Here's How to Clean Fruits and Vegetables Properly

It's always important to thoroughly wash produce to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

Although it's common knowledge that we must one must thoroughly wash our hands and surfaces after handling poultry or meat, most don't realize that washing produce is equally important to avoid cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses. It's equally important to thoroughly wash produce to remove pesticides for the same reason. Did you know approximately 48 million (or one in six) people in the U.S. are sickened by contaminated food each year?

Learn how to keep your family safe with these simple steps which ensure your fruits and vegetables are as clean as possible before you enjoy them.

01 of 06

Practice the Four Key Steps of Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Always practice these four easy food safety steps to ensure your food is safe for consumption.

  1. When preparing food, it is extremely important to always wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before AND after handling fresh produce.
  2. Sanitize your workstation, knives, tools, and cutting board before you begin cooking. Additionally, separate produce, poultry, meat, seafood, and eggs while you cook to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. In order to kill viruses and bacteria, cook food to the appropriate internal temperature and make sure to keep food out of the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 F) for long periods of time.
  4. Refrigerate and freeze food properly within two hours to prevent potentially harmful pathogen growth.

RELATED: How Long You Can Store (Almost) Anything in the Fridge and Freezer

02 of 06

Inspect Your Produce for Damage.

Inspect your fruits and veggies at the store and purchase items that are not visibly bruised or damaged. If you notice physical dents and dings once home, simply cut away any bruised or torn areas. Additionally, it is important to remove and discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage to reduce contamination risk. Lastly, throw away and never consume any produce that looks rotten.

03 of 06

Rinse Produce Before You Start Chopping.

Wash your produce thoroughly under cool running water before eating or preparing. It is important to rinse before (even if you don't plan on eating the skin) to avoid transferring dirt or bacteria onto your knife, the flesh of the produce or your work surface. The FDA does not recommend washing your fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent or commercial produce wash, as it may leave additional residue. However, you may want to use a clean produce brush to scrub firm crops like melons and cucumbers.

RELATED: 10 Healthy Pantry Essentials You Should Always Have on Hand, According to RDs

04 of 06

Follow the 'P' Rules

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health, emerita, at New York University and author of Food Politics, suggests that to be "100 percent safe while eating fresh produce" it is imperative to "follow the P rules and only eat foods that are: piping hot, peeled, purified, and packaged."

Consume food that is heated at hot temperatures to help destroy microorganisms and other viruses, opt for peelable fruits and vegetables (as long as you wash your hands before and after); ensure cooked food is not recontaminated and remains purified before consumption; and purchase packaged foods (packed, frozen, or dried) whenever.

"If you have fresh produce, wash it," Nestle warns. "When in doubt, cook it to be on the safe side."

RELATED: How to Store Fruits and Vegetables

05 of 06

Dry With Clean Towels.

After washing, avoid recontaminating your food and dry with a clean cloth towel or disposable paper towel to further reduce the risk of bacterial or viral transmission from a dirty surface onto ready-to-eat fruit or veggie.

RELATED: The Top 5 Cleaning Tips We Learned in 2021

06 of 06

Store Clean Produce in a Safe Place.

Now that you've successfully cleaned your produce, make sure to store or refrigerate pre-cut items at 40 F or below if you're not going to eat them right away–the same goes for fruits and veggies that require refrigeration. Lastly, make sure your clean produce is not at risk for recontamination and wash again if you suspect it has been re-exposed to harmful pathogens before eating.

RELATED: This Is the Secret to Storing Every Type of Fruit and Vegetable So They Last Longer

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