How to wash organic produce
Photo: Jeff Padrick

You’re eating more fruits and vegetables because they’re good for you. And you’re buying organic because that’s good for your body and the environment, right? Yes, as long as you wash your produce correctly before you eat it.

Although buying organic does reduce exposure to the harmful chemicals and pesticides found in conventionally farmed produce, the label does not guarantee contaminant-free fruits and vegetables. According to a 2002 study, organically grown food contains up to one-third as much pesticide residue as conventionally grown food (Food Additives and Contaminants, 2002, vol. 19, no. 5), due to drift from conventional farms, as well as contaminated soil.

Luckily, washing produce can help eliminate most pesticide residue. Here are related tips from Ann Arbor, Michigan-based nutritionist Nelda Mercer, RD.

Choose organic whenever possible. Although organic produce can have pesticide residue, it still has far less than conventional fruits and vegetables. If you must buy conventional, use the wallet guide at www.foodnews.org/reportcard.php to choose the “cleanest” conventional fruits and vegetables. Use a produce wash. Biodegradable, nontoxic produce washes containing ingredients derived from natural sources, such as baking soda and citric acid, can help remove more chemicals than water alone. In lieu of prepared produce washes, you can make your own: Mix vinegar and water in equal proportions, or put 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 1 cup water in a spray bottle.

Practice different methods for different types of produce. Place smaller, more delicate fruits and vegetables, such as berries and grapes, in a colander, spray with produce wash, let the wash sit for a few minutes, and then rinse with cool water. To clean leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, break apart the bunch and spray and rinse each leaf individually. Wax-coated and less fragile produce should be washed in warm water, sprayed with produce wash, brushed briskly, and rinsed again under warm running water.

Soak dirty produce for five minutes. Some fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens and broccoli, need to soak in a cool bath of vinegar and water for about five minutes to ensure all contaminated surfaces have been reached.

After soaking, rinse your produce thoroughly with cold water.

—Christine Spehar