Wash your fruits and veggies

December 1, 2007

Many fruits and vegetables sold in the US are treated with several applications of pesticides, and residues of these potentially harmful chemicals often remain on their surfaces. Recent spinach and lettuce recalls are reasons to be concerned about the potential for E. coli, salmonella or other bacteria poisoning. Here’s something to think about: An average of four strangers handled your apple before you chose it and up to 20 may have handled your tomato.

Rinsing all produce thoroughly before eating is a good idea, but many pesticides, fungicides, and other germs and agricultural chemicals, are trapped under a wax coating that was added to resist water and prolong shelflife. Even organic products are likely to be covered with fertilizer, dust, soil, bacteria, fungi and pesticides. Rinsing produce with just plain water is not enough to do the job.

Taking the following steps will limit the amount of pesticides and other harmful residues you eat:

• Grow your own, organically. It’s fun, rewarding and absolutely the only way you will know for sure your food is chemical free.
• Buy local. Get to know your source. Put a face on your food.
• Buy organic. Rules against pesticide use for certified organic are stricter.
• Buy fresh vegetables and fruits in season. When long storage and long-distance shipping are not required, fewer pesticides are used.
• Trim tops and the very outer portions of celery, lettuce, cabbages and other leafy vegetables that may contain the bulk of pesticide residues.
• Peel and cook when appropriate, even though some nutrients and fiber are lost in the process.
• Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This helps limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.
• Purchase only fruits and vegetables that are subject to USDA regulations. Produce imported from other countries is not grown under the same regulations as enforced by the USDA. Examples are strawberries and cantaloupes from Mexico.
• Wait until just before preparation to wash or immerse your produce in clean drinking water. When appropriate, scrub with a brush. Experts at the University of California-Berkeley report that this removes nearly all insects and dirt, as well as bacteria and some pesticide residues. Special soaps or washes are not needed and could be harmful to you depending on their ingredients. Read the label!

Tips for Washing

Most produce actually benefits from a little added moisture when it won’t be stored for too long. Too much dampness will eventually cause mold and other funky microorganisms to grow, so don’t plan on keeping washed items for more than a couple of days — or make sure to dry them out thoroughly.

Never use any detergent or bleach solutions to wash with as fruit and vegetables can absorb these solutions and they’re not meant for human consumption. Using dish detergent can cause diarrhea.

Various combinations of common pantry items work well One recipe calls for soaking produce for five minutes in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water, while another calls for spraying fruits and vegetables with a combination of one tablespoon of lemon juice, two tablespoons of baking soda and one cup of water. Follow with a thorough rinse in plain water.

To make a diluted form of hydrochloric acid to wash off pesticides fill your kitchen sink with cold water, add four tablespoons of salt and the juice of half a fresh lemon. Soak fruits and vegetables five to ten minutes (leafy greens two to three minutes and berries one to two minutes)and rinse well.

Invest in a salad spinner. You can soak your leafy veggies in the bowl, then dump out the water and swirl to dry. Veggies get nice and crisp and last longer in the refrigerator.

Avoid buying bagged lettuce but if you must, make sure to wash it before using, even if it is labeled pre-washed.

You can get a vegetable scrubber for root vegetables or anything with a rind. New potatoes and baby carrots will require little else than a gentle scrub before cooking. Even items you’re planning on peeling with a peeler should be washed as any contaminants on the outside will spread to the peeler and the food inside.


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