Washing produce: 30 seconds is not too much to ask.

Somewhere out there, someone is blow-drying a vegetable.

In an age where elected officials tweet photos of their underwear, this may not surprise you.  I learned about it in the check-out line at Target last weekend when I asked the woman in front of me why she was buying two identical dryers.

(Take-away lesson here: Don’t ask someone about their dual blow-dryer buy if  you aren’t prepared for some mean stares from shoppers in back of you.)

To be precise, anyone using a dryer on lettuce is using a “cool” setting, but writing about “blow-cooling” would take too much explaining and the search engines would never find it.

Now, with E coli on the rampage in Germany, the question of best methods for washing fruit and vegetables is serious stuff.  Avoiding the tainted culprits of the moment only works for so long.  Today sprouts, tomorrow spinach or strawberries. That 2-second rinse under the cold water isn’t going to cut it.  (And according to the USDA, even washing doesn’t make contaminated sprouts safe. If you can’t cook ’em, pass ’em up.)

There’s long been a niche market for “vegetable wash” – bottled organic solutions, usually including some of the following: lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, water.  And there are plenty of references online for making your own cleaning brew. Even the media darling Dr. Oz has a recipe. His segment on The Dirtiest Fruit & Vegetables emphasized pesticide dangers, but the concerns fit the E coli outbreak too.

Kathy Egan, the Food Watchdog’s dietitian-on-call, says the best solution may be the least complicated: “If a person is concerned about oily residues — VERY diluted non-toxic soap and water is the best way to clean produce,” she explains.  Egan says the ingredients in the wash-solution are less important than the physical act of loosening any bad stuff and then sluicing it off with water.

The FDA advice that plenty of water is adequate is not wrong, she says.  For soft, very porous produce, like strawberries, water alone is absolutely the way to go. But for other produce, we in the instant-message world are too impatient to always make rinsing work well.

Photo from FindMeACure.com

“The standard is 30 seconds of rinsing,” she says. “Next time you have fruit or veggies in a colander, time the wash. You’ll be surprised how long that 30 seconds really is.” She opts for a smidgen of soap and a lot of water.

Subscribers to this approach advocate for using plain Ivory (Spell the word after me: D-I-L-U-T-E) or Dr. Bronner’s Magic Pure Castile Classic Soap. (Read the label. yes, the print is tiny.)

A clever Ask the Experts/Ask Mom piece by NPR remains a classic on this subject, and is back as a Google-beloved site, no doubt due to the Germany situation. The Mom side of the mix was in Egan’s camp: No need to buy those fancy washes, but don’t skimp on the water. Pay attention to cutting boards, counters and other implements. That lettuce-spinner needs washing too.

And, it seems glaringly obvious, but: Wash Your Hands. Even produce without E coli has been through a lot of handlers before it gets into your kitchen. And you’re not a pristine operator either there, Dear Reader. No offense.


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