I am often asked for the best method to clean fruits and vegetables, and if commercially available produce washes are necessary. I can’t say either way if supermarket veggie sprays work, but I use what I grew up using; white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I was excited to see Cook’s Illustrated prove the effectiveness of a vinegar wash that I learned from my mom years ago. The magazine did a study comparing the effectiveness of removing bacteria from produce with vinegar, plain water, antibacterial soap, and a produce wash. The vinegar wash got rid of most bacteria. (I couldn’t find the original study on the Cook’s Illustrated website but did find a summary of it on npr.org).
I keep a reusable spray bottle filled with either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar near my sink. I spray hard-skinned vegetables and fruits like apples and cucumbers directly with the spray and rinse under water. For delicate greens, berries or grapes, I soak the produce in a bowl with water and a generous spray of vinegar and mix it gently with my hands.
My friend Veronica recommends using hydrogen peroxide to clean produce. The one source I found for that was on the Dr. Mercola website, though he recommends using both vinegar and a hydrogen peroxide spray (kept in separate bottles).
Whichever method you choose, you do want to give your produce at least a water rinse to wash off bugs and dirt. And think about how many people handle your produce as it makes its journey to the supermarket produce aisle before it arrives to your kitchen.
A salad spinner is a practical way to quickly dry off just washed salad leaves- your dressing will cling to the leaves much better if it is dry (I prefer the pushdown spinners as opposed to the pull cords and crank handled ones). But you can always lay them out on towels to dry as well.
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The great thing about produce is that most of it can be cleaned easily and then dried. For those with skins made from firmer material, a soft brush will work best for gentle cleaning but if your scrubbing produces are softer or drier (to accommodate an earthier environment), you may need to soak them in water before wiping off any dirt captured within their natural wrapping film on top-side layers which could prevent stains caused by exposure during transport.
The Bottom Line:
Good food hygiene is an important health habit that will keep you from getting sick. Washing fresh produce helps minimize surface germs and residues, which could make anyone’s day worse!
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to wonder whether more aggressive washing methods, such as using soap or commercial cleaners on fresh produce are better.
Health professionals agree that this isn’t recommended or necessary. Fruits and vegetables can be sufficiently cleaned with cool water, and light friction right before eating them.
If you want to get your produce clean, try washing it in a bowl of cool water. This will help remove dirt particles from the surface and inner layers so they don’t come back when next time.
The importance of fresh fruit and vegetables cannot be understated. They offer a number of healthy nutrients, but only if they’re cleaned safely!
Jen Lin-Liu is the founder of Black Sesame Kitchen. A Chinese-American writer and a nationally certified Chinese chef in Beijing. Jen is the author of two memoirs, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China and On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta.