Of course we all know that we’re supposed to wash fruits and vegetables before we eat them. But how much can just rinsing under the tap really do?
A lot, it turns out.
Adding a little “mechanical action” on the surface—that is, rubbing while you rise—can help, but while that works for apples, tomatoes, cucumbers and other relatively smooth foods, you can’t exactly massage every single grape or inside a bushy head of broccoli.
Either way, you’re still removing almost all of the Salmonella, E. coli, or norovirus that could be lurking on your victuals, and if you’re immune system is healthy, you probably won’t get food poisoning.
Here are seven things you should know about washing raw fruits and veggies:
1. Rinsing produce is not a perfect method, but it’s nearly perfect.
“Washing fruits and vegetables can remove 99 percent of pathogens,” Sanja Ilic, Ph.D., assistant professor of food safety at Ohio State University tells SELF.
In fact, a regular old run under the faucet is exactly what Ilic says her department recommends.
2. Don’t even bother with soap or produce washes.
They don’t help at all, Ilic said. The FDA doesn’t recommend it, either.
3. Sometimes you really have to wash stuff even if you’re not planning to eat the skin or rind.
The most important example of this is cantaloupe, which has a soft, porous texture that provides a great hiding place for microbes.
Ilic said you should always rinse cantaloupes before you cut into them, scrubbing the outside with a plastic brush. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting bacteria from the skin on your knife and passing it to the flesh as you slice.
4. But you don’t have to re-wash pre-washed salads.
Again, neither Ilic nor the FDA thinks this is necessary. In fact, it can even make things worse by increasing the likelihood of cross-contamination. If you were also, say, prepping raw chicken, bacteria from it could end up getting on your previously clean greens.
5. And you shouldn’t wash things by submerging them in water, which can actually end up spreading bacteria.
Say you have a bunch of grapes or a few handfuls of kale. If there’s one grape or one leaf with bacteria on it, a water bath will provide an opportunity for the bugs to swim their way over to other grapes or other leaves. Running water is the safer bet.
6. At the end of the day, cooking is going to kill the most bacteria.
“Cooking is definitely going to remove not 99 percent, but 99.999 percent,” Ilic said.
7. But if you’re going to chow down on some raw fruits or veggies, giving them a good solid rinse first is a (very effective) must.