All produce, whether organic or not, is susceptible to bacteria. Just think back to the most recent salmonella recall — organic spinach. All produce is covered with micro organisms from soil, fungi, dust and bacteria-causing germs.
In addition to bacteria, pesticides and chemicals are unfortunately a part of our environment, and our atmosphere. There’s a high probability that some chemicals end up in the organic fields of the produce we buy.
If you think that buying organic buys you a free pass on washing produce, think again.
But how? What’s the safest way to wash pesticides, bacteria and dirt off your produce? Here are three ways to wash pesticides off produce, that are backed by science.
Water or A Commercial Cleaning Solution?
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office did a study comparing water and commercial cleaners for fruits and vegetables. Here’s the results:
- Fit® washes got rid of roughly the same amount of microbes as distilled water.
- Both Fit® and distilled water reduced the level of residual pesticides compared to the unwashed samples.
- Both ozone systems—the Ozone Water Purifier XT-301 and the J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer—removed microbes from the blueberries. However, the distilled water wash was more effective than either of the ozone washes.
The most extensive research was conducted by Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia at Polytechnic Institute and State University. Her disinfecting procedure for produce uses white vinegar (or cider vinegar) and 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (the same as found at the drugstore). These are nontoxic, inexpensive and work not only on fruit and vegetables but can be used to sanitize counters and preparation surfaces, including wooden cutting boards, as well. Here’s the method:
- Put the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide into individual dark-colored spray bottles (You might be able to put a clean, new Sprayer right on the hydrogen peroxide bottle.
- Spray your produce or work surface thoroughly first with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide.
- Then rinse the produce under running water or wipe the surface with a clean wet sponge.
To learn more, keep reading below
Here is another recipe that is safe and inexpensive, and made from ingredients you already have in your kitchen. It is a diluted form of hydrochloric acid to wash off pesticides:
- Fill your kitchen sink with cold water.
- Add four tablespoons of salt and the juice of half a fresh lemon.
- Soak fruits and vegetables five to ten minutes (leafy greens two to three minutes and berries one to two minutes)
- Rinse well after soaking and use.
What about soap and water? Cornell University studied that one for us. They did agree that “a detergent solution may remove more bacteria (and perhaps some pesticide residues, as well), they also caution that soap is not intended for this use. Once it gets onto some kinds of foods, it is more difficult to remove than it is from dishes and it can make people sick.” And don’t use bleach either, for the same reasons.
Easier yet, follow these guidelines for cleaning produce from the University of Maine:
- Wash your hands before preparing food.
- Soak all produce for one to two minutes in distilled water to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
- Why use distilled water? Because distilled or bottled water has been filtered and purified to remove contaminants.
- For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.
- Some produce should not be soaked in water. Put fragile produce in a colander and spray it with distilled water. *
- Clean your counter top, cutting boards, and utensils after peeling produce and before further cutting. Bacteria from the outside of raw produce can be transferred to the inside when it is cut or peeled. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Eating on the run? Fill a spray bottle with distilled water and use it to wash apples and other fruits.