From soil to water to the kid who just manhandled every apple at the grocery store, there are countless opportunities for fruits and vegetables to become contaminated as they make their way to your plate. As a result, nearly half of all foodborne illnesses are caused by produce, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, all it takes for you to safeguard yourself and your family is water (a kitchen faucet with a pull-down sprayer helps, too!). Whether you’re eating fruits and vegetables cooked or raw, peeled or whole, wash produce properly by remembering these do’s and don’ts.
DO wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling produce.
DON’T forget to clean your countertops, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water before bringing produce onto the scene. Be on high alert for items used to prepare raw meat, poultry and seafood: Cross-contamination can cause food poisoning. (That’s why it’s best to use separate cutting boards for meat and produce.)
DO use good old-fashioned water to rinse fruits and veggies. Rub each item thoroughly with your hands; use a vegetable brush to scrub thick-skinned veggies, such as potatoes and zucchini. Bonus points for wiping produce dry with a paper towel, which can remove even more bacteria.
DON’T use soap or chemical rinses to wash produce. Researchers at the University of Maine found that distilled water (or cold tap water) was just as effective—if not more so—than commercial washes.
DO rinse produce even if you’re going to peel it. Think about it: When slicing an unwashed cantaloupe or avocado, the knife could transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside of the fruit.
DON’T wash produce until you’re ready to eat it. Rinsing produce after a grocery run only does so much good: Bacteria can grow inside your fridge, too.
DO soak vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower in water for a couple of minutes; those veggies contain crevices where bacteria can hide. Use a bowl or a colander, not the sink (another bacteria zone).
DON’T bother rinsing bagged lettuce and other produce that’s already been washed. The United States Food and Drug Administration says that products marked “prewashed” or “ready to eat” are good to go.
DO buy local. Shortening the time that produce spends traveling from the farm to the fridge also limits opportunities for bacteria to grow.
DON’T give organic produce a free pass. And assuming you don’t irrigate your garden with Evian, homegrown fruits and veggies are also susceptible to bacteria in water or soil.