What Is the Best Way to Wash Food Before Eating It?

Dear Lifehacker, pesticides and disease-causing bacteria are not welcome guests on my fruits and vegetables. But do laundry products actually remove them? And do I need to buy a special product, or can I cook something just as good at home?

Regards Wondering Washer

Dear washerman! We’ve discussed some of the tricks before, you can brush the waxy vegetables , and you can also make your own wash of vegetables and fruits with baking soda or vinegar . (The combination of baking soda and vinegar produces some fizz, but will end up neutralizing both chemicals, so there is no need to combine the two.)

Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash is the most popular commercial option, and thanks to the label it sounds good: It supposedly removes “98% more pesticides, wax, labor residues and other contaminants” than water alone. On the other hand, they do not provide any evidence to support this claim, and in the very next sentence on their website, they undermine credibility by asking, “Why use something with chemicals to remove chemicals?” Fun Fact: Everything is a chemical , including water, Fit ingredients, and the vegetables themselves. So they just wave their arms around a little. While Fit doesn’t call its product soap, that’s what you get when you mix oils and lye, two of their main ingredients. The product also contains alcohol, glycerin and a lot of water.

Fortunately, science can answer the question of whether soap solutions or other substances such as vinegar or plain water can affect the quality of cleaning products.

Can pesticides be washed off?

Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station rinsed food under running water and found that it reduced pesticide residues in 9 of 12 pesticides tested. Interestingly, some of these removed pesticides were not water-soluble, so the pesticides did not dissolve in the water, but rather mechanically repelled the products under the action of the running water.

A few years later, they expanded their research by testing four washes for commercial products, including the Fit, with soapy water (1% Palmolive) and plain running water by spraying lettuce, strawberries, or tomatoes with the solution and then rinsing them under water for a while. … full minute. They could not find any difference between how well the various treatments were cleaned, but all washed products, including those washed only with water, contained less pesticides than unwashed controls.

Despite the fact that in these studies soap has performed as well as other washes, and it is logical that it will succeed in removing oils and other contaminants, no one recommends using soap. It doesn’t have any advantages over water, and you really don’t want soap residues left on your food.

Authors’ recommendation: rinse the product under running water for at least 30 seconds. No cleaning products or soap needed.

There is one more thing you should know about pesticides in foods: even unwashed, they are unlikely to be present in dangerous quantities. The same study checked the amount of pesticides found in groceries bought in stores and concluded that they “are generally within the [Environmental Protection Agency] tolerances.” In other words, you can wash off at least some of the pesticides from your food, but initially the amount of pesticide was probably not an issue.

We’ve seen this before when we discussed the Dirty Dozen – even the dirtiest foods didn’t have unsafe levels of pesticides, and buying organic doesn’t get around the problem: organic farming still uses pesticides, just different types.

Another caveat: some pesticides either enter the plant tissue as it grows or are simply difficult to remove. These pesticides have been rigorously tested and do not pose a serious health hazard. So while you cannot expect to remove 100% of the pesticides, your products will likely start out in harmless amounts and washing will further reduce the amount.

Final Verdict: Rinse water does not remove more pesticides than running water.

Can germs be washed away?

Fruits and vegetables are the culprit in quite a few food poisoning outbreaks , although any fruit or vegetable is likely to be safe. (The problem is a few, so to speak, bad apples.) So, washing food isn’t just about removing pesticides: can washing also remove harmful bacteria?

Unfortunately, dishwashing is not enough to ensure that contaminated food is safe to eat , although it can reduce germs. Even when you soak vegetables in bleach, the biofilms of bacteria living on vegetables are difficult to kill.

However, you usually do not come across products known to be contaminated; more often than not, you just want to play it safe. I don’t always rinse food, but whenever I’m pregnant I get a little more paranoid about the possibility of listeria (traditionally found in soft cheeses and meat dinners, but in recent years it has appeared in fruits and vegetables). So I wash myself. my salad, even if it has been pre-washed, and I prefer cooked raw vegetables for at least a while (cooking definitely kills bacteria).

Which wash reduces bacteria the most? Cook’s Illustrated has tested several non-commercial methods : running water, water and scrubbing brush, soap and vinegar solution. Everything worked well enough, but the vinegar wash won the competition, removing 98% of the bacteria tested.

They used a solution of one part vinegar and three parts water; Cook’s Illustrated Editor Jack Bishop recommends keeping the solution in a spray bottle next to the sink. After spraying, rinse off under cold water.

The refining question is complicated by the actual shape of the fruit or vegetable you are working with. Bacteria (and presumably pesticides) can enter nooks and crannies. Soaking broccoli can help, but one of my local farmers teaches the “organic broccoli rule” of dipping vegetables in boiling water for 30 seconds before eating. She thinks about little beetles that can hide between flowers, but this method will kill bacteria too. Sandria Godwin, who oversaw Cook’s experiment in illustrations , notes that bacteria tend to hide in the stem and end of fruit flowers (the end of the flower is at the opposite end of the stem: think of the bottom of the apple), so she recommends simply cutting both ends if you worried.

Final verdict: Spray vinegar before washing to remove as much bacteria as possible.

Besides washing and preparing food, there are several other ways to reduce the chances of getting bacteria on food. Local food is less likely to be contaminated simply because there are fewer stops between the farm and your home, which means that clean foods have fewer chances to end up bumping into something that isn’t very clean. (Bonus: if you are worried about pesticides, you can also ask the farmer what chemicals they use.)

Storing vegetables in the refrigerator also reduces bacterial growth because bacteria do not thrive in the cold. (By the way, check the temperature in the refrigerator – it should be between 32 and 40 degrees, and the colder, the longer your food will keep.)

Looking for specific directions for different types of products? Here is the instruction . In general, tough vegetables can be washed, while leafy vegetables need to be rinsed with water or rinsed as individual leaves.

Photos by Mark Welleketter , USDA , Larry Miller .

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