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How to Properly Wash Fruits and Veggies Before You Eat Them

Someone washing tomatoes in a sink.
spass/Shutterstock

Not everyone washes their produce before eating it, but if it’s not marked as “prewashed,” you really should. It’s quick, easy, and makes your food much safer for consumption.

If you don’t think you need to wash your produce, just think about all the people who’ve touched it from the moment it was picked. Or, how about the dirt that’s still on it, all the possible bacteria, or the pesticides hanging out on it?

For many produce items, a quick rinse and rub will make your food much safer. Below is a quick breakdown of how to clean some of the most popular produce.

When Not to Wash Your Produce

When you buy fruits and vegetables that are marked as prewashed, you don’t have to rewash them. In fact, ready-to-eat, prewashed produce can actually get recontaminated if you rewash it.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you wash your produce, always wash your hands. Handling dirty vegetables with dirty hands defeats the purpose of washing them. You’re just putting bacteria back on the produce if you don’t wash your hands with soap and water before your food prep.

The Easy Method

For most of your produce, a quick rinse is the “easy method” for cleaning food. A simple rinse and scrub with your hands under running water will remove dirt, which is where the bacteria hang out. You don’t need any tools except your hands.

Never use soap to wash your produce, as it can be harsh on food and your stomach. Water alone is fine. Be sure to dry everything off afterward, as well. This will prevent more bacteria from replacing whatever you cleaned off.

A Salad Spinner to Thoroughly Clean Lettuce

Salad spinner with lettuce inside.
Faberware

If you prefer to wash your lettuce in usable-sized batches, you can rinse a handful in water and then pat it dry with a clean towel before adding it to your sandwich or making a salad. If you want to prewash bigger batches of lettuce ahead of time so it’s ready for future salads, consider investing in a salad spinner.

These handy bowls make cleaning lettuce a breeze. You just put your lettuce in, add some water, then spin it. When you dump the water, if it’s pretty dirty, repeat the process. When your lettuce is clean, spin it without water to dry it off.

You’ll then want to lay your lettuce out so it can dry completely before you bag it up and put it in the fridge for future meals.

Quickly Clean Cabbage

Cabbage and cabbage-like foods, including Brussels sprouts, come with their own protective leaves that make cleaning easier.

Just peel off the outer layer of rough leaves and toss them in the compost bin. After that, all you have to do is give the cabbage head a quick rinse before chopping it up and starting your food prep.

Cleaning Fresh Herbs

A man rinsing fresh mint leaves under a kitchen faucet.
LenaLavr/Shutterstock

For herbs, the denser kind, like rosemary, just need a quick rinse. Be sure to dry them off before using or storing them, though. You can clean softer herbs in a salad spinner, which is more delicate than using your hands.

Don’t have a salad spinner? Just toss your fresh herbs into a bowl of water, swish them around with your (clean) hands, then scoop them out and put them in a colander to drain. Then, just let them air-dry. This works for lettuce and other greens, as well.

Getting the Grit Out of Leeks

Leeks hold a lot of gritty dirt in all those crevices. They need extra care to get them clean. The best process is to cut off the hairy root ends and dark-green tops, then prep them for how you plan to cook them.

Once your leeks are chopped, just toss them in a bowl of cold water and swish them around to remove any dirt. When they look clean, transfer them by hand into a colander to drip dry.

Don’t ever dump your leeks or any other fruits and veggies you’ve cleaned into another bowl because you’ll just dump all the dirt right back on top of them.

Removing Dirt from Root Veggies

Image of a person cleaning a carrot using a vegetable brush.
OXO

If you eat a lot of root vegetables, it’s worthwhile to invest in a vegetable brush. You can use it on other veggies as well, but it really comes in handy for removing dirt from carrots and potatoes and any other produce that grows underground, like winter squash.

Dealing with Dirty Mushrooms

Fresh mushrooms often have clumps of dirt on them, but they’re easy to clean. Just toss them in a colander and rinse. Use your fingers to remove any stubborn dirt, then dry them off gently with a clean towel.

It’s best to wash mushrooms right before you use them. Putting them away when they’re damp will lead to extra stinky, slimy mushrooms.

Wash the Fruit You Peel

Cutting into that lemon or orange, or peeling it with your fingers, can transfer bacteria from the peel onto the fruit inside if you don’t clean them first.

If the fruit looks fairly clean, you can just rinse it off with water and scrub it with your fingers. If it looks dirtier, though, you can use a vegetable brush. You can clean apples the same way, even if you’re planning to eat the peel.

Wash Berries Right Before You Eat Them

Someone rinsing a bowl full of cherries under a kitchen faucet.
Ekaterina_Minaeva/Shutterstock

Wet berries in the fridge can end up mushy. A quick rinse and pat dry is ample cleaning for raspberries, strawberries, and the like.

Oh, and that white dusting on your grapes and blueberries? That’s called “bloom,” and it’s perfectly safe to eat. It protects berries while they grow.


Cleaning produce only takes a sec, and it might save you from a nasty tummy ache. Now that you know how to properly clean those veggies, it’s time to throw some on the grill!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »

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