How to clean bacteria off fruits and vegetables

Here are three ways to wash pesticides off produce, that are backed by science. Now that my post yesterday, Is Organic Food Healthier, explained that all produce, organic or not, can contain some chemicals, what is the best and safest way to wash those pesticides off fruits and vegetables? Think about it — all produce is covered with micro organisms from soil, fungi, dust and bacteria-causing germs. And, what about hands of the person who picked, packed and put the food on the shelves? Did they wash their hands?

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.

 

I also found this recipe developed by Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia at Polytechnic Institute and State University, to clean fruits and vegetables. Her disinfecting procedure 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 Universitystudied 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.
* Don’t forget that homegrown fruits and vegetables should also be well washed.




And this is to my 4 boys, and to my husband who grab fruit off roadside stands: Yes, you need to wash the peel of an orange that you’re not going to eat. You peel it with you hands, the germs are on your hands, and you eat with your hands. Consider the melon, sitting in soil. You cut through the rind with your knife, which picks up the micro organisms, and puts them right into the fruit.

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13 comments on “How to clean bacteria off fruits and vegetables
  1. It is getting as though we need to be ultra careful like I remembrer hav ing to be when we travelled to Guanajuato, Mexico…. only there I think they told us to use diluted clorox.

    I had heard Cheney gargles with peroxide.

    Your tips are helpful.

  2. Fear — and the hassle of it all! Henitsirk, I’m not offended, but I do want people to understand that it’s not just about organic and non-organic — it’s about all the different places our food comes from, and so many hands involved. But, it is such a hassle.

  3. hallo…
    i’ve this paper from my school about safety for fruit & vegetables, i’ve to identify the potential hazard from fruit & vegetable (microbiology and bacteria)
    i’ve some trouble finding the literature for those subject.
    i hope you can help me with it
    thank you very much

    best regards,

    daniel

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  5. Here is an interesting article regarding Fit and the potental to kill Salonella on the surface of tomatoes; the full article stated that Fit had a log reduce that killed bacteria: (you have to wonder why this is not noted in the press?)

    Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 64, No. 10, 2001, Pages 1477–1482
    Copyright , International Association for Food Protection
    EfÂŽ cacy and Reproducibility of a Produce Wash in Killing
    Salmonella on the Surface of Tomatoes Assessed with a
    Proposed Standard Method for Produce Sanitizers
    LINDA J. HARRIS,1* LARRY R. BEUCHAT,2 THERESA M. KAJS,3 THOMAS E. WARD,4 AND CHARLES H. TAYLOR5
    1Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616-8598; 2Center for Food Safety
    and Quality Enhancement, Department of Food Science Technology, University of Georgia, GrifÂŽ n, Georgia 30223-1797; 3The Procter and Gamble
    Company, 8700 Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason, Ohio 45040; 4The Procter and Gamble Company, Sharon Woods Technical Center, 11530 Reed
    Hartman Highway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45241; and 5The Procter and Gamble Company, Winton Hill Technical Center, 6060 Center Hill Avenue,
    Cincinnati, Ohio 45224, USA
    MS 00-456: Received 20 December 2000/Accepted 22 April 2001

    ABSTRACT
    The reproducibility of a method developed to evaluate point-of-use sanitizers for fresh produce was tested at three different
    laboratories. Mixtures of ÂŽ ve Salmonella serotypes were inoculated on the surface of ripe tomatoes. After the inoculum was
    dry, tomatoes were placed inside a plastic bag and sprayed with sterile USP water, Dey and Engley (D/E) neutralizer broth,
    or a prototype Fit produce wash (PW), an alkaline solution comprised of generally recognized as safe ingredients (water, oleic
    acid, glycerol, ethanol, potassium hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate, citric acid, and distilled grapefruit oil), and rubbed for 30
    s. The tomatoes were rinsed 10 s with 195 ml of D/E neutralizer broth (rinse solution), then combined with 20 ml of D/E
    neutralizer (residual wash solution) and rubbed by hand to remove residual Salmonella. Populations of Salmonella were
    determined for each tomato in the rinse solution and residual wash solution. Treatment with PW resulted in reductions in the
    number of Salmonella 2 to 4 logs greater than those achieved with the sterile water or D/E neutralizer broth controls. Consistent
    results were obtained across the three study sites, indicating reproducible results were obtained using the test method. The
    method used to determine the efÂŽ cacy of killing or removing Salmonella from tomatoes in this study is suggested as a standard
    method for measuring the efÂŽ cacy of sanitizers on tomatoes and other similar fruits and vegetables with rigid, smooth surfaces

  6. This is a great article. My family washes fruit off with water but that never seemed to be enough for me. After all, if they dropped a fork on the floor they don’t just use water, but also soap.
    I admit, I used to use soap to wash off fruit, and then I got tired of washing it for so long that I stopped eating fruit that I would also eat the outside of (like grapes and apples).
    Using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide is a great idea! I’m going to use that and enjoy some grapes! ^_^

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  10. Hi, I have a question regarding cleaning non-organic fruits & veggies. I buy both organic and non-organic food. Until recently, I was just washing them with water, but your blog on cleaning pesticides was very helpful and I have implemented the procudures. But I have a question regarding when to wash the fruits/veggies. Do I was them as soon as I buy them and then store them in the fridge? My thoughts are that I have organic fruits/veggies in the fridge and am wondering if storing non-organic alongside the organic will compromise them. My intution says to wash them as needed but to store them as separate as possible in the fridge. Is this correct? Thanks, and Ill keep reading.

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  13. The information tell about cleaning with vinager and H202, one is high acid another is high alkaline, how it can clean fruits with that? They are opposite, can you clarify it? There is no way it can be.

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