We all know that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential for good health as they provide us with valuable nutrients, protect us against disease as well as helping us manage our weight.
However, it is not enough to decide to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, the message from the Food Safety Information Council – – is to take food poisoning seriously.
Therefore it is important that we learn how to wash fruits and vegetables correctly and avoid getting sick with food poisoning as they may contain harmful germs, such as Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria
4 essential steps
There are 4 essential steps to washing your fruits and vegetables safely.
- Choose – quality fruit and vegetables that are not damaged
- Clean – wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often.
- Separate – avoid cross-contamination
- Chill – keep food cold in your fridge immediately
Step 1: Choose
It is important to choose quality fruit and vegetables that are not bruised and damaged as this may indicate the presence of bacteria.
Any pre-prepared vegetables should be kept as cold as possible to help maintain freshness.
A quick note on dates marked on produce from the Food Safety Council …
‘Use by’ dates are dates marked on foods to advise shoppers that the food must be eaten before the marked date for safety reasons. Foods marked with a use-by date cannot legally be sold after the date marked. Eating foods after the use-by date is at your own food safety risk.
‘Best before’ dates refer to the quality of the food. They are marked on foods which do not present food safety issues, but if these foods are eaten after the best-before-date they may have lost nutritional value and quality. Foods can be sold after the best before date marked provided the food is fit for human consumption.
Step 2: Clean
Clean hands, clean utensils and clean surfaces play a vital role in fruit and vegetable hygiene.
Preparing your surfaces…
Wash your kitchen utensils, chopping boards and kitchen surfaces thoroughly.
I like to use an antiseptic spray on benchtops and then wash them with warm soapy water, then rinse and dry them thoroughly.
For utensils, use hot soapy water and then rinse and dry them thoroughly.
This should be done before and after preparing your vegetables.
Clean Washing your hands….
Next, your hands must be clean so before preparing your fruits and vegetables wash your hands with soap and warm water for approximately 20 seconds, rinse and dry thoroughly.
This should be done both before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
Washing your produce…
It is essential that all your fruit and vegetables be washed thoroughly before eating this includes both produce grown at home, organic produce as well as those bought at a supermarket, at a market or at a fruit and vegetable shop.
As dirt and bacteria may be transferred to produce as you peel, or even just while handling them, it is important to wash any fruits and vegetables that may need peeling such as citrus, avocados, carrots, etc. before you start to peel them.
- Cutaway any damaged or bruised areas you find on your vegetables and then clean the knife thoroughly so that you do not contaminate other food.
- Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables with cold tap water while rubbing gently immediately before eating, it is not necessary to use soap.
- For vegetables with hard skins, wash away the dirt and scrub with a hard-bristled brush and wash again. Where possible try to avoid peeling your vegetables as the skins are an excellent nutrient source.
- Dry fruit or vegetables with a clean towel.
It is vital that you do not wash and then store your vegetables as the water may cause more contamination and bacteria whilst in your fridge. If you would like to wash then store your vegetables they must be completely dry.
Fruit and Veggie Wash
You may also like to consider making your own fruit and vegetable wash which will remove pesticides and get rid of any bacteria on your produce a lot more effectively.
For fruit and vegetables…
- Make a solution of 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups water and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and then place it in a spray bottle.
- Place your vegetables in a colander in the sink.
- Generously spray your vegetables all over and allow to sit with the solution for at two minutes, ideally five minutes.
- Thoroughly rinse under cold running water and scrub thick-skinned produce with a hard-bristle brush.
- Pat dry with a towel.
For leafy greens…
- Fill a large clean bowl or your clean sink with water and add 1 cup vinegar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each litre of water that you have used.
- Place your greens in the solution and allow to soak for two to five minutes.
- Drain your greens in a colander and rinse them thoroughly with cold running water.
- Shake to remove excess water and then either pat dry with a towel or use a salad spinner to completely dry your leaves and allow the dressing to adhere to the leaves for a much tastier salad.
What makes vinegar such a good cleaner…
White vinegar is usually made of laboratory-produced acetic acid combined with water which makes it the most acidic of all the kinds of vinegar and therefore a potent cleaner.
Baking soda wash…
This is considered to be one of the most effective washes to get rid of pesticides and bacteria from your fruit and vegetables as found from a new study done on apples.
- Fill a large clean bowl or your clean sink with water then add one teaspoon of baking soda.
- Add your vegetables and allow to soak for at least two minutes, for firmer vegetables scrub with a brush.
- Drain your vegetables and rinse them thoroughly.
- Pat dry with a towel to remove excess water.
Step 3: Separate
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria and viruses are transferred from contaminated food or surfaces such as a chopping board or utensils to other food.
Avoid cross-contamination firstly whilst you are shopping by keeping your fruits and vegetables separate from your raw meat, seafood and poultry both in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.
Secondly, by having separate chopping boards for your fruit and vegetable preparation and your raw meat preparation.
Thirdly, when you are storing your fruits vegetables by keeping fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood. In addition
make sure that obviously dirty vegetables such as whole lettuces with dirty roots are kept away from other vegetables as the dirt may contaminate them.
Step 4: Chill
Keep your food cold as bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Temperature Danger Zone” between 5°C and 60°C (40°F and 140°F).
Refrigerate your fruits and vegetables within 2 hours or within 1 hour in hotter temperatures.
Keep the temperature in your fridge below 5°C (40°F) as this is the temperature that most bacteria grow slowly or even stop growing completely.
Use a fridge thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature and ensure that it stays between 4-5°C (40-41°F).
Do not overload your fridge so that you can allow the cold air to circulate around your food and keep it cold.
There is no doubt about it pre-packaged salads are easy and convenient to use allowing us to hit our daily vegetable goals easily. But recently they have received a lot of bad press, with reports of salmonella, chlorine, and plastic leeching leaving many questioning their health benefits.
What causes contamination?
As leafy greens grow close to the soil they are more susceptible to contamination. Washing in chlorine is supposed to kill these pathogens but this is only partly effective.
There are many possible contamination points starting from the farm and then the factory, which includes:
- Farmworkers not washing their hands
- Flying birds pooping on crops
- Contamination from manure
- Cut lettuce causes some liquid to be released and causes bacteria to stick to the plastic bag
- Greens from many farms are washed in one factory thus increasing cross-contamination risk
Are loose leaves better?
While at this point you may consider opting for bagging your own salad with the loose-leaf varieties that you see at your supermarket or greengrocer. However, these are likely to have been handled a lot more along the way and therefore easily contaminated by dirty fingers or sneezes from other shoppers.
Do bagged salads have fewer nutrients?
All produce loses nutrients once harvested which would leave us to believe that due to all the prep work and packaging that bagged greens may lose even more nutrients. Generally speaking, most manufacturers say that the turnaround time from harvesting to arriving at your supermarket is within a 24-hour period. Most manufacturers will use an oxygen reducing process to maintain the green colour but as an added benefit this also slows down the rate which nutrients such as vitamin C and Folate are lost.
Buying tips to minimise the risk
- Store all lettuce and salad greens in a cold environment between at 1-40C 35-400F
- Buy bagged salad greens with a long time before the use-by- date expires.
- Use and eat well before the use-by- date which limits the time that the bacteria can multiply.