A video that featured a doctor washing and vigorously scrubbing his produce recently went viral (goes…maybe we should retire that phrase for now…anyways…). Now, it seems as if many people have been left with the impression that lathering your soup up is a good idea. But is it? Should you wash produce with soap?
We will explore in this short blog post. If you want to learn more about COVID-19 and food safety, check out this post.
So, should I wash my produce with soap?
Well, the answer is no, you should not.
Because many surfaces of produce are porous, the piece of produce may absorb some of the soap or detergent. While consuming a small amount of soap likely won’t hurt you, consuming a lot of it over time can cause nausea, diarrhea, or other GI upset.
I’ve also heard a rumor that it’s advisable to soak produce in diluted bleach. This is not safe, and should absolutely be avoided. Bleach, even if diluted, may be toxic.
And while there’s no harm in wiping the outside of boxes, containers or bags with Clorox wipes, never wipe the fruits and vegetables themselves with the Clorox wipes, as they, too, contain bleach.
There is no way to remove all microorganisms from your produce. However, studies have shown that running fresh fruits and vegetables under cold water can effectively remove a significant amount of them.
Most commercial fruit and vegetable washes have not undergone rigorous scientific testing to gauge their safety and efficacy, so I can’t speak on them either way.
Some people also use vinegar to clean their produce; however, if avoiding COVID-19 is your primary concern, note that vinegar has not been established as an effective anti-Sars-Cov-2 agent.
First, wash your hands, and wash them well. Make sure your knives, cutting boards, countertops, and utensils are all clean, as well.
Strive to wash your fruits and vegetables prior to preparing or eating them, rather than doing so multiple days or weeks in advance. Washing and/or cutting produce and letting it sit for long periods of time encourages microbial growth.
When it’s time to enjoy your produce, start by washing or scrubbing fresh fruits and vegetables under cold, clean running water. If you are working with a firm piece of produce, like a melon, potato, carrot, apple, or cucumber, you can use a clean produce brush to scrub away any dirt or residue.
Again, there is no need to use soap or detergent. Most have not be tested for efficacy, and ingesting them in large amounts can cause some people GI distress.
If your produce is bruised or damaged beyond consumption, remove the damaged or bruised parts before preparing.
It’s important to wash produce you plan to cut even if you do not plan to eat the skin. For example, even though you might not eat the rind of a watermelon, it’s still worth rinsing off because when you cut through it with a knife, microorganisms may be picked up on the knife and may be dragged into the fruit.
If you are working with looser produce that has a lot of dirt (like fresh lettuces, berries, etc), place the produce in a clean large bowl of cool water and move the produce around to remove dirt. Strain, produce in a colander and rinse again.
Store fresh produce that has been washed and/or cut in the refrigerator for maximum freshness. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F. In general try to avoid having perishables out of the temperature danger zone (between 40°F – 140°F) for more than two hours.
Note that not all produce needs refrigeration, but if you have washed and cut it, it is advisable to keep it cold. Keep fruits and vegetables separate from meats and any other perishables that could potentially cause cross-contamination.
Take home: Food Safety: Should I wash my produce with soap?
Despite the popular internet video that instructs consumers to wash produce with soap, it is not necessary to do so. In fact, it’s advisable to use cold water instead of detergents, soaps, and bleach (please, please do not use bleach). Wash your hands before and after preparing vegetables and store them appropriately.
That’s all for now! I know this post was shorter than most. I just felt very strongly that I had to speak up about using soap to wash produce and set the record straight. Feel free to leave comments or questions below, and/or on Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.
If you liked “Food Safety: Should I wash my produce with soap?” you may also like:
- Food Safety and COVID-19: What do we know so far?
- Are Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables Nutritious?
- Supplements for Immune Health: What does the science say?
- Public Health Definitions for COVID-19