We’re sure you’ve seen it in grocery stores, those bottles of fruit and vegetable wash. You spray it on, then wipe or wash it off and—voila!—no more dirt and bacteria, right? Maybe, but there may be better and more cost-effective ways to get your produce clean. Do you really need to go out and buy a special wash just for your fruits and veggies? Probably not, but researchers do say that you should skip the antibacterial soap sitting by the sink. That may be best for germy little hands, but no one recommends eating it. Instead of looking to rid your produce of bacteria by using soap, why not try something that you probably already have on hand (and that will cost you pennies)?
The editors at Cooks Illustrated did some testing and found that the best solution for cleaning your fruits and veggies is water and white vinegar (one part vinegar to three parts water). This is a winning combination (not just for your windows and glass) that removes bacteria very effectively, especially on smooth-skinned produce like, apples, pears, tomatoes, etc. Try filling a clean spray bottle with your water and vinegar solution, then spritzing each piece of produce a few times and rinsing it with plain water. Cold water eliminates the vinegar taste, and, in tests, the water/vinegar solution eliminated 98 percent of bacteria.
Other less effective ways (but still safe and better than nothing) are: rinsing the produce in plain water and/or using a soft brush to scrub the produce. Using a scrub brush removed about 85 percent of bacteria present, while rinsing with water alone removed just slightly less. So, a vinegar and water solution is the best way to clean smooth-skinned produce, but what’s the best way to clean leafy greens or veggies like broccoli with so many nooks and crannies?
The vinegar and water solution is still best but clearly more difficult to use. It’s not always easy to find a bowl big enough for your lettuce (and each leave must be removed from the head and rinsed individually to really get it clean), as well as enough vinegar/water solution to cover and clean it. What experts found worked just as well is simply soaking the produce in water. Fill your sink (your CLEAN sink) with enough water to cover whatever needs to be cleaned, and then just let the produce soak in the water for 2 minutes or so; this process should remove about 98 percent of bacteria present on the produce. However, food safety experts do not recommend this process because of worries over cross-contamination (the bacteria washed off of your produce will now be in your sink, ready to contaminate the next thing that touches it). According to Sandria Godwin of the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University (who also conducted a study on just these techniques) suggests that cleaning your sink after washing your produce will take care of any cross-contamination problems that might be looming.
What if you’re really in a pinch and wiping that piece of fruit off on a shirt is your only option? Godwin says it’s better than nothing (but results depend on the general cleanliness of the shirt). A better choice, she says, is to cut off the blossom and stem ends of the fruit because most bacteria will be present in those places. In the meantime, skip the fancy produce wash and start rinsing; if you can whip up your own little water/vinegar solution, even better.