It’s been a little scary to eat a salad lately, given the recent E.coli outbreaks. You’re not alone if you worry about your produce-washing habits. The problem is that washing your produce won’t protect you from E.coli.


Food Science & Nutrition recently found that rinsing or submerging leafy vegetables in water doesn’t meaningfully reduce E.coli bacteria. Also, the University of Georgia found that the majority of produce washes were even less effective at clearing away E.coli than a water rinse. In fact, the FDA is recommending that we skip produce washes altogether. However, in the midst of the bad news, the good news is that you are very unlikely to encounter E. coli on your fresh produce. Yes, you may hear of the occasional outbreak, but the actual risk of getting sick from eating produce is very, very low.


Even though you can’t wash away E. coli, there are still compelling reasons to clean your produce. First, our produce is sold in open spaces where anyone and everyone can handle it. And second, produce comes from the soil, which means there may be dirt on it. To actually remove all the dirt and grime or anything else that might make you sick (like pathogens that may fall onto your produce from other shoppers), the most effective cleaning method is a simple rinse, followed by rubbing and drying your fruits and vegetables.


Of course, your technique may change from item to item. You can rub an apple by drying it with a clean towel, which significantly reduces microorganisms. However, this method may not work on softer fruits, likes berries. You can’t really rub a raspberry and end up with an intact raspberry. With the more delicate foods, a good rinse before eating is the best way to go. But ONLY rinse just before eating. If you wash your food long before you plan to consume it, the excess moisture can actually encourage bacterial growth. Waiting to rinse until you are ready to eat or cook is the best possible way to make sure you are getting rid of bacteria and dirt. You also need to make sure your hands, colander, salad spinner and any other kitchen utensil you may use are clean. If they aren’t, you will most likely spread something back onto your produce. The FDA says not to wash your bagged and prewashed greens. You are more likely to desterilize these items than to further clean them.


Some people add in extra, unnecessary steps to the process. For example, this can include scrubbing your produce with a brush, submerging it in a sink full of water, or using baking soda to clean away pesticides. You will most likely contaminate your produce rather than disinfecting them.  To conclude, don’t wash items that are labeled “prewashed” or “ready to eat,” and for anything else, give it a good rinse. When it’s possible, use your fingers to rub away dirt or any other residue. Dry everything thoroughly with a clean towel or paper towel. If you follow these steps, you can be confident that your fruits and veggies will be safe to eat.