The Best Way to Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Have you noticed a sharp increase in food safety recalls this year? According to Food Safety Magazine, there were at least 382 food product recalls in 2018 alone1. Enter 2019, and the same trend seems to be repeating; from the romaine lettuce fiasco—which sent caesar salad lovers and health nuts across the country into a panic, to recent reports about E. Coli in avocados, it’s been an unusually bad stint for American food safety. But this brings up an important point about the modern-day necessity of cleaning your fruits and veggies—especially those to be eaten raw.

Below, you’ll learn why it’s so important to clean your fruits and veggies (beyond just bacteria), discover our top three, non-toxic DIY and premade fruit and veggie washes and disinfectants, and how to best wash different types of produce.

WHY WASH YOUR PRODUCE?

A few years back, reports came out questioning the effectiveness of DIY and premade fruit and vegetable washes. The recommendation was to instead use water and friction for best results.

Here’s the thing: water and friction work GREAT for removing many pesticide residues, dirt, and some bacteria from hardy fruits and vegetables and is an appropriate cleaning method for produce that will be cooked. But, rinsing with water won’t remove all harmful bacteria2, especially on delicate produce like leafy greens or berries which won’t hold up to scrubbing (and it doesn’t take much harmful bacteria to make you sick). Thus, taking a little extra time to use an effective fruit and veggie wash can indeed make a big difference.

Beyond bacteria, here are three more reasons to take fruit and veggie washing seriously:

Reason #1: To remove as much dirt, sand, and soil as possible

Yes, some dirt is good for building immunity, but unless you know all about the  dirt your produce has been grown in, it’s best to remove it entirely.

Reason #2: To remove external pesticide residues

Conventionally-grown produce, especially those listed on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list,  have been shown in random testing to contain unacceptable levels of pesticide residues[1]. Long-term exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects, and severe disruption of the immune system and GI tract32]. The effects are even more pronounced in children, and evidence suggests parental pesticide exposure can affect future generations4.

Notice we said “to remove external pesticide residues”. Unfortunately, no amount of vegetable cleaner can remove pesticides that have entered a plant via the roots or seeds; which is why we recommend buying organic or certified naturally-grown produce whenever possible. If this isn’t an option, then steer clear of the Dirty Dozen in favor of the Clean Fifteen, and wash everything according to our instructions below (organic or not).

Reason #3: Removal of germs and parasites

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations’ “Top 10 List of Food Borne Parasites”, produce is a hotbed for parasites such as tapeworm, protozoans, and small intestinal roundworms5.

Think this isn’t a problem for North Americans? Sadly, it is. Due to our consumption of imported produce, plus parasitic issues in our own soil, fertilizer, and water supplies the CDC estimates millions of Americans are infected with food borne parasites every year6. Thus, thorough cleansing of produce to be eaten raw is essential, even those fruits and vegetables with thick skin. The recent avocado scare taught about this, as knives will carry germs or parasites from avocado skin to the flesh. Same goes for melons, citrus fruit, winter squashes, or any thick-skinned fruit or vegetable.

Now that you understand why it’s so important to deep clean your produce, let’s look at our top 3 favorite fruit and veggie washes.

OUR TOP THREE WASHES

#1: Branch Basics Concentrate at “All-Purpose” or “Foaming Wash” dilution

#2: Distilled white vinegar

#3: Hydrogen Peroxide 3%

These three products can clean and disinfect all your fruits and vegetables without harmful chemicals.

the best ways TO WASH PRODUCE

Depending on the type of fruit or vegetable, organic or non-organic, eaten raw or cooked you’ll either want to wash it or soak it. This will help remove dirt, germs, pesticides, parasites and more.

Fruit and Vegetable Washing Instructions:

  • For non-organic OR organic produce with firm skins, such as avocados, melons, citrus fruits, squashes, zucchini, cucumbers, apples, etc. to be consumed raw
    • Spray skin directly with All-Purpose or foam with Foaming Wash, lightly scrub, then rinse with cold water
  • For organic varieties intended for cooking
    • Lightly scrub clean and rinse with water

Soaking Instructions:

  • For fruits and vegetables with firm skin:
    • Rinse produce to remove dirt
    • Add fruit or vegetables to bowl with water to cover and ¼ cup vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
    • Let soak 3-5 minutes.
    • Rinse with cool water and eat, cook, or store.
  • For leafy greens, berries, soft and delicate fruits:
    • For organic intended for cooking, place in soaking water, gently wash off dirt, rinse with clean water, and cook.
    • For all non-organic intended for cooking or eating raw, and organic intended for eating raw, rinse off to remove dirt,  fill your bowl with water to cover and ¼ cup distilled white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Let soak for 3-5 minutes, rinse with cool water and eat/cook/store.

Unless you grow all your own produce, there is much we cannot control about the food we eat. However, by using our top three fruit and vegetable washes, following the  cleaning tips above, choosing organic or naturally-grown when possible, avoiding the Dirty Dozen, and opting for the Clean Fifteen, we can greatly reduce our risk of ingesting harmful bacteria, pesticides, parasites, and more.

To healthier, cleaner, and safer produce for all.

  1. https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/a-look-back-at-2018-food-recalls-outbreaks/
  2. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4947579/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5813803/
  5. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/237323/icode/
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/npi/index.html

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21 Comments

  1. Is soaking is only to be done with only vinegar or peroxide? Can we soak w branch basics concentrate? If so, what dilutions? Thank you

  2. Thank you Allison for your extensive info on washing fruits and veggies. I have been using BB for that for years now, but your other two acceptable cleansers are good information, too.

  3. This is so helpful. Thank you!! Quick question, would raw apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar work, as well? If yes, would it be the same measurements? I’m living in the UK and it’s hard to find distilled white vinegar. There is distilled malt vinegar, but that has gluten and we are intolerant. Many thanks in advance!!

  4. Thank you for this post. It was very informative. The instructions for washing with Branch Basics was only for firm skinned produce, not leafy greens and berries. Leafy greens were mentioned under the soaking section to be used with either the vinegar or the peroxide, but not Branch Basics. Is it ok to also use the All-Purpose spray on leafy greens as depicted in the picture?

  5. I’ve done research and found studies that show that baking powder does a better job than white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide at cleaning fruits and veggies. What are your thoughts? And why didn’t you include that as a good cleaner. Love your products! Thank you!!!

  6. Thanks for the info; since Covid-19 this kind of article is so helpful. Should I wash as soon as I purchase (prior to fridge storage) or wash just prior to use?

    1. You could wash as soon as you return home. For softer produce/ ones that might expire sooner, you could put in a separate container and wash when ready to eat to help preserve their shelf life.

  7. Love all your recipes for washing fruits and veggies, I have always washed melons, squash, and all skin type veggies before I cut them but your info is great!

  8. At $69.00 I’ll keep using vinegar and water as I have always all hard fruits and vegetables. Trader Joe’s has a good wash for fruits and vegetables. I wasn’t aware that you can use hydrogen peroxide. Thank You. What about Soda and vinegar ?

    1. Hi Linda, yes you could use baking soda and vinegar as well. There are many uses for BB! One bottle of concentrate also lasts a long time. Here is the break down of how much one bottle of concentrate makes- 3 All-Purpose bottles (24 oz.) at $2.90 each
      3 Bathroom bottles (24 oz.) at $5.80 each
      3 Streak-Free bottles (24 oz.) at $0.20 each
      3 Foaming Wash bottles (10 oz.) at $2.90 each
      64 laundry loads at $0.24 per load

      Also here is a link to our User Guide with more uses for BB! https://branchbasics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/BranchBasics_UserGuide_2019.pdf

  9. I had thought it was okay to spray all purpose on berries and leafy greens and rinse. Whoops! Should I refrain from that in the future and only do a vinegar or peroxide soak? And does a branch basics soak work? I’ve had a hard time replenishing my vinegar supply in the last few months.

    1. Hi Ashley, you can spray them with all purpose, let them sit for 5-10 minutes and scrub then rinse clean. You can also soak as well! 1 tsp of straight concentrate is plenty in a sink full of water. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide also work!

    1. Spraying your lettuce with All Purpose, letting it sit for a few minutes and then rinsing might be best for lettuce!

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