How to Safely Wash and Store Your Fruits and Vegetables

Follow these five simple tips to keep your produce bacteria-free.

After this summer’s E. coli outbreak forced salad-lovers to toss their romaine, the risk of foodborne illnesses has been pushed into the limelight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leafy greens cause about one-fifth of all foodborne illnesses; since these vegetables are rarely cooked, they become more susceptible to retaining bacteria, says James Dickerson, Consumer Reports’ chief scientist. To keep your family safe from food poisoning, stick to these methods of cleaning and storing your fruits and vegetables.

Rinse Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Run your produce, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, under lukewarm tap water to wash away any dirt and bacteria. If you’re cleaning lettuce, remove the few outer leaves and use your sink’s spray nozzle to wash away any hidden dirt. However, packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat” or “washed” don’t need to be washed again, as doing so may increase the chance of cross-contamination.

Skip the Chemicals

Don’t use soap, bleach, or detergent to wash fruits and vegetables, as they aren’t made for consumption and may hurt your health. While expensive produce-specific sprays seem like they’d do the best job of removing lingering gunk, warm water will do the trick.

Wash Your Hands

Give your hands a good scrubbing both before you handle food and after you take a break, whether it be to use your cell phone or the restroom. A recent study found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies on high school students' cell phones, so it’s a good idea to wash your hands after sending that “be ready for dinner at 7” text.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

If you’re fixing a chicken Caesar salad, use a different cutting board to slice the raw chicken than the one used to chop the romaine. Use a colander when rinsing your produce so it doesn’t come in contact with bacteria from your sink, says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, and Food Safety Consultant, and don’t rinse meat in the sink — the juices from the raw meat can splatter all over the counter, making it easy for bacteria to come in contact with any food in the area.

Keep It Cool

Lettuce needs to be stored at or below 41°F, especially once it’s cut, to prevent the growth of bacterial pathogens, so pop the head or bag into the fridge as soon as you’re done with it.

Tips provided by California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.


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