Washing Fresh Produce


Over the past few weeks we have considered the level of pesticide residue on a cross section of vegetables and fruit.  Now I  would like to consider how we should actually clean and wash the fresh produce. It seems that there is an abundance of contradicting information, but perhaps the most important factor is that all vegetables and fruit should be washed. In this pre-packed age, I frequently see people just peeling back the cellophane and serving the vegetables or fruit without any washing at all. Even organic produce should be pre-washed to remove bacteria from the skin.


Research from the Connecticut Agricultural Research Station showed that

…rinsing under tap water significantly reduced residues of nine of the twelve pesticides examined across fourteen commodities. Four fruit and vegetable wash products were found to be no more effective at removing eight of nine pesticide residues from produce than either a 1% solution of dishwashing liquid or rinsing under tap water alone for three commodities studied.

They suggest that:

  • At a minimum rinse all fresh produce under tap water for at least thirty seconds.
  • The mechanical action of rubbing the produce under tap water is likely responsible for removing pesticide residues. Mild detergents or fruit and vegetable washes do not enhance the removal of pesticide residues from produce above that of rinsing with tap water alone.




However, some would argue that using a specific wash – either home-made or commercial - will ensure that the produce is adequately washed. Natural News has a great article on the importance of washing, and includes some recipes for home-made vegetable and fruit cleaners.


Consider these facts:

- Bacteria and fungus occur naturally on most crops. Even if there is no visible soil clinging to your non-organic or organic produce, bacteria can be present.
- Imagine how many hands touch the food before it gets to your mouth, plus bacteria from soil and dirt can accumulate during the shipping process: these can cause a buildup on the surface of any produce.
- Agriculture pesticides are not removable with water alone.

Even if you plan to peel or scrape the produce, it is best – and recommended – to clean it first. Let’s say you have a beautiful ripe melon and you slice through it without washing the outside … the knife can carry potentially harmful pathogens from the rind through the center, and that beautiful melon can turn into a perfect breeding ground for greater bacteria growth.

Some people wash produce with dish detergent. Although this removes much of the pesticide, that which is left – plus any soap residue – could still be detrimental to your system and, in fact, has been known to cause gastrointestinal upset. Be cautious when using anything on any food product that is not meant to be consumed.

Some delicate produce items, such as berries and apricots, should not be soaked in water but can be sprayed with one of the homemade cleansing blends below and then placed in a colander, using a gentle flow of water to rinse the fragile skins. To avoid rapid spoilage of produce, wait to wash and rinse just prior to use.

Convenience has become a way of life at the grocery store. Pre-packaged items that market ready-to-eat produce are a shopper’s dream, yet it’s still a good idea to wash before consuming. This will only take a few minutes, and you’ll be certain your food has been thoroughly cleaned.

Everyone likes to save money, and since there’s no need to buy expensive produce wash when you can just as easily mix your own with common ingredients known to most cupboards, jump on board! This ensures better flavour, reduces risks of consuming contaminants, and saves money in the process – a plus on all counts. The combination of long-term health benefits and putting pennies in pockets will be doubly rewarding.



Produce Wash 1
- 20 drops grapefruit seed extract, available at health food stores
- 1 Tablespoon baking soda
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- New spray bottle



Produce Wash 2
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- New spray bottle

Spray produce. Let sit 5-10 minutes and rinse thoroughly to wash away residue.


NOTE: The baking soda and vinegar will foam when mixed together. Make sure you use a deep pitcher and pour slowly.


Keeping it Clean list a helpful comparison of different ways of washing fresh produce:


I found a study done by NPR years ago that I thought would be very helpful. They tested four different ways of washing apples. The first was with antibacterial soap. This was not the best idea, unless you like the flavor of soap. The second method was washing the fruit with one part vinegar and three parts water. The third try was scrubbing with a brush, and lastly, they simply rinsed with cold water.
They swabbed the skin of each apple and placed it in a Petri dish for several days. Here were the results:
Scrub Brush: Removed 85% of the bacteria
Water: Removed between 80-84%
Vinegar Rinse: Removed 98%
So if you really want to get your fruits and veggies clean, the best method is vinegar and water. You can mix the two in a spray bottle to make rinsing more convenient.