This month is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables month, and with all that it is happening within the industry right now, we wanted to cover the best practices for washing fruit & vegetables in order to protect against Coronavirus (Covid-19).
According to Philip Tierno, Ph.D., a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Centre, the lack of visible signs of contaminants on your fresh produce, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not covered in microbes and potentially harmful pathogens.
“There’s a whole host of people that handle raw fruits and vegetables,” Tierno says, “including the growers, the pickers, the truckers—many hands which contain different types of germs, potentially pathogens.” Poor farming practices can also contaminate your produce.
Governments are trying their best to ensure supply of essential commodities to the public during these testing times. Food safety and handling is of utmost importance right now. While it may be common knowledge that fresh produce should be cleaned before eating to prevent illness caused by contamination, many do not know the best practices for washing their fruit or vegetables, combine that with the fear of getting sick by eating contaminated fruits and vegetables and you begin to see cases of questionable cleaning practices, such as washing produce with soap or diluted chlorine.
Best practices for washing fruit & vegetables
According to Glenda Lewis, an expert on foodborne illness with the Food and Drug Administration: “Fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, produce may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water, and poor hygiene among workers. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.”
The FDA states that more than 48 million people in the US alone are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year. Let’s see if we can help curve that number with some practical steps below.
1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce
Now more than ever, the importance of washing hands before handling fresh produce cannot be highlighted enough. It is simple enough to assume you can just wash your hands along with whatever fruits and vegetables you will be handling but this action would not be a secure method of preventing the spread of Covid-19. Make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds prior to cleaning fruit and vegetable produce. The FDA even suggest to truly safeguard yourself by washing your hands once again after handling the fresh produce.
2. Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable
Make sure to rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so that dirt and bacteria isn’t transferred from the knife onto the fresh surface of the fruit or vegetable.
3. Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash
Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent or commercial produce wash is not recommended as soap or detergent residues can stay on produce according to both the CDC and FDA. All the fruits and vegetable produce that is purchased from the market can be rinsed in running water, followed by rubbing with hands. This is all that is needed to clean a majority of vegetables.
4. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce
While cleaning root vegetables like potatoes, melons, cucumbers & carrots, a vegetable brush or sponge should be used to ensure all dirt is removed. A clean brush can help remove any stubborn contaminants that are entrenched in dirt that remains on the surface of fresh produce.
5. Use necessary washing tools for unique case produce
Berries are an example of a fruit that requires extra attention during the cleaning process. Place them in a colander and rinse them under running water to remove pathogens.
6. Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage
Fresh produce such as lettuce and leafy greens should be placed in a bowl of cold water, afterwards removing the outermost leaves of the head of lettuce in order to remove the most weathered and potentially dirty part of the product.
7. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present
After washing and soaking your fruits and vegetables, be sure to dry them with a paper towel in order to further reduce the probability of any lingering bacteria within the remaining water on the surface of the product.
With all of the above points around best washing practices, it’s good to be mindful that no matter what fruit or vegetable you’re dealing with, you should normally wait to wash it until just before you eat it. Washing produce adds excess moisture and creates an environment that’s more conducive to breeding potentially harmful pathogens, especially in the case of fruit and vegetables that soak up a lot of water. That’s why, in general, it’s best to avoid washing anything right when you get home from the store.