Should I use one of the commercial vegetable washes to help make the fruits and vegetables that I serve to my family safer? This is an excellent question.
The surfaces of fruits and vegetables are covered by a natural waxy cuticle. This cuticle helps seal in moisture and is a natural layer of protection for the fruit or vegetable. Most commercial fruit and vegetable washes are citrus-oil based. These citrus oils break down the waxy cuticle on the surface of fruits and vegetables and, as the fruits and vegetables are rinsed with water, the waxy cuticle is rinsed away along with soil and bacteria that might be clinging to the surface. There is no research-based evidence that these produce washes improve the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables beyond the use of clean water for rinsing.
What about pesticide residues? Consumers may have concerns about pesticide residues on fresh fruits and vegetables, and produce washes are promoted as a way to eliminate pesticide residues. Unfortunately, research shows that this is not generally the case. It is true that by removing the waxy cuticle you may be able to remove some pesticides that have been applied to the surface of the fruit or vegetable and that are lodged in the cuticle. However, surface application of pesticides is inefficient, so many pesticides are applied at the root and the pesticides are taken up by the plant and distributed throughout the plant material. The use of a veggie wash will not remove these ‘systemic’ pesticides.
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables should be consumed as part of a healthy diet. By focusing on variety, the impact of pesticides from any one fruit or vegetable is minimized. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend the use of commercial produce washes. The use of home remedies such as a vinegar rinse have been shown not to improve the safety of fruits and vegetables.
With most of us relying on retail outlets for fresh produce this of year, best practices for handling that produce include:
- Buy right. Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When selecting pre-cut produce, choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Store properly. Store perishable fruits and vegetables at a temperature of 40°F or below.
- Separate for safety. Keep fresh produce separate from meat, poultry and seafood at all steps from the grocery store through to preparation and consumption.
- Prepare safely. Begin with clean hands. Rinse all fresh produce with clear, running water before eating, cutting or cooking. Do not use soap. Scrub firm produce such as melon and cucumbers with a clean brush. Do not rinse produce prior to storage as this will encourage decay.
Stay safe and healthy, Barb