Your fruits and vegetables are dirtier than your hands! What to do.

In light of the current E-Coli scare currently taking place in Germany, it seems poignant to discuss the cleanliness or lack thereof of the produce we purchase. This could have happened anywhere in the world and it does. To date, there are about 18 deaths in this latest outbreak and approximately 1800 very sick individuals. The outbreak of illness is concentrated mainly in the northern half of Germany; however, there is fear that the outbreak may spread, because there is no clear evidence as to the origin of the contaminated vegetables.

If you really think about it, the vegetables and fruits we see at the stores, produce stands, and out door farmer's markets are dirtier than our very own hands. They can contain pesticides, bacteria, germs, and contaminated water and soil. Think of this, imagine how many people have touched that head of lettuce or tomato you purchased at the store today. Some may have been fighting a cold or the flu. Others may not have properly washed their hands. Something to ponder.

With the global economy becoming more and more intertwined, it's difficult to know the origins of the fruits and vegetables we eat, unless of course we ask. The safest assumption we can make is that no matter if it's locally grown or imported, it's probably got some contaminants. We need to know how to wash them and thereby minimizing the exposure.

Although we can't completely protect ourselves from every last microbe that hitches a ride home with us, there are simple things that we can do to make sure they know they're not welcomed. Vegetables and fruits with a skin that you will peel should be thoroughly washed before peeling - even oranges. Let's face it, if you touched it with your hands and then peel, you've just transferred any contaminants to the edible part. Wash the fruit or vegetable before peeling. That melon you love and are going to slice a wedge out, WASH IT before you cut into it. How about the avocado? Wash it before you slice it in half. Whatever you are going to prepare to eat, peeled or unpeeled, just wash it first. Doing so will minimize your exposure.

There are a number of different products on the market today that helps sterilize your fruits and vegetables. The only thing you're going to get generally is a product that will not work any better than a simple teaspoon of bleach to a quart of water. So keeping it simple, just soak what you're going to eat in the bleach/water solution in a large bowl for about 15 minutes. Once done, be sure to rinse thoroughly. While you're at the sink, don't forget to wash your hands very well. I've also heard that adding a fine grain salt to water will help kill some bacteria.

With all that said, washing or rinsing will only get rid of surface contaminants. Any internal contaminants will not be affected unless of course you are going to cook it. In that case, there's really no need to go through the steps above. Above all, there is no need to become a fanatic about all this. Some of you may simply rinse (as I do), while others will purchase food cleaning solutions or bleach. Just use your common sense, rinse items once you get them home, don't let vegetables and fruits sit around for an extended period, keep your fridge temperature at the recommended level, separate and throw away any that are spoiling or rotting, and always use clean hands. Spending more of your time enjoying your purchase than worrying about it is the ultimate goal.


  1. Excellent advice (even if I don't always remember to follow it myself). Scares like the one in Germany at least have the sliver lining of bringing home the importance of washing our vegetables.

  2. This is such great advice! It seems so simple, but always surprises me how many people I know that don't wash their fruits and veggies.

  3. The scare reminds me of our local ones -- and although I always wash (rinse) fruits and vegetables - I don't tend to with bagged salads - and I really should.

  4. The most scary part of some of these vegetable based e coli scares is that many times, the e coli is inside the vegetable or herb, not on the surface. Raw foodists are becoming more numerous and they are particularly vulnerable to this kind of contamination.