To Wash or Not to Wash: Fruit and Vegetable Safety

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables is healthy, but what about bacteria or viruses that might be on those “healthy” food items? While cooking kills pathogens, many fruits and vegetables are eaten raw. There are steps to take to reduce the risk of becoming sick from bacteria and viruses that might be on anything from apples to zucchini. One thing is clear: rinsing fruits and vegetables under running water is a good idea and can remove most microbes that could make you sick.

When you shop, avoid fruits and vegetables that show bruising or surface damage. When you get home, keep fruits and veggies refrigerated and physically separate from raw meat, seafood, and poultry products. When you prepare fruits and vegetables, wash your hands before and after as well as any cutting implements, cutting boards or counter surfaces. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination, the transfer of pathogens from one place to another.

While you do not need to raise “prewashed” salad greens, other fruits and vegetables that are not going to be cooked should get a good cold-water rinse. Do not soak these foods, as that may spread pathogens. And, as the CDC advises, do not try to sanitize fruits and vegetables with beach or soap. Some fruits have surfaces that are rough, like cantaloupe. A simple brushing of the surface under running water can help remove potential pathogens and prevent them from being spread when you cut through the fruit.

Fruits and vegetables are a great addition to your diet. Any risks of illness from them can be greatly reduced through simple, safe handling practices. Water, clean hands, and separation from raw protein products will keep your fruits and vegetables a healthy choice.