According to food safety experts.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement

When it comes to washing produce, it's always better to be safe than sorry. The CDC estimates that there are nearly 50 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. every year. While not all of those could have been prevented by the consumer, we can certainly be proactive in protecting our households against listeria, salmonella, and other related illnesses. 

We asked two food safety experts about the top types of produce that consumers are most likely to skip out on washing before consuming, plus how to properly wash them to keep your kitchen food safe. We spoke with award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., F.A.N.D. and Britanny Saunier, who is the executive director of Partnership for Food Safety Education.

"Every fresh produce item should be rinsed unless it is in a package that states the item has been pre-washed," says Saunier. Amidor says you don't need any special product to wash your produce with, be it bleach, soap, or a fancy fruit and vegetable wash, you just need clean, running water. Finally, be sure to dry your newly washed produce with a clean dish cloth or a paper towel to finish up the cleaning process and further protect it from later contamination.

Additionally, our food safety experts share that it's important to properly wash our hands (20 seconds under warm water) before and after washing produce. While this might sound unnecessary, it's important that you don't contaminate the produce or let all your work washing a fruit or veggie go to waste by transferring the bacteria from your hands in the next step of preparation.

Saunier and Amidor share the top types of produce that consumers are most likely to skip out on washing before consuming, plus how to properly wash them to keep your kitchen food safe. 

Woman Washing Potatoes
Credit: Getty Images

Avocaodos

A common misconception about avocados is that they don't need to be washed because you usually toss the skins. However, Amidor says it's important to always wash your avocados since "they have crevices in their exteriors that trap dirt and bacteria can live there." She advises washing them prior to slicing. 

Potatoes

Even if you'll be serving peeled potatoes for dinner, it's still important to follow expert guidance about washing every fresh produce item. Amidor says that bacteria on the potato skins can transfer to your peeler or knife, which could end up on the parts of the potatoes you are consuming. Saunier and the Partnership for Food Safety Education advise rubbing firm-skinned produce by hand or scrubbing with a clean brush under running water to ensure a fruit or veggie as clean as possible before preparing—yes, even if you are going to peel it!

Melon

Melon is another food that's not commonly washed, as it has a thick rind, however, it still needs to be cleaned. Follow the Partnership for Food Safety Education's protocol mentioned above before whipping up a batch of watermelon margaritas or our sweet and salty Melon, Mozzarella, and Prosciutto Skewers. Amidor recommends using a stiff-bristled brush to get all the nooks and crannies. 

Fresh Herbs

While fresh herbs, even the ones growing in your culinary garden, may seem plenty clean or too delicate to wash, it's still important to remove any excess dirt. Run your herbs under water then wrap your bunch up in a towel or pat to dry. Find out the best way to store fresh herbs to ensure they have a long, fragrant life. 

Citrus

This one's for you, lemon water lovers. Whether you're plopping a slice—rind and all—in a glass or pitcher, juicing fresh oranges, or squeezing a few lime wedges over your favorite shrimp tacos, all citrus should be washed prior to use, per our experts' advice. Plus, lemons are often sold with waxed rinds, which can affect the ability to expel aromas and flavor needed for a given recipe. 

Cabbage and Lettuces

While this one isn't as surprising as the others, lettuce and cabbage are not always washed properly. Amidor says that it's important to remove the outermost leaves before washing cabbage (or other lettuces, for that matter) to ensure that it will be thoroughly cleaned of bacteria and extra dirt before preparation. The only exception is pre-washed greens, as both Saunier and Amidor say that re-washing these items can actually increase the risk of cross-contamination at home.