Produce: ‘Washing it good enough is going to maybe reduce the risk’

“People get ill,” says Ted Labuza, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota. “If you really want to reduce your chances, washing it good enough is going to maybe reduce the risk.”

lettuce.skull.e.coli.O145Labuza says people should scrub, rather than rinse, their fruits and vegetables for 30 seconds.

“It should really be to one rhyme of Mary Had a Little Lamb,” he says.

In this video from the University of Minnesota Extension, the difference between a quick rinse and deep wash with your hands is dramatic.

“The friction is scraping it off, but you don’t want to scrape it off so much that you’re damaging the fruits and vegetables,” Labuza says.

He says a good wash will remove about 90% of the bacteria. For most healthy people, that’s enough to avoid getting sick from a variety of food-borne illnesses, like E. coli, salmonella and listeria. Older people and children are generally at greater risk.

Studies have shown that water and friction offers a similar clean to commercial vegetable washes or diluted vinegar.

But, in rare cases, the best cleaning won’t help. For example, leafy fruits and vegetables that have been irrigated with bacteria-infected water can be dangerous.

“We do know with things like lettuce and spinach, sometimes the bacteria crawls up through the channels and nothing is going to work there,” Labuza says.

  • JPO

    So, a 1 log reduction of bacteria on the surface of a product is enough to ” avoid getting sick from a variety of food-borne illnesses, like E. coli, salmonella and listeria.”

    According to the Bad Bug Book, the infectious dose of organisms required to cause disease is really quite low for many of the illnesses noted.

    Additionally, many fruits and vegetables aren’t exactly “easily cleanable surfaces”. The reason that people got listeriosis from candy apples is the fact that the stem-end of the apple (where the stick is inserted) is exceedingly difficult to clean, even using commercial fruit washing equipment.

    Still, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

  • mlb

    Leafy fruit?? LOL, What is a leafy fruit?