When fruit and vegetables come packed in tight plastic packaging, or from the pristine shelves of a farmer’s market it can be easy to assume they are all clean and ready to eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whether starting to prepare dinner, or looking for some food storage tricks to extend the life of your groceries, there are a few methods you can use to remove pesticides, pests, dirt, and bacteria from your fresh foods ready for a tasty meal.
Here, professional chefs and cleaning experts share the best way to wash fruit and products at home – and when to wash them to keep them fresh in your fridge.
If you spend any time on the internet, then you will likely be familiar with the satisfying videos of bringing produce home, washing it, and decanting it into glass containers to be stacked in the refrigerator. However, this could be doing more harm than good, professionals warn.
You should only wash your fresh product and fruit directly before using them, especially for foods stored in the refrigerator. Why? The added moisture can speed up the rotting process.
It is also sensible to store your fresh food in containers with air holes, to allow good airflow to help keep your food dryer and prevent rapid decaying. With that in mind, here is how to wash produce before cooking:
Cleaning with vinegar is not just reserved for your kitchen counters. In fact, it is one of the best things to wash fruit and produce thanks to its ability to kill mold spores, bacteria, and small bugs.
You should create a cleaning solution of three parts water to one part vinegar, explains Prerna Jain, cleaning expert at Ministry of Cleaning. Then, soak the produce in the solution for five to 10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly under cold running water to remove any vinegar taste, and drying with a clean, lint-free towel.
You can also clean with baking soda, adding a teaspoon or two into the vinegar water mix when washing vegetables with lots of crevices like cauliflower or broccoli, to ensure the mixture cleans deep within the pores.
Another solution that avoids chemicals is to use water and a vegetable brush, suggests Emma Rostron, professional cleaner and general manager at One Less Thing cleaning services. This only works for firm produce, or fruits with a hard rind, to avoid bruising the item and making it go bad more quickly.
‘Firm produce like potatoes, cucumbers, or carrots may require a bit more effort. A vegetable brush, such as this from Amazon, is a great investment for cleaning root vegetables, where you can scrub the surface under running water to remove any dirt or wax coatings,’ she explains.
Cleaning peelable vegetables like potatoes and carrots like this also means you can leave the skins on to cook with. The skin holds most of the nutrients and fiber of the vegetable, so is best left intact.
Of course, there are commercial fruit and vegetable washes available that are designed to help clean fruit and produce without aftertaste. These solutions are not any better or any worse than using vinegar, but simply add a little extra convenience as they are premixed and are most commonly used by chefs in professional settings.
‘I advise you to use a vegetable and fruit wash solution to mitigate any risks of contamination,’ says Norah Clark, pastry chef and owner of YummyTasteFood. ‘Products like Veggie Wash, available at Walmart and many others can sanitize up to 99% of bacteria and other harmful elements,’ she advocates.
Some produce, particularly tricky vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and leeks, can harbor all sorts of dirt and contaminant between their leaves, making them hard to wash whole. As a result, Emma Rostron, professional cleaner suggests prepping the veg first before soaking it in a water bath, ‘gently agitating them to ensure all the dirt is removed before wiping dry with a paper towel.’
The same goes for vegetables that have a peel, she adds. ‘Cabbage come to mind for this. It may be necessary to remove the outer leaves or skins before washing so you can get rid of any dirt that’s been trapped against the section you are going to eat.’
It is best to wash fruit and produce in cold or room-temperature water to help preserve the structure of the produce and prevent it from wilting or beginning to cook in hot water. You can either rinse the food under running cold water to help brush away loose debris, or alternatively soak the item in a bowl of water to help get into tiny pores.
Fresh foods such as fruit and produce can benefit from a soak in some salt water solution to help remove and kill bugs lingering in leaves or pores on the surface of the fruit. Himalayan salt is touted as best for this, but any salt will do. Mix the salt into the water until added salt no longer dissolves, then leave your produce in the bowl, completely submerged, for 10-15 minutes.
Cleaning your fruit and produce – along with washing your hands, tools and keeping on top of cleaning the kitchen – makes it easier to make delicious, and safe, meals. Keep a large bowl for soaking and a colander or sieve close by your sink space to make washing more convenient – this will make it more likely that you will wash them properly and not cut corners.
When washing produce, remember that there are multiple precautionary steps you should take. Before you get started, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make the process easier:
Soaking and spraying are the two common methods for washing produce. Use a soaking method to clean softer produce or leafy greens and use a spray solution to clean firmer-skinned vegetables. Below, we outline these two methods of cleaning fruits and veggies so you can serve your customers safe, fresh foods.
The soak method is ideal for washing tightly packaged fruits like berries and vegetables with crevices like broccoli. Not only does soaking produce rid it of harmful germs or chemicals, but it can also revitalize its flavor and extend its shelf life. If you purchase local, organic fruits and vegetables that contain no chemicals or harmful preservatives, you can use warm water to rinse your produce.
To correctly use this method, you’ll need the following items on hand:
Follow these steps to clean fruits and vegetables with the soaking method:
While effective, you can only use the soaking method on certain fruits and vegetables. Discover the fruits and vegetables you should use the soaking method for below:
Use a spray or scrub to remove dirt and pesticides from produce with firmer skin such as eggplant, potatoes, or cucumbers. This method is also ideal for large, smooth fruits and vegetables without crevices or cracks. To clean your fruits and vegetables with the spray method, you’ll need the following items:
To effectively clean your fruits and vegetables using the spray method, be sure to follow the steps below:
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