Should you rinse or wash fresh fruits and vegetables?

You just picked an apple right out of a tree. Or maybe you bought a pack of strawberries from the grocery store.

Many of us were taught to always rinse that fruit before we eat it. But does that actually do anything? Are we really cleaning it by simply running it under water for a handful of seconds?

Experts say the answer to both of those questions is yes, and it could help prevent you from eating contaminated food.

Store-bought fruits and vegetables generally go through a long journey from plant to kitchen, with many opportunities to pick up dirt and germs along the way. They can collect bacteria anywhere from the growing process to being picked up and put down by a shopper at the grocery store.

In the worst of cases, produce can sometimes contain harmful germs like salmonella, E. coli and listeria, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Leafy greens like lettuce, cabbage and kale can also carry norovirus and Cyclospora.

And it’s not just dirt and bacteria that can collect on fruit.

If you’ve eaten strawberries before, there’s a chance you ate them with a (miniscule) side of bugs.

A TikTok trend from 2020 taught many people that strawberries are home to a small fly called the spotted wing drosophila, which emerges from the berry when exposed to saltwater.

As unsettling as it may be to watch tiny insects swim out of a fruit you adore, there’s no need to be concerned about them, experts say. No studies have found the insects to be harmful to humans.

Still, the little critters can serve as a reminder that you might not always be able to see what’s on your produce before you eat it.

When it comes to raw fruits and vegetables in general, there will likely always be some level of microorganisms that make it through the rinsing process, experts say.

“You won’t be able to eliminate all of them,” said Dr. Francisco Diez, director of the Center for Food Safety and a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Georgia.

“In some instances, the microorganisms may be very attached to the surface of the vegetable or the fruit, or even sometimes embedded into some of the structures,” he said.

A 2017 peer-reviewed study found that rinsing does not significantly reduce the levels of E. coli in lettuce, for instance. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to mitigate the risk of other contamination.

Be sure to thoroughly rinse leafy green vegetables such as fresh spinach or salad greens.

Be sure to start with a clean sink or colander. Rinsing and rubbing fruits and vegetables can reduce about 90% of the microbial load found on the surfaces, Diez said, which can reduce your chances of getting sick.

No need to add use anything other than water, either. Health officials agree to stay away from any other types of cleaning products when preparing fruits and vegetables.

The sink isn’t your only solution for clean produce, either.

“Cooking is your best ally,” Diez said. “Cooking will kill all potential pathogens that could come on vegetables.”

Obviously, not all fruits and vegetables are tasty options to cook up, but it can be a helpful added step for foods like carrots, broccoli and others.

All this considered, it’s important to note that the vast majority of produce is safe for consumption, Diez says. And it’s important that you do so, too.

Fruits and vegetables have well-documented health benefits, like reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and possibly lowering your blood pressure levels.

So, while experts stress the importance of cleaning your produce, it’s essential to make sure you’re eating enough of it as well.

Contributing: Joshua Bote, USA TODAY


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