Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wishy Washy about Washing Veggies? Don't Be!

I recently got a question regarding food safety. A friend of mine had heard about the cantaloupe listeria outbreak, and asked me about washing fruits and vegetables.

How important is it to wash raw fruits and veggies?

The Short Answer?

Very important.
Do it.

The Longer Answer?

Washing fruits and vegetables is just one step you can take to keep you and your family safe from food-borne illness. It is especially important for those who prepare food for little ones, older folks, pregnant gals, or friends/family with weakened immune systems.

I recommend that all your fruits and veggies be washed prior to eating. Even those with peels and skins like avocados, melons, and kiwis. While we don't eat the outsides, it is easy for icky stuff to travel to the parts we do eat. The icky stuff can simply hitch a free ride on your knife, your hands, or the cutting board. So be sure to wash prior to any food prep.

What does washing do? First, washing removes dirt, and no one likes gritty mashed potatoes. Second, the friction of washing reduces bacteria. Not all the bacteria on your produce is the scary kind we hear about in the news... sometimes it's just an average bug. Let's imagine for a minute, shall we? ...Clark Customer heads into his local grocery store, where a delightful array of produce greets him at the door. He picks up an apple, inspects it, then puts it back before picking a bigger,shinier one that attracts him more. Then he sneezes. Achooo! Thank goodness he has a tissue in his pocket! Now Clark heads over to select an eggplant. He thunks on three before making his final selection. Wait a minute... didn't you have eggplant last night for dinner? Gulp. Hope you washed it.

Washing also reduces the amount of pesticides, grime and guck that can end up on our food during picking, processing, shipping and stocking. This is why all produce should be washed-- conventional, organic, local, even your own stuff from your garden.

What's the best method? Delicate items like berries and lettuce just need a light wash and a quick dry right before eating. Invest in a salad spinner for leaves, herbs and lightweight produce. For heartier produce such as potatoes and carrots, give a good scrub with a clean wire or plastic brush. Additionally, a small sprinkle of baking soda can help clean produce better, but skip the high-priced fruit and vegetable wash. Baking soda's been proven more effective, and way cheaper.