Washing Produce

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The annual produce “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists have been updated, and there are a few changes in rankings. Below are the latest results, and our take on what to do about it to keep you and your family safe from toxins and contamination.

The Dirty Dozen: These are the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide contamination, as stated by the Environmental Working Group ( EWG):

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet Bell Peppers
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

The Clean Fifteen: The following are the groups foods that have the lowest level of pesticide contamination:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen Sweet Peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew Melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

It is interesting to note that a large portion of the Clean Fifteen are encased in nature’s own packaging which gets peeled and eliminated before consuming.

While the recommendation is to purchase organically grown varieties of the Dirty Dozen, there are also some precautions that can be taken to make the conventional versions safer to eat. These tips are common protocols that should be used on all produce, regardless of the method of farming.

Wash your produce. This may seem like a no-brainer, yet I see people that are sampling unwashed items at the farmer’s markets all the time, and someone once told me that if I wasn’t watching, they wouldn’t bother washing the salad greens at all. Shudder!

Rinse produce under cool running water. Extra sandy items can be soaked in a strainer set into a bowl of water, or a salad spinner, and then rinsed under running water afterwards to rid it of debris. This will help any “sand” settle to the bottom of the bowl, making it easier to rinse off. Harder produce can be brushed with a produce brush to remove excess dirt. While some people add soap, the FDA does not recommend it, citing that it is just adding even more chemicals to the cocktail. A little vinegar or lemon juice has an astringent effect which can aid in the cleaning process naturally. Just be sure to wash the items afterwards to avoid an unpleasant taste.

Be sure to start with clean hands so you don’t end up spreading the bacteria on them to your food.

Even if you are going to peel the produce, wash the outside well before cutting. If there is bacteria or pesticides on the outside, you will draw them through the food on your knife, essentially distributing it throughout the food.  This includes things like lemons and limes, which often get tossed into drinks, rind and all.

Dry it. Gently wipe the produce with a clean towel to dry it and have one more opportunity to wipe off any excess dirt or chemicals.

Avoid bagged salad mixes and commercially cut fruit: Those pre-bagged and pre-cut salads, vegetables and fruit are a great convenience, but with that comes added risk. The more people and machines that touch your food, the more risk of contamination there is. Many food-borne diseases are actually a result of food handling. If you must buy packaged produce, please take extra time to wash it according to the processes outline above.

While rinsing your produce is not a 100% effective in preventing food borne illness, it is the best protection we have to reduce the risks. And in this case, the benefits of eating a plant based diet, and a rainbow of fruit and vegetables drastically out weighs the risks.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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One Response to “Washing Produce”

  1. Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Washing Berries | Indigo jones Says:

    […] list each year, due to their extremely high pesticide load. (Read more about the dirty dozen here.) Buying organic berries are […]

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