Why we should wash fruits, veggies

Most of us cringe at the thought of eating undercooked hamburger or chicken. We wouldn’t think of making a sandwich on a dirty countertop. We would even throw food that has been in the fridge for unknown days. But would you eat a shiny, red apple or lettuce without first washing it? Many wouldn’t hesitate to do this. But unwashed produce has dangerous bacteria just like the aforementioned foods.

There are many reasons why we should wash produce. Fruits and vegetables grow outside where there are dirt and animals. Shoppers also handle and pick through the food at the grocery store with unwashed hands. Bacteria on the food can make us sick if we consume it.

Isn’t it clean enough? The produce is often misted in the store to keep it fresh. Many foods such as apples, tomatoes, peppers and oranges are also coated with wax. This helps keep the food longer – and also looks more appealing. The misting and wax can give the false appearance of being clean and ready to eat. But it is not.

All produce should be well-rinsed with running cold water and clean hands before eating. A vegetable scrubber is handy for some produce such as potatoes. No soap or bleach should be used as this could cause an upset stomach. Produce with a rind or peel should also be rinsed. When we peel an orange, our hands and the fruit become coated with the bacteria from the rind. We should also wash our bananas because many people, especially children, touch the banana or lick their fingers after peeling it. In addition, the outermost leaves of lettuce should be thrown away prior to rinsing with water.

For some this may be a new concept. Change is difficult unless we find it worthwhile. Washing produce can prevent food-borne illness and avoid suffering from unnecessary nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Time well spent if you ask me! Try this fresh salsa recipe for a nutritious, seasonal snack. And remember to wash all the produce, including the lime!

(Trisha Jessen is a Family Nutrition Program/NDSU Extension Educator. She can be reached by email at Trisha.Jessen@ndsu.edu.)