It’s worth the reminder: always wash every fruit or vegetable before slicing into it. This goes for produce with inedible peels, too, including avocados, grapefruit, melons, and squash.
Why does it matter if you wash a fruit or vegetable if you’re not going to eat the rind or peel or skin anyway?
Because, foodborne pathogens like listeria don’t live inside the undamaged piece of produce; they travel from the skin to the fruit on the knife blade as it pierces the outside. Now the flesh of the fruit or vegetable is contaminated, and the eater could get sick.
If that produce is conventionally grown, that knife blade could carry toxic pesticide residue onto your food as well.
Even organically grown produce picks up dirt and grime on its way from the field to your kitchen and should be cleaned before slicing.
I always use a veggie wash to help break down and remove dirt, pesticides, and pathogens from all fruits and veggies before cutting, cooking, or serving. It’s a good habit to get into.
Last week, at our annual summer family reunion, I was asked why I was I was washing the avocados before slicing them open to make guacamole. Washing all produce before cutting into it is a basic foundation of modern kitchen hygiene, but many people operate under the false assumption that fruits and vegetables with peels and rinds are exempt. This can be a dangerous mistake.
Bacteria, pathogens, pesticides, and grime can be carried by the knife blade from the skin and onto the flesh of your produce, contaminating the food you serve. As I’ve mentioned before regarding last summer’s listeria deaths from unwashed cantaloupes, washing the rind or peel before cutting into an item is the only way to prevent contamination of the flesh from the knife blade.
Even organic fruits and veggies should be washed first, preferably using a food-safe soap like Fit Veggie Wash or one you make yourself out of baking soda and vinegar or lemon juice, and then rinsed well.
Common produce items that people might mistakenly think are ok to skip washing include:
Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. Don’t overlook that lime wedge you’re squeezing and then dropping into your drink where it can transfer all of its contaminants to the liquid and into your body.
Winter squash (pumpkins, acorn, etc.)
Bananas, when are sliced with a knife
Don’t forget to wash your hands, too, after handling unwashed produce and before preparing your food, to avoid spreading any undesired contaminants into the rest of your food or household.
Can you think of any other fruits and veggies that people routinely think are safe to cut into without washing first?
A recent spate of listeria cases have been linked to cantaloupes in Colorado. A few months ago, there was a surge of salmonella infections traced to contaminated eggs. Not to mention the e.coli tracked to contaminated sprouts and leafy greens. It’s almost enough to make you throw up your hands and wonder if anything is safe to eat anymore.
The first thing I want to point out is that none of these were linked to organic produce or organic eggs. Because conventional farming methods allow higher yields per acre or per animal, there is more opportunity for disease to take root and spread. Just one of the benefits of choosing organic.
Regardless of whether you go organic or not, there are common sense precautions you can use to protect you and your family from foodborne pathogens when working with fresh produce or eggs.
First and foremost, wash everything before you cut into it, and wash it well. As I’ve noted, I like to use a veggie wash to help loosen any dirt, pesticides, waxy residues, etc. that might help germs stick to the produce. I have a scrubber brush that is reserved just for this purpose, and I will scrub the fruit or vegetable with the veggie wash and rinse well. Simply washing your cantaloupe before cutting into the rind can protect you from the current listeria outbreak.
Secondly, cut away any damaged or bruised parts of the fruit and discard. This may seem intuitive, but it requires a little more care as you are prepping produce, and can be easily overlooked. Broken skin on a peach, for example, can provide an entry point for bacteria, so just cut that chunk out; the rest of the peach will usually be fine.
Third, practice good kitchen hygiene when working with eggs, or any meats, for that matter. It’s not a bad idea to wash the eggs before you crack them if you have a tendency to lose shards of shell. Regardless, you should wash your hands with soap after handling eggs, before handling any kitchen tools or touching raw produce. Fully cooking eggs until the yolk and white are firm (160 degrees F) kills bacteria and other germs, making for safer foods.
Bagged salad greens — lettuce, spinach, mixed spring greens, etc. — are so appealing because they make getting your greens that much easier. But you could be risking your health if you don’t wash them first!
According to CBS News, a Consumer Reports study in 2010 showed that almost 40% of the the leaves sold bagged or in clamshells are contaminated with unpleasant bacteria. Worse, its often bacteria associated with fecal matter. Eeeeewwww.
The good news is that it’s usually not the bacteria we think of with food-borne illnesses, like e.coli and salmonella, that is entering our homes through this convenience packaging. I mean, I guess that’s good news.
The real good news is that you can avoid eating most of the bacteria by simply washing your greens before you eat them. Really, this is good advice to follow before eating any produce, bagged or not, peeled or with a rind, or not.
Personally, I like to use a Veggie Wash on all of my produce to ensure a good washing of any pesticides and fertilizers, pollutants from acid rain, anti-fungal coatings, as well as nematodes and other organisms found in soil. Most veggie washes have a foundation of an acid (often citrus or vinegar) to help dissolve the waxes used to hold the pesticide onto the fruit or vegetable
For single fruits and veggies, including melons, apples, avocados, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes, I spray them and then massage the wash all over each one individually before rinsing.
To clean smaller things, like berries or grapes, I place them in a bowl, spray liberally with your veggie wash, fill with water and swish around for a few minutes before draining and rinsing.
To clean leafy greens like lettuce or spinach, I separate the leaves and drop them into the bowl of my salad spinner. They get sprayed while the bowl fills with water, then swished gently to loosen any dirt and allowed to sit briefly while any debris sinks. I lift the basket and dump out the dirty water, then lower the basket back into the bowl, fill with clean water, swish and drain. Just spin dry and your salad is now clean and safe to eat!
Just like in the commercials, some of your produce (like broccoli) will change color and look more vibrant without all of that gunk.
And yes, I even do this with the bagged greens that claim to be “triple-rinsed”. When it comes to food borne illnesses, I’ve learned it is better to be safe than sorry!