Is Washing Fruits & Vegetables Important?

After doing a bit of research on this topic, there seems to be a lot of conflict as to what the right approach is to preparing fresh produce. Some say that because produce pesticides are made to withstand rain, washing them with water isn’t enough, yet Health Canada says washing with water IS enough. Which one is the right way??


First of all, are fruits and vegetables really that dirty?

You might be surprised to know that fresh fruits and vegetables do not naturally contain microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses and parasites) that can cause food-borne illness. Produce becomes contaminated through contact with soil, contaminated water, animals, or improperly composted manure. Fresh produce can also come into contact with harmful microorganisms during and after harvest if it is not properly handled, stored, and transported.

An Environmental Working Group Study found that on average, eating the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about FOURTEEN pesticides per day. Yikes!!

The twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables are known as “The Dirty Dozen” :

  1. Peaches
  2. Strawberries
  3. Pears
  4. Lettuce
  5. Apples
  6. Cherries
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Nectarines
  10. Grapes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

These fruits and vegetables should be washed extra thoroughly due to their absorbent skins that are more likely to harbor contaminants or pesticide residue.

What about organic produce?

Just because organically grown produce hasn’t been exposed to pesticides or growth hormones, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is 100% clean. Even organically grown vegetables can have contaminants from a variety of other sources! For this reason, the FDA recommends you always wash ALL fruits and vegetables regardless of their source.

So how should I wash my fruits and vegetables?

Health Canada recommends washing fruits and veggies thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water and to use a produce brush to scrub items with firm surfaces, like oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots etc. They also say that bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. I question this a little due to a recent story in the news about parasites found in pre-washed lettuce. In my family, we wash everything whether it says “pre-washed” or not!

On the other hand, a juicing recipe book we recently purchased suggests that all fruits and vegetables should be washed, scrubbed and soaked in a sink of cool water with 2 Tbsp. of food-grade peroxide or vinegar. This is supposed to remove any soil as well as bacteria that may have developed during transportation and handling.

My opinion?

Fresh produce is exposed to all kinds of things outside, from chemicals, livestock runoff, and pollution, to animals and their poop. In a situation like this I don’t think you can ever be too safe, so I like to wash my produce. It makes me feel better about what I’m eating anyways!

Personally, my family has always washed off fresh produce with just water. However, after we started juicing and reading what the juicing book said, we figured washing produce a bit more thoroughly might be a good idea. Now we wash off all our fruits and veggies with a tiny bit of Green Earth Clorox Dish Detergent and a vegetable brush.

Takeaway message

Whether water really is enough or not nobody seems to really know, but either way I think it is better to be safe than sorry! Washing your fruits and vegetables is an extra measure you can take to prevent food-borne illnesses, and eliminate pesticide residue.

4 thoughts

  1. I love this article! I recently came across the dirty dozen list and have been thinking a lot about produce cleansing; organic vs. standard etc. Usually I throw all of my produce in a sink of cold water with apple cider vinegar, but sometimes I get lazy and just eat it as is. After reading this, no more! So gross to think of all the hidden bacteria :/
    Ps. I was missing your posts 😉

    1. I sometimes get lazy too but then always feel SO guilty afterwards for not washing the produce off that I swear never to do it again! Haha I’d rather be safe than sorry! 🙂

  2. Thank you! This is such an important subject to me personally, because I want to make my own fermented vegetables, yet feel uneasy about how to clean them first so there won’t be anything unsavory in the final product (sort of a phobia since that incident in the states involving spinach a few years back).
    For the past few years, I’ve used a method of cleaning veggies (& fruit) that I think would not be suitable for veggies I want to ferment. If thick-skinned, I first wash with soap & water, as you do now (to get rid of wax as well); then I soak everything for 15 minutes or so in a gallon of water to which I’ve added about a tsp of Clorox (which I’ve read has the ability to remove the pesticides). I then soak them again for about an equal period in clean water (usually get distracted, though, so they soak much longer).
    I learned this method of cleaning from a health book many years ago (Beyond Pritikin, I think it was), although I hate soaking so long because of the loss of nutrients. And regarding fermentation, I assume, of course, that the Clorox also destroys the beneficial bacteria responsible for any potential fermented end product!
    So it’s a bit of a dilemma for me, as you can see, and I very much appreciate your perspective on the subject..Do you have any knowledge about fermenting veggies that might be of help?

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