The Dos and Don’ts of Washing Your Produce

After the second recall of E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce this year, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss proper cleaning practices for your produce. And yes, it’s a little more complicated than just shaking all of your fruits and veggies under some tap water for three seconds.

Here are the dos and don’ts for washing your produce at home.

DO: Buy local, organic produce.

This is the safest and freshest produce you can buy (and most environmentally-conscious).

The less produce has been shipped and stored, the less likely it is to have harmful bacterial buildup. Plus, you can drive over to the farm and see where the produce came from. Most farm-to-table produce can be rinsed briefly under the tap without much fuss.

DON’T: Eat supermarket produce without washing first.

Who knows what those blueberries from Chile had to go through to get to your local market. You have no idea what the farming, harvesting, storing, packaging, or shipping conditions were like. Even organic produce, if mishandled, could have picked up some unwelcome germs along the way.

\Always, always wash produce you buy at the supermarket before consuming. Sure, water doesn’t do much to wash off a bacteria like E. coli, but there is no way of knowing what else it has been through. Just give it a little cleaning.

Women washing vegetable under tap water

DO: Wash your produce in baking soda.

According to research, baking soda is the most effective agent at rinsing off pesticide residue.

It only takes about two teaspoons of baking soda to make a real difference. So if you’re buying conventional, even the Clean 15, doing a gentle baking soda rinse can make your produce cleaner and healthier. Cheap, easy, and effective.

DON’T: Wash produce and then store it in the fridge.

Get out of the habit of washing the entire container of strawberries and then refrigerating the ones you don’t eat. Moist and damp environments are where bacteria thrive, even inside the fridge.

Not only does bulk washing encourage produce to mold and rot more quickly, but it provides fertile ground for less visible bacteria, too. Wash foods only when you are about to eat them.

DO: Be delicate with certain plant foods.

Some vegetables should not be scrubbed. In fact, doing so will increase the likelihood of introducing bacteria into the food.

We’re talking mostly about delicate greens, mushrooms, and soft fruits here. These should ideally be gently wiped with a damp cloth or carefully rinsed.

However, if you are cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, feel free to give them a gentle scrubbing with a bristle brush under some cold water. You can also gently towel-rub other hard-surfaced fruits, like apples, to reduce dirt and bacteria.

Fresh fruits and vegetables falling into water

DON’T: Use detergent or dish soap.

These are not safe to use on food products and may leave soapy residue on your plant foods. It doesn’t matter how much you love your Mrs. Myer’s dish soap; no one wants Mrs. Myer’s-flavored lettuce.

The FDA actually recommends water as the best way to clean bacteria off produce. Studies have even shown that even commercially-designed produce washes are less useful at eliminating harmful bacteria than plain ol’ water.

DO: Store your produce properly.

Storing produce properly can reduce the risk of unwanted bacteria.

Apricots, herbs, carrots, berries, leafy greens, and cut fruits should all be store at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the fridge. Fruits like avocados, peaches, and pears can be allowed to ripen on the counter before then refrigerating. Apples, bananas, melons, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes can be stored for at least a week at room temperature. See a more thorough list here.

Cleaning your produce properly is really easy. And while it’s challenging to prevent an outbreak like E.coli simply by giving your produce a thorough washing, your fruits and veggies will be cleaner and more healthful as a result.

Related on Care2

Images via Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for posting

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill6 months ago


Sheri P
Sheri P7 months ago


Cindy S
Cindy Smith7 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta W7 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

joan s
joan silaco7 months ago


Marge F
Marge F7 months ago

Thank you for posting this informative article.

Julia S
Julia S7 months ago

Thank you!

Monica C
Monica C7 months ago

Re-read this because I couldn't remember about the baking soda. Very good advice.

Elizabeth O
Elizabeth O7 months ago

Thanks for the article.