After enduring months of long, cold winters, are you as ready for spring as I am?
Because spring means that gardening season, farmers market season, and salad season are just around the corner!
Since many of you are already planning your lovely gardens, hitting up your farmers market, and ordering from your local CSA, I figure it's the perfect time to talk about preserving your abundance of produce!
I don't mean recipes, or canning, or lacto-fermentation. I want to talk about the first thing you do to produce when you bring it home. Even before putting those juicy fruits on display in great-aunt Mabel's crystal fruit bowl. 😉
Let's talk about the best ways to wash produce!
Choose 1 Of These Ways To Wash Produce… Yes, Even Organic Produce!
It's very important to clean your fruits and veggies.
Most obviously, there are thousands of microscopic organisms living on produce. Some of them — including harmful bacteria, mold, fungi, and animal waste — we shouldn't eat.
Additionally, if you don't grow your own food, you don't know for sure what chemicals are on it. I normally follow the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 List when shopping for non-organic foods at the grocery store. Since it's likely that at least a few of the items were sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or other toxic chemicals — I definitely need to clean that junk off!
And even if you do buy all-organic produce, certified organic farms are allowed to use some approved pesticides and chemicals. According to our own government's regulations, these include copper sulfate, lead salts, arsenic, streptomycin, and tetracycline. I don't know what's wrong with compost, water, and sunshine alone! If there is even a trace of tetracycline on my apples, I want it gone!
Finally, choosing one of these ways to wash produce can actually keep it fresher for longer. That's a big bonus! We need to make those precious, organic, store-bought goodies last as long as possible.
Water Alone Isn't Enough
I hate to say it, but water isn't enough anymore. Granny may have been able to get away with washing her green beans in water 75 years ago, but she didn't have to worry about streptomycin or arsenic on her veggies.
Water won't remove the residues of those “government-approved organic” chemicals, and it won't kill E. coli or any other dangerous bacteria either.
If you're buying imported food from other countries or halfway across the United States, there's no telling what condition it's in. Produce travels an average of 1500 miles before landing in the bin at your local grocery store. You don't know if it was sprayed, how old it is, what it came into contact with during transport, if the handler sneezed on it, or how many people touched it at the store. Gross!
Thankfully, I know several ways to wash produce to make it squeaky clean without spending a fortune on expensive fruit and veggie washes or sprays. Choose the one that works best for you!
Option 1: Bleach + Water
Yes, this is a real food blog, and I just mentioned bleach! As in Clorox, chlorine bleach! I'll give you a second to pick your jaw up off the floor. 😉
I debated a long time before even posting this as an option because I, personally, avoid bleach 99% of the time. I don't clean with it or do laundry with it, so why would I use it to wash my produce?!
The first time I encountered this cleaning method, I was reading a biography (Healer by Joseph Dispenza) about nutritionist Dr. Hazel Parcells. Dr. Parcells recommended washing everything — meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables — in a solution of 1 teaspoon of Clorox bleach per 1 gallon of water. About her method, she said,
The benefits of this simple food treatment are many. Fruits and vegetables will keep longer. The wilted ones will return to a fresh crispness. Drained, faded hues will give way to vivid, vibrant colors, tastelessness will be replaced with flavor and tang. For very little effort, you will have fresh, crunchy vegetables and juicy, sweet, zesty fruits that will keep twice as long. With the cleansing soak, the flavors of both fruits and vegetables will be enhanced greatly, tasting as fresh as if they had just been picked from the garden and the orchard. Most important, once cleansed, all the dangerous additives in the food will have been removed. (Healer, page 154)
Dr. Parcells recommended a 10 to 15 minute soaking time for thicker-skinned produce like citrus fruits, apples, and bananas. Also, for root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and turnips.
She advocated a 5 to 10 minute soaking time for thinner-skinned produce like peaches, plums, berries, and leafy vegetables.
After the soaking time, place produce in a fresh water rinse for 5 minutes. Then drain well before storing in the refrigerator.
I decided to give Dr. Parcells' cleaning method a try…
How Bleach + Water Worked For Me
I have a large, double-bowl farmhouse sink, so I filled one side with about 3 gallons of water and 1 tablespoon of Clorox bleach and the other side with plain, fresh water. I pulled out some days-old broccoli and kale from the fridge and placed them in the bleach water.
After following the recommended 5-minute soaking time, I also swished the greens around to dislodge dirt.
I then transferred both vegetables to the other side of the sink and let them soak there. I also swished and swirled them around to wash off any remaining bleach water.
As soon as I removed the greens to a clean cloth to dry, I noticed that the kale was crisper and the broccoli greener. The kale had begun to wilt in the fridge — but it perked right back up!
Those 2 veggies lasted nearly 3 weeks in my fridge before I finally used them up. I personally don't eat raw broccoli or kale as I have hypothyroidism, but my daughter loves raw broccoli stems. She never complained that the broccoli tasted funny, so I assume that any traces of bleach water were completely washed away.
I have used this bleach and water soaking method a few more times in my kitchen, each time with great results.
Isn't Bleach Poison??
Yes, it is.
I approached this method with caution, using no more than the amount of bleach recommended and vigorously swirling my produce in the clean water afterwards. However, I like what Dr. Parcells said when a man exclaimed “But bleach is a poison!”
“Yes, and a spoonful of whiskey won't kill you — but a quart might.”
If you try this cleansing soak for your produce, use ONLY 1 teaspoon of Clorox (no other brand was promoted by Dr. Parcells) bleach to 1 gallon of water. Follow the recommended soaking times, and rinse everything thoroughly in clean water.
If this method isn't for you, not to worry! I understand that bleach is not eco-friendly and can be harmful to humans and animals in large enough doses. I've got 2 more great, very natural options for you.
Option 2: Hydrogen Peroxide + Water
Hydrogen peroxide is nature's bleach. It whitens and brightens many things — such as your teeth, your hair, your tile grout, or your husband's yellow armpit stains on his undershirts!
The food-grade 3% solution sold at every grocery store, drug store, and dollar store is non-toxic. It's also the type I recommend as an alternative to the bleach and water option above.
This option is my preferred method for washing our produce, as peroxide is effective at killing many harmful microbes, including E. coli!
I took the following photos after I washed produce in a hydrogen peroxide + water soak. As you can see — bug clusters and lots and lots of dirt. There's also a filmy residue on top of the water that the camera doesn't show.
How To Wash Produce With Hydrogen Peroxide + Water
Fill your sink, a bucket, or a tub — whichever is easiest for you — with cold water. The colder, the better. Add about 1 tablespoon of peroxide per 1 gallon of water. In my sink, I use about a 1/4 cup.
If you have a double-sided sink, fill the other side up with fresh, cold water. If you don't have a double-sided sink, that's all right too.
Add your produce to the hydrogen peroxide + water mixture, and immerse it completely. Swirl it around, turn it over, splash it around a bit — this is actually a perfect job for your children to do if they love playing in sinkfuls of water like mine do! Remove any store stickers, browned or soft leaves, and moldy, soft berries immediately.
After 10 minutes or so, transfer everything to the clean water. Let it soak, again swirling and swishing it around to thoroughly rinse everything. If you don't have a double-sided sink, just drain the peroxide mix and refill with fresh, cold water.
After rinsing, transfer the produce to a clean, dry towel and let it air dry.
Store as you normally would, either in a bowl on the counter, in your pantry, or in your refrigerator. I find that the hydrogen peroxide kills pathogens, bacteria, and mold almost as well as the bleach mixture. My produce still lasts a long time.
Option 3: White Vinegar + Water
Rinse and soak your produce with white vinegar and water the same way you would with hydrogen peroxide.
Use approximately 1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 1 gallon of very cold water. Soak your produce for a few minutes, swish and swirl, then rinse with clean water. Drain, dry, and store as usual.
I've read mixed reviews on vinegar's efficacy as a disinfectant. Some sources say it kills many microbial organisms, while others say it's not nearly as effective as peroxide and/or bleach. Vinegar is not a “registered” disinfectant, meaning the EPA hasn't listed it as an official disinfecting cleaner that kills harmful bacteria such as E. coli or staphylococcus.
If you are set on using vinegar as your produce cleaner and want to be sure that the bad stuff is killed, your best bet is to use a 5% solution that is not diluted with water. Simply spray it directly on your produce, let it sit for a few minutes, and then rinse it off.
Vinegar is very good at removing the waxes or “films” on produce like apples. It is even more effective at this than either bleach or peroxide.
Other Tips And Tidbits
Use a scrub brush. You may find it helpful to buy a scrub brush for produce like potatoes, mushrooms, or dirty root vegetables. You don't need to buy a fancy scrubber made specifically for produce — any soft-bristled scrub brush will do, provided you use it for produce only and not to scrub dishes or the toilet! 😉
Invest in a salad spinner. A salad spinner is such a time-saver when drying leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale. I got mine for $5 at Ikea over 5 years ago, and it's still going strong. If your family eats a lot of leafy veggies, this is a worthy investment.
The “seven waters” cleaning method. I have a cookbook from the 1920s which recommends washing spinach, kale, and other leafy greens in “seven waters”. I understand this to mean that these greens were washed 7 times, changing the water each time, before considered clean! That's how dirty produce could be from almost a hundred years ago, before pesticides!
Separate moldy or bruised produce. Keep all bruised produce away from your other produce, even after washing, and use it first in smoothies, casseroles, or for juicing. Throw away any moldy produce as soon as you get it home from the store or market. Your other produce will last much longer. Have you ever had a lemon grown blue-green mold on the skin, even when stored in the refrigerator? Not one of my lemons has spoiled that way since I started soaking and washing with the above methods!
Wash first. If your family goes through a lot of produce each week like mine, I highly recommend washing all of it as soon as you get it home from the store. Make it your routine to take 20 to 30 minutes after getting home from the store, and prep all of your produce. This saves time later! You can also enlist children to do this for you, which is what I typically do!
Wear rubber gloves when cleaning with bleach. If you choose the bleach option, please protect your skin. And don't let your kiddos help you out on this particular task.
Cooking is the only way to 100% kill E. coli, staph, or salmonella on produce. If you plan on eating it raw, your best bet is to buy local and organic or grow your own, even if you wash it thoroughly.
Soak all of your produce! Even if you plan to peel it later (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, even bananas!), I recommend you wash all of your produce. These soaking solutions really do keep produce fresh for longer.
Use cold water. For all three options, your soaking and rinsing water should be as cold as possible. This keeps the produce very crisp and fresh.
So far, the only produce I haven't soaked and rinsed are onions and garlic. I'm not sure how the thin skins would react to being drenched with water. If you try it, let me know how it works!
Which of these ways to wash produce will you try first?
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