Although we strive to eat organic foods that are certified and responsibly farmed, almost no food is 100% free of pesticides. Even organic foods can have some pesticide residue, albeit light in comparison to conventional produce. A trace of pesticide can be windborne from a neighboring conventional farm.
Washing produce is important to reduce your exposure to pesticides and any potential foodborne illness. But, what is the best way to wash the produce we get in our weekly or semi-weekly bins? So, here’s some useful information about preparing your foods.
What Wash is Most Effective
Most folks wash their produce by rinsing it under cold, running water. Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found that washing produce with running water reduced the amount of pesticide residue for 9 of the 12 tested pesticides (SOURCE: Food Revolution Network, www.foodrevolution.org).
So, running water can work, but what about using products called “produce cleaners?” Should you use them? Research has shown that most commercial produce cleaners are no more effective than plain water.
But several liquids have been shown to be more effective than plain water. Those include salt water, vinegar water, or baking soda water. Keep reading to see how to use them effectively.
Washing with Salt Water & Vinegar
Salt water is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to remove certain pesticides.
In a study published in Food Control, researchers washed vegetables for 20 minutes in vinegar, a salt water solution, or plain water to eliminate the residue of four common pesticides – chlorpyrifos, DDT, cypermethrin, and chlorothalonil.
They discovered that a 10% salt water solution was the most effective, and far more so than washing with plain water.
Full-strength vinegar was found to be equally as effective. But using vinegar would get quite expensive and would leave foods with an unwelcome vinegary flavor, making it less than ideal for a daily vegetable wash.
The Most Effective Way to Wash Produce
Recent studies comparing the effectiveness of plain water, a Clorox bleach solution, and a baking soda in water solution. Of the three, the baking soda solution was the champ. It was the most efficacious in removing pesticide residues both on the surface and beneath the skin of apples.
The solution used in the study was a small ratio of baking soda to water – only 1 oz to a gallon and a half of water. Even this mild of a solution took only 12-15 minutes of soaking to remove the pesticides.
A Quick Reference Guide for Washing Your Co-op Veggies
In the real world, most of us would not soak our haul for 12-15 minutes when we get it home. In fact, most folks don’t wash their produce longer than a couple minutes. So, here’s a middle-of-the road guide – easier on time and effort and still productive.
For Leafy Greens
- Fill a salad spinner with greens, then fill with water
- Add a teaspoon of baking soda and mix well
- Soak your greens for a minute, swish, dump, then rinse and spin dry
- No spinner? Not a problem. Then simply add the greens, water and baking soda to a bowl. Let them soak, drain in a colander, rinse and pat dry the leaves with a lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels.
- Our personal preference… Wash and spin (or dry) only what you will be eating in the next couple days. Whenever your down to your last couple meals of greens, wash the next batch.
Mushrooms generally don’t do well with wash and soak. They distribute enough extra moisture into your recipes as it is. Although some cooks simply wipe theirs with a damp towel, try using a soft mushroom brush, built to brush dirt and residue off the surface without damaging your shroom. Then, rinse them quickly and lightly under running water. Blot the mushrooms dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Let them sit a few minutes for some extra drying before throwing them into that stir-fry. I like to prep them first of all my veggies when cooking a dish so that they have that extra time to air-dry.
For Other Veggies
- Fill a large bowl with water
- Add 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Add the veggies
- Soak for a minute or two
- Scrub the surface of each with a vegetable brush
- Finish with a rinse
For Washing Fruits
Smooth-skinned fruits such as apples, pears and nectarines can be washed in baking soda and water same as with veggies.
Berries, kiwifruit, and other soft-surface fruits can be rinsed directly under cold water in a mesh strainer. Follow up with gently patting them dry with a paper towel.
A reminder – don’t rinse off berries when you first get them home from the co-op. Doing that and then storing them actually increases moisture and speeds up spoilage, microflora and mold. It’s always best to rinse berries just before eating them.
When Prepping Oranges and Avocados
Although we tend not to think of rinsing these since we’re going to be peeling them anyway, do allot time for rinsing them the same as you would fruit where you eat the skin. When you cut through the skin of an avocado or orange to separate the peel, any dirt or bacteria on the surface can be cut into the inside fruit.