Everywhere, people are being more and more health conscious.
They read nutritional labels, examine consumer-protection labels, and pay attention to recall notices. They are, in general, very aware of what they eat, where it came from and when it expires.
Yet despite all this information to guard their health and well-being, it amazes me that so few people wash the fruits and vegetables they purchase before they consume them.
They seem to be more concerned about proteins, like meat, fish and dairy.
Produce has its own best handling and washing practices that you should know to safeguard your family, no matter which produce you buy or where you buy it.
Here at Nino’s, it’s a ritual in our Produce Prep Department for all items that are cut and packaged, from lettuces to melons. In fact, I often joke about our water bill here because it seems like our produce-washing sinks have cold water running over produce 24/7.
At home, I follow the same best practices, but I imagine many people unpack their groceries and just get right to preparing their food without taking the small amount of time needed to ensure their fruits and veggies are as wholesome as they are delicious.
Although the American food supply is generally safe, our government can’t be everywhere. Occasionally, the lack of oversight allows the poor hygiene of harvesters, organic fertilizers, improper sanitation of processing facilities and other not-so-good handling practices to contaminate the food we eat, ultimately causing the widespread outbreak of foodborne illness…
Among those making national headlines lately have been tomatoes, spinach and lettuces.
So, what can YOU do to minimize your risks?
People often joke that eating a little dirt won’t do you any harm.
Personally, I wouldn’t take the chance (you don’t know where that dirt has been…).
When preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, here are my 10 Best Practice recommendations:
1. Start by choosing produce that’s free of bruises, mold, or other signs of damage. At Nino’s, our Produce Buyers, Managers and Associates are constantly buying the best and freshest and culling our inventory throughout the day to ensure you get the best produce we can offer.
2. After getting home with your produce, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before handling foods, and while you’re at it, wash down the cutting boards, counters and utensils too.
3. When preparing your meals, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood to avoid cross-contamination. You can even buy color-coded boards to help you remember which are for which.
4. Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water to remove dirt and other contaminants, both before and after trimming and cutting out bruised spots. Washing will remove exterior bacteria, including E.coli (most of it from the soil, on its surface). To do that:
a. Don’t use soap or detergent to wash produce since these are not approved or labeled by the FDA for use on foods (not to mention they taste terrible).
b. Don’t just run cold water over your produce. If there is a firm surface, such as on apples, potatoes or melons, rub them with your hands or scrub them with a brush. I prefer NOT to use sponges to wash and NOT to use a kitchen towel to dry (use paper towels instead).
5. Pay particular attention to leafy items, such as lettuce and spinach because dirt and microorganisms can be trapped in the inner leaf folds during growth and handling.
6. Vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, which can’t be scrubbed, should be soaked for 1 to 2 minutes in cold water to remove contaminants from the nooks and crannies.
7. Always remove the outer leaves of lettuce and spinach by removing the core (root end), then pulling leaf folds completely away from the center body and rinsing the leaves and body core thoroughly.
8. After cutting or slicing vegetables and fruit, refrigerate until serving or eating.
9. Keep washed produce separate from unwashed produce.
10. Wash all fruits and vegetables, including organic selections and produce from your own garden or local farmer’s markets.
Now, you may think water isn’t as effective as some of the commercial veggie washes on the market. You might even think to add a little vinegar or other acidification, such as lemon juice, to the wash water.
After researching that question, I’ve found most studies have concluded that there’s really no significant difference. That said, if you’ve had success to date with a washing product, there’s no sense in breaking up a winning formula.
So the next time you bring home a bag of fresh produce, stop for a moment and take a little extra time to wash your favorite apples or grapes.
It’s great peace of mind.