Cleaning your produce is important for removing any surface contaminants that may have latched onto your fruits and vegetables, including pesticides, wax or other sealants.
While no specific method is going to remove 100% of unwanted residues and microbial activity, the vast majority of it can be gotten rid of safely to help circumvent potential foodborne illness (aka. food poisoning) as well as inhibit mold growth.
There are several produce wash solutions available on the market for washing our produce, and these range from simple distilled water and acidic vinegars (distilled white vinegar and apple cider vinegar) to sophisticated mixtures in spray bottles and food sterilizing ozone devices.
The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine put three popular options to the test for efficacy and later compared the results against a simple distilled water wash:
- FIT Organic®
- Ozone Water Purifier XT-301
- J0-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer
Proctor & Gamble’s FIT Organic® was found to be similarly effective as using just distilled water to remove microbes and pesticide residue, meaning that you may as well just use distilled water.
As for the ozone food sterilizing systems, well, they were found less effective than using distilled water, making distilled water yet again a more appealing and practical solution.
This experiment clearly demonstrated that many expensive fruit and veggie washes might not necessarily be worth your investment if you have a supply of distilled water to soak and wash your produce in. The University of Maine also suggested using cold tap water as an alternative to distilled water, but I would not personally use water contaminated with added fluoride, chlorine, and other undesirable and highly questionable chemicals. (Do consider installing a water distiller or water filtration and purification system.)
Cook’s Illustrated, a foodie magazine, conducted some comparative testing utilizing four different ways to wash four separate batches of apples and pears:
- washed with antibacterial soap (which was however not a recommendation for the general public to follow),
- washed with a diluted vinegar solution,
- scrubbed with a brush, and
- rinsed with plain water.
The team went on to examine each method’s efficacy by measuring bacterial volume in petri dishes.
It was found that while scrubbing, having removed 85% of the bacteria, proved slightly more effective than just rinsing with plain water, the vinegar solution was the clear winner having removed an exemplary 98% of the bacteria.
The Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California found a significant reduction in salmonella contamination by simply dipping an apple in a vinegar solution and rubbing it for 5 seconds thereafter.
Methods and Products
All right, let us now explore some methods and products I personally recommend and use for washing up my fresh fruits and vegetables.
1.) Apple Cider Vinegar and Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide
In the late 90s, Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, experimented to formulate an effective recipe for washing produce. And she succeeded.
Using a combination of vinegar (whether apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar) and 3% food grade hydrogen peroxide, each put in separate spray bottles, tests demonstrated strong antimicrobial effects clearing virtually all e-coli, salmonella, or shigella bacteria present on contaminated food items and surfaces. This combination was hence found to be more effective than chlorine bleach and all commercial kitchen cleaners that were tested.
What you’ll need:
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
- 3% food grade hydrogen peroxide (FGHP)
- 2x spray bottles
Fill one spray bottle with FGHP, and the other bottle with ACV. You may optionally make a 2-to-1 concentrate of the ACV, combining 1 part vinegar for every 2 parts water.
Start by spraying your produce with the ACV solution to cover the surface of the fruit or veggie, and then move on to spray with the FGHP. Finally, rinse the produce under cold water and you’re done.
Spraying methods generally work best with produce like apples, apricots, capsicums, celery, cucumbers, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, rhubarb, starfruit, tomatoes, and zucchini.
Delicate leafy greens as well as berries, cherries, grapes, chili peppers and the like, can be submerged in a bowl of water with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for every cup of water. Allow to soak for 5 minutes, then take out and scrub with a dedicated brush and rinse.
2.) Apple Cider Vinegar and Saline Solution
This method is intended for large quantities of produce to be submerged in a sink or large basin.
It is advisable to not soak nectarines, peaches or apricots, as it may ruin their skin.
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar (ACV)
- 2 tablespoons Himalayan crystal salt or Celtic sea salt
Fill your sink or basin with cool water and add the ACV and salt of choice. Allow produce to sit for 20-30 minutes.
Take out the produce, scrub it with a dedicated brush if needed, and rinse.
3.) Lemon Juice and Baking Soda Spray
Here’s an additional variation of the spray solution if you don’t have access to apple cider vinegar.
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 cup water
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake carefully to mix contents. Spray your produce and allow it to sit for 5 minutes, then rinse off under cold water.
4.) Lemon and Saline Solution
This method is great for berries, grapes, cherries, and similar-sized fruits. But you can still wash bulkier fruits and leafy vegetables this way as well.
- Juice of half lemon
- 2-4 tablespoons of Himalayan crystal salt or Celtic sea salt
Submerge produce in the sink or basin, and allow to soak for the allotted length of time outlined below.
- Fruits generally eaten without removing skin/peel – 5 minutes
- Berries, grapes, cherries, etc. – leave in the sink or basin for 2 minutes
- Leafy green vegetables – leave in the sink or basin for 3 minutes
- Vegetables (excluding leafy greens) – leave in the sink or basin for 5 to 10 minutes
Produce Wash Solutions
If you don’t want to make a homemade produce wash solution, or you wish to have an option you can travel with, then the following fruit and vegetable washes should do the trick for you.
- ATTITUDE Fruit & Vegetable Wash (27.1 fl. oz. / 800 ml.)
- Citrus Magic Natural Veggie Wash® (16 fl. oz. / 473 ml.)
- Eat Cleaner (12 fl. oz. / 354 ml.)
- Eco Nuts Organic Veggie Wash (10 fl. oz. / 296 ml.)
My personal favorite is Citrus Magic’s Natural Veggie Wash.
Miscellaneous Recommended Products
- Bob’s Red Mill Pure Baking Soda (16 oz.)
- Earth Circle Foods Himalayan Salt Crystals (1 lb.)
- Eden Foods Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (16 fl. oz. / 473 ml. -OR- 32 fl. oz. / 946 ml.)
- Spectrum Naturals Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (16 fl. oz. / 473 ml.)
- Selina Naturally Celtic Sea Salt (fine ground: 8 oz.)
- The Raw Food World 3% Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide (8 fl. oz. / 237 ml. -OR- 32 fl. oz. / 946 ml. -OR- 1 gal. / 3785 ml.)
- ▲ University of Maine. Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables.
- ▲ National Public Radio (2007). What Does It Take to Clean Fresh Food?
- ▲ University of California (2003). Reducing Salmonella on apples with wash practices commonly used by consumers.
- ▲ Science News (1998). Science News August 8, 1998; Vol. 154, Issue. 6, pg. 83-85.