Outside view of VIDA Building

Is Washing Produce With Water Enough?

Photo of fresh produce at a market. Image credit: Mark Stebnicki

May 2021

One of the best things about living in Rochester is when locally grown fruits and vegetables come into season. Some of the best produce you’ll ever taste is available at the Rochester Public Market, the South Wedge Farmers’ Market, and our suburban farm markets.

If this is a time of year that you find yourself bringing more fresh produce into your apartment kitchen, you might be wondering if just rinsing it under fresh water is enough to safely clean it. The answer is “yes, but.” Even if you buy organic, your produce may have picked up potentially dangerous microbial pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, and norovirus along the way. While the FDA and CDC recommend using fresh water to clean your produce, when and how you wash it makes a big difference.

It’s important to first mention you should never use soap or detergents on your produce. Since fruits and vegetables are porous, they can absorb unhealthy chemicals from household cleaners. Even with thorough rinsing, you can end up ingesting some pretty dangerous substances.

Also, never wash and then store your produce. Wait to wash it until just before consuming. If you wash your produce and then store it, you’re actually creating an environment that’s more conducive to bacterial growth.

When it’s time to wash your produce, first thoroughly wash your hands any kitchen tools you’ll be using (e.g. scrub brush, soaking bowl, etc.). The key to sufficiently cleaning produce is the combination of water with an appropriate level of scrubbing or soaking.

Firm produce like apples, pears, potatoes, and carrots should be cleaned with water and a small scrub brush. This helps remove residues from their pores. A rinse of water alone won’t do that. With delicate produce like berries, just create gentle friction using your fingers. For leafy greens like lettuce or spinach, rinse them, soak them in a bowl of cool water for 5-10 minutes, and then rinse them again.