Now you have the tools needed to remove pesticides, traces of fertilizer, and even plain old dirt from the food you purchase. In this article, you’ll learn to wash vegetables to remove pesticides and how to make natural fruit and vegetable wash for different needs.
Every mother would strive to feed her family the freshest, cleanest, and healthiest produce available. That often means heading down the organic aisle during your next shopping trip. In the long run, those that are planning a sustainable pantry may find that organic produce does not always fit into the budget.
Thankfully, there is a way to thoroughly clean your produce, even if it is not organic.
Studies have shown that thoroughly rinsing fresh produce under running water is an effective way to reduce the number of microorganisms. Washing fruits and vegetables not only helps remove dirt, bacteria, and stubborn garden pests, but it also helps remove residual pesticides.
UC Davis suggests these general produce washing tips
- Always wash fruit and vegetables, especially those purchased from the store and even those grown in your own garden. Organic does not mean clean.
- Wash fruits and vegetables just before eating.
- Purchase produce wash or make homemade produce wash from one of the recipes below.
- When possible, scrub fruits and vegetables with a clean scrub brush or hands. This applies to melons, pineapple and other hard-skinned produce that you might think does not need to be washed. Scrubbing removed surface bacteria that may be spread by the knife when cutting.
- Dry with disposable towels or use clean kitchen towels one time.
- Only use a natural soap (and none with detergent) on your produce. See the natural soap recipe below.
- Remove the outer green leaves from lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower before washing.
- Trim the hulls or stems of tomato, strawberries, and peppers, after washing.
- Running water is best. Soaking fruit and vegetables in plain water is not recommended unless you are using an additional antibacterial like vinegar and or baking soda.
I find these guidelines for cleaning specific types of food from the Colorado State Extension Publication to be helpful when I am teaching about food safety.
Apples, cucumbers and other firm produce. Wash well or peel to remove waxy preservative.
Root vegetables. Peel potatoes, carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, or clean them well with a firm scrub brush under lukewarm running water.
Melons. The rough, netted surfaces of some types of melon provide an excellent environment for microorganisms that can be transferred to the interior surfaces during cutting. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, use a vegetable brush and wash melons thoroughly under running water before peeling or slicing.
Hot Peppers. When washing hot peppers, wear gloves and keep hands away from eyes and face.
Peaches, plums and other soft fruits. Wash under running water and dry with a paper towel.
Grapes, cherries, and berries. Store unwashed until ready to use but separate and discard spoiled or moldy fruit before storing to prevent the spread of spoilage organisms. Wash gently under cool running water right before use.
Mushrooms. Clean with a soft brush or wipe with a wet paper towel to remove dirt.
Herbs. Rinse by dipping and swishing in a bowl of cool water and dry with paper towels.
Non-Toxic Dish Soap Recipe
If you want reassurance that your dish soap is safe, make it yourself with this recipe from Daily Health Post, then learn more about cancer-causing ingredients in traditional dishwashing soap.
1/2 cup Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or Castile Soap
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup warm distilled water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon kosher salt
- In a medium-sized bowl, dissolve the salt in the water
- In a separate bowl, combine the soap, vinegar, and citric acid
- Add the vinegar mixture to the salt water and stir until thick
- Store in a jar or soap dispenser
Homemade Vinegar Vegetable Wash Recipe
Adding vinegar to the water, followed by a clean water rinse, has been shown to reduce bacterial contamination in fresh produce.
- add 3 parts (cups) water
- and 1 part (cup) distilled white vinegar to a bowl or tub
- soak for 10 minutes
- rinse with cool water for 30 seconds.
There seems to be some leeway about the ratio of water to vinegar in this recipe when looking online. I could not find a definitive answer other it is acceptable to use a ration somewhere between 10 parts water to 1 part vinegar, and 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar.
When cleaning produce that you grew yourself, or items that came from a grower that you know and trust, you can get away with the lower end of the scale and use a 10 parts water to 1 part vinegar ratio.
If you are purchasing organic produce from the store, a ratio of 5 parts water to 1 part vinegar seems appropriate.
If you are uncertain about the source of the produce, or you know for sure it is not organic, a ratio of 3 to 1 should be used. Better to remove as many pesticides or contaminated as you possibly can.
Learn more about washing pesticides off produce in these articles
Make a Sanitizing Vegetable Wash Spray
The addition of lemon juice and baking soda can give you an added boost when you are making your own vegetable spray. We’ll use the same ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part vinegar for the recipe.
4 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
The juice of 1 lemon*
Add the ingredients to a spray bottle and store in the refrigerator when not using.
To Use: Spritz onto fresh food, let sit 5-10 minutes, rinse. *Substitute lemon essential oil for a shelf stable vegetable wash.
Removing wax and pesticides from large batches of produce
Sometimes you may find a terrific deal on non-organic produce that has been waxed. To extend the shelf life food processors add a thin layer of man-made edible wax to replace the natural wax that is lost during process and packaging. This helps to prevent shriveling and mold growth.
Some fresh produce that may have wax applied includes avocados, apples, watermelons, cantaloupe, turnips, bell peppers, lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, pineapple, squash, passion fruit, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, eggplant, and tomatoes.
Remove food wax before canning or dehydrating by following this process:
To a sink of hot water, add 1 cup baking soda and a squirt of natural dish soap from the recipe above. Soak the produce for 20 minutes. The baking soda and hot water work to loosen the wax and help it to float to the surface of the water.
Remove the produce by rinsing and clean the sink with vinegar and repeat the process until the water becomes clear and all wax is removed. This can definitely be a pain to do, so you may need to do some research so you can decide if removing wax before dehydrating or canning is important to you. Start with this article from Michigan State University Extension.