Figuring out the right way to make fresh produce truly fresh can be a challenge. When k.d. lang sang "Wash Me Clean" — "Wash, wash me clean/mend my wounded seams/cleanse my tarnished dreams" — she wasn't talking about sprucing up her salad greens or getting ready to stir-fry some broccoli, but she could have been.
You might be worried about foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, and viruses such as the norovirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are around 48 million such cases in the U.S. annually.
In addition, you want to get rid of pesticide residue and dirt.
So now you’re wondering: Soap or no soap? Peel or no peel? Soak or no soak?
Here are the answers:
• One study in the Journal of Food Protection found that presoaking in water before rinsing significantly reduced bacteria in apples, tomatoes, and lettuce. And levels of bacteria on the surface of lettuce after soaking in lemon or vinegar solutions weren't significantly better than when cold tap water was used.
• Don't use standard soaps, commercially-produced washes (they're not tested or regulated), or detergents, cautions the Food and Drug Administration. They can permeate porous fruits and vegetables and can make you ill. Stick with clear, cool water.
• Rinse the skin or rind you're peeling or cutting. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush. You don't have to wash prewashed greens.
• To reduce pesticide residue, soak and rinse with water; peel the skin if you want. Remember, the health benefits of eating fresh produce far outweigh the risks of taking in pesticide residue.