Recent reports of illness caused by fresh produce have upped awareness on the need to wash before eating. Each of the basic rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is “equally important,” says Robert Buchwald, environmental health supervisor with a branch of the Virginia Department of Health. “It’s just good to see the message being put out in different places where people can come across it.”
Wash everything. That includes prepackaged products—even if the label says “pre-washed” or “ready to eat”—and the outer rinds and skins of all produce (although you may not eat that layer, you can transfer dirt, germs, mold and pesticides inside fruits and vegetables when you cut or peel them).
Use running water. Hold produce under the tap—the USDA recommends using cold water—and turn it continuously to reach all sides. Gently rub soft fruits and vegetables for 30 to 60 seconds; use a vegetable brush on firmer items such as apples, cucumbers and carrots.
Avoid harsh cleaning agents. Detergents, soaps and bleaches can seep inside fruits and vegetables. Some people like commercial sprays and washes for produce, although there’s not clear evidence they clean better than plain water.
Be thorough. Germs can bury themselves in tiny crevices. Before washing, cut off stalks and stems—which tend to be very dirty—and remove bruised or damaged spots where bacteria can thrive. Discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage and separate individual leaves for washing.
Dry it off. Use a clean towel or paper towel to help wipe away lingering germs.
Never skip the water. Blowing on a piece of fruit and rubbing it on your shirt or a dry towel isn’t effective.
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