June 17, 2021

How to Clean Fresh Fruits and Vegetables To Protect Yourself

As we head into the summer months in the Northern hemisphere, people start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. And unfortunately, every year there are outbreaks linked to those products, from cyclospora to E. coli.

How to Clean Fresh Fruits and Vegetables To Protect Yourself

As a matter of fact, fresh produce is one of the main ways people get sick from food poisoning, and one of the major causes of multistate food poisoning outbreaks. From Salmonella on peaches to E. coli on romaine lettuce to cyclospora on basil, these foods sicken thousands of people every year. While it’s not possible to make these foods completely safe without cooking them to 165°F, you can reduce your risk by cleaning them properly before preparation.

First, do not use soap or bleach or other disinfectants to clean fruits and vegetables. Because these items are porous, they can absorb these products and then can make you sick. According to foodsafety.gov, about 16% of respondents in a survey have used bleach or household cleaners to wash produce to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. Not only is there no evidence that handling or consuming food is associated with this viral infection, using those ingredients can harm your health.

Second, it’s important that you clean fruits and vegetables before peeling and slicing them. If you don’t do this, your knife can drag pathogens from the peel into the center of the fruit or vegetable.

To safety clean fresh fruits and vegetables, start by washing your hands. Then rinse them under cold, running tap water. You can scrub uncut firm produce such as cucumbers and melons with a clean brush. Then dry the items with a clean paper towel. It’s also important to note that salt, vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, and lime juice do not remove pathogens from produce.

On a personal note, for items like cantaloupe with a thick, webbed peel, I use a special treatment. I immerse the unpeeled item in hot, but not boiling water, for a few minutes to kill pathogens that can hide in the webbed surface. I can’t guarantee that this will destroy all pathogens, but I feel safer using this method.

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