grown in your backyard without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Except for many of us that isn’t the case.
Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Did you pick up a piece of fruit or vegetable, turn it in your hand and check for ripeness before setting it back down? This is common practice and unfortunately a lot of people aren’t so meticulous about keeping their hands clean. Consider that before ever reaching the display a farmer has plucked the fruit with dirty hands or grimy machinery, in addition to the use of pesticides to protect their crops from insects. These potentially unsafe handling practices can spark outbreaks of E.coli or other long-term health issues that can lead to serious health problems.
The issue of eating unclean produce even extends to organically grown food, as a Scientific America article mentions:
“Even if the organic food you’re eating is from a farm which uses little to no pesticides at all, there is another problem: getting rid of pesticides doesn’t mean your food is free from harmful things. Between 1990 and 2001, over 10,000 people fell ill due to foods contaminated with pathogens like E. coli, and many have organic foods to blame. That’s because organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens.”
The article goes on to say, “the reason for the higher pathogen prevalence is likely due to the use of manure instead of artificial fertilizers, as many pathogens are spread through fecal contamination. Conventional farms often use manure, too, but they use irradiation and a full array of non-organic anti-microbial agents as well, and without those, organic foods run a higher risk of containing something that will make a person sick.”
Let’s cut to the chase. Cleaning fruits and vegetables isn’t difficult. Except water alone isn’t enough. In supermarkets you will find packaging for certain products that read: Double or triple washed. This may be enough but doesn’t provide enough of a guarantee as a lot of produce, vegetables especially, have deep crevices or areas that might not be exposed to running water.
NPR looked at a Cook’s Illustrated study to determine the best method to cleaning fruits and vegetables . The outcome? Using a scrub brush removes 85% of bacteria, while diluting 1 cup of white vinegar in 3 cups water works to remove 98% of bacteria. Because that is the most effective method for clean food, it’s what we want everyone to to use going forward.
It is also very easy! For smooth skinned produce you can fill a spray bottle and coat the surface of your produce 6 or more times, let it sit for 30 seconds, then rinse. Lettuce, Kale, broccoli, and other produce with areas that are hard to clean need to soak for 2-minutes in the same 1-to-3 solution of white vinegar and water. Note that leaves should be separated to ensure complete coverage. To prevent cross-contamination clean your sink when finished!
That leaves one final question: Tap water or filtered water? The point of washing our food is to ensure total food safety! As we recently wrote, filtering tap water isn’t all that expensive. There are chemicals in our water supply like chlorine that kill bacteria but leave behind unpleasant tastes and can damage the cells in our body. Plus, contaminants are proving to be an ever-present threat even in large cities where we would clean water would be more important when hundreds of thousands are at risk.
So yes, you should definitely filter your water before cleaning fruit or vegetables! Whatever you expose your food to leaves a risk of contamination.
Since you will be working around your sink when washing fruit and vegetables, we highly recommend a water faucet filter or under sink water filter system. Faucet filter systems either twist onto the end of the spout or sit between the water line and the faucet. Under sink systems stay out of sight though require tools and a little know-how to install. Either solution gives you cleaner water at the turn of a handle. Remember, filtered water is marginally more expensive that tap water alone, with most water filters capable of removing waterborne contaminants from hundreds of gallons of water before they should be replaced.