• iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

It’s seems like a no-brainer; if you’re going to eat the skin of a fruit or vegetable, rinse it under cold running water first. But most people are unaware that all fruits and vegetables should be washed — even those with inedible skins or rinds. Millions of people are sickened each year by contaminated food (as many as 48 million, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration) and many times the source of the outbreak is produce. 

Properly washing produce can help eliminate harmful germs or bacteria and can help prevent food-borne illness.

There are several ways that produce can become contaminated. As it is grown it comes into contact with animals, soil, water, and farm workers — all of which can introduce harmful substances to the fruits and vegetables. Once produce is harvested it passes through several sets of hands (as it is packed, shipped, purchased, prepared, and stored), each of which has the potential to contaminate the food with harmful bacteria and germs.

As a general rule, you should always wash your hands with warm soapy water both before and after preparing fresh produce. Almost all produce can be washed under cold running water (no need to use soaps or detergents) — produce that is either firm or thick-skinned should be gently scrubbed with a brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.  Then, once your produce is washed, be sure to dry it with a clean towel or paper towel so that you don’t re-introduce germs. Once your produce is properly washed and dried, it can be peeled, sliced, or cut.

There are a few fruits and vegetables, however, which require special attention when it comes to cleaning — here's a quick guide to washing them.