Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Thought I Knew How to Wash Vegetables

Syndicated on

I found myself in a slightly awkward situation a few days ago. And let me preface this by saying that those with whom I was talking probably didn’t find the situation awkward at all. I was discussing with some folks about how to wash vegetables, when a good friend asked me, ‘Why do you soak your produce in vinegar diluted in water? Will it really remove the pesticide residues any better?’ I stuttered a half confident ‘I heard it from a friend’.

Now that wasn’t an answer that I was happy about! I like to think of myself as being a researcher and having a mind of my own. I like to think that I will confirm anything I hear out there with some trustworthy report. I want to believe that I will truly understand the reasons why I do the things that I do. That is what builds confidence. People who read this blog don’t just want to hear what I do with food. They want to hear why I do something with my food.
It is likely that people reading wash their produce in many varying ways. Some may scrub. Others soak. Some many wipe food on their clothes (no joke), while others mist with a mister. Some people buy those veggie washes. But there are some things you need to know about washing fruits and veggies.

· There are three things (and maybe more) that you need to be concerned about washing off your fruits and veggies when you get them home: dirt left over from growth, bacteria picked up either from the dirt or through transportation/ handling and pesticide residues. I don’t always buy organic produce. But even when I do, I always wash my fruits and veggies.

· Veggie washes aren’t worth the money. As NPR reported in 2007, Cooks Illustrated Magazine did an analysis of various cleaning methods and they found that veggie washes did little more than simply washing in plain water.

· That same analysis showed that veggie scrub brushes did remove slightly more bacteria than simple washing.

· But the best results were obtained from washing fruits and veggies with a solution of one parts vinegar (they used white vinegar) and 3 parts distilled water.

I thought the distilled water bit was interesting. Distilled water has had all the bacteria and living bits removed in the distilling process, thus you will be less likely to contaminate your fruits and veggie with something that was found in the water itself. But my first impression? I drink my tap water. So I run no greater risk of polluting my veggies with ickies than when I drink a glass of water. However, you might not feel so confident about your tap water…and I get that. I am not going to be buying distilled water just to wash my veggies.

The article said that it was not necessary to soak fruits and vegetables in water before storing them. And again, I get that. But I have had GREAT results through soaking. What I typically do when I get home from the market is to scrub my sink with soap and warm water (including the opening of the drain!) and rinse thoroughly. I then fill the sink up with cold water and add in some apple cider vinegar (previously I have been adding a few tablespoons but as a result of reading the article I will probably start adding a cup or so). I let my fruits and veggies soak for 30 minutes to an hour. I agitate them during the soaking so that all dirt and residue is removed. Then I remove them from the water, shake them off and let them drip dry on a clean dish towel. As I have mentioned before, I store most of my veggies in plastic bags in the fridge. Lettuce I like to store in a big glass Tupperware. With spinach I will often remove the stems before storage.

Fruits and veggies I soak: all greens, carrots, green beans, leeks and scallions, apples, pears, potatoes, grapes, stone fruits

Fruits and veggies that I rinse just prior to eating: all berries, anything bagged in plastic or otherwise washed before prepackaging

Fruits and veggies that I don’t wash at all: bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, onions, oranges (all items that I NEVER eat the outer layer)

**As a note about pesticide residues. I found an interesting article on the WH Foods website that stated that one can remove most pesticide residue through washing and soaking, but not everything. And one cannot remove the pesticides that have been incorporated in the plant itself. I eat a lot of organic food, but I am not maniacal about it. Almost all the local fruit in my farmer’s market is sprayed with something! And I still prefer local to trucked in.My mantra is limit your exposure through buying some organics and washing the rest and then letting go and accepting the limitations of this life!


  1. Thanks COB. As the friend who asked the question I was going to out and research this issue. Thank you for doing it for me!

  2. I'm convinced that you DO know how to wash veggies.

  3. Very informative! This is how I wash my veggies too, but I didn't know why until now! :)

  4. your friend who told you how to wash veggies learned it from Nourishing Traditions. So there- now you have a resource :)

  5. @ Caliban's, I am sure the conversation didn't seem weird to you. But I am happy to have an answer now!

    And @ Sara, Nourishing Traditions is so dense, sometimes I break it out and read it in the bath like a novel. I learn something new every time!

    @agrigirl, thanks!!

  6. I read that this also removes vitamins and nutrients from the this true???? I am on my way to Farmers Market and would like to know!

  7. We wash our bananas too. You handle them to peel them and then eat them. Do some research as to where they are stored and you will start washing them too.

  8. I like to wash things like oranges, avocados, and bananas. If you peel unwashed fruit with your hands, then touch the fruit inside when you section or eat it, don't you spread whatever was on the peel to the fruit. If you keep bananas, apples, oranges, and grapes together in a fruit bowl on the counter or table, shouldn't everything be washed the same if it is going to be touching? How do you know you didn't choose the orange which had previously fallen off the display at the store and rolled across the floor? LOL Besides, think about how many people touch lots of pieces of fruit to choose the best of the lot when shopping. I'm not a germophobe, just a realist.