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Old 06-23-2019, 08:01 PM
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Does washing fruit actually do anything?


Yesterday I was sitting down on a bench on the street, and a teenager walked by me eating blueberries out of a carton that she had obviously just bought at the grocery store next door. My parents always told me I'd get sick if I ate fruit or vegetables without washing them, so I'm wondering

1) I'm assuming the theoretical possibility is there to get sick from something on fresh produce is there, but how likely is it anyway?

2) Does the type of washing we did, just run them under a faucet briefly, actually do anything or would you need to thoroughly scrub them?

3) The food poisoning issues you hear about now and then from Taco Bell onions or just about anything at Chipotle or McDonald's salads, are those caused by them not washing the produce?

4) Does it change anything if the produce is from the U.S. or from Chile or Mexico or some such place?

Last edited by Mdcastle; 06-23-2019 at 08:03 PM.
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Old 06-23-2019, 08:45 PM
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A lot depends on what happens in the field between planting and harvest.

What sort of fertilizer is used? Animal waste - including human - can make good fertilizer but if not properly treated can also spread disease.

What sort of sanitation is provided for workers in the field? Do they have access to toilets or do they just piss and shit in the fields? Regrettably, the latter is more common than I think most people would want, and that applies regardless of where the food is grown - there are US farmers who won't provide toilets for farm workers unless forced to do so. Needless to say, using a row of vegetables as a toilet can spread disease.

Running water over farm produce can remove surface dirt and things like bird turds but can not guarantee removal of things like E. coli. It reduces bacteria and pesticides but does not eliminate all risk.

As for what country it comes from... there are good and bad producers everywhere. There is also the issue of what happens in transport (rodent and insect infestations, proper vs. improper temperatures, etc.) and even in the grocery store (more critters, cross-contamination by careless workers, other customers sneezing/coughing/touching with dirty hands...)

So yes, it's better to wash your stuff than not, although most of the time you probably can get away with eating stuff without washing it. The problem being that one time you can't get away with it and get horribly ill. Which can happen no matter how careful you are. It's about reducing risk.
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Old 06-23-2019, 09:08 PM
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You can generally not wash any produce and probably not have anything bad happen to you. But most packages of fruit will instruct the user to wash the produce before "use", so I generally take that to mean that you're better off washing it than not. I can't put any particular value on the likelihood of something bad happening to you if you don't wash it, but they aren't putting those instructions on the packaging because they're in league with Big Water.
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Old 06-23-2019, 09:41 PM
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A few years ago I bought some fresh baby carrots and some radishes from the West Allis Farmers Market. They looked just fine so I ate them. Had done it that way for over 50 years.







I got so goddamned sick. I felt like I was going to die and was afraid I wouldn’t. I don't Know which vegetable it was that made me sick. But a couple hours after eating them both came violently out in the form of projectile vomitus.

From then on I always wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them. Better to be overly safe then hugging a toilet bowl!
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Old 06-23-2019, 09:52 PM
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We have rat lungworm here on the Big Island.That's a good reason to wash all the local produce. You might ingest a tiny snail larva or some slime without knowing it.
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Old 06-24-2019, 12:43 AM
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I'm guilty of eating grapes right out of the produce bag.

Am I supposed to wash each one with a Q Tip?

My wife takes the entire bunch and squirts with the sink sprayer. Sets them in the dish drainer. That seems to be the only practical way to rinse them.

I fill a large bowl with water and swish strawberries in to rinse. Set on paper towels to dry.

I'm not convinced that does much but at least I tried.

I do scrub Cantaloupe with a brush and soapy water. Rinse and then slice.

Last edited by aceplace57; 06-24-2019 at 12:47 AM.
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Old 06-24-2019, 03:50 AM
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Depends on the fruit- some robust fruit like apples are thoroughly washed at the packhouse to remove fungus spores and extend the shelf life(maybe not if you're buying straight from a farm), but blueberries and other berries don't even get rinsed to get the crap off before you buy, they're too delicate to last once they've been washed.

Having done a bit of fruit picking in Australia and New Zealand , I will note that workers having access to toilet facilities is only half the point- they're getting piece rates, so trekking through the field costs time, hence money. We had a toilet and hand washing facilities, but I think I was the only one using them. In that case, no big deal as the apples were going to be basically disinfected before being sold anyway, but I wouldn't place any bets on the berry growers being more careful.
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Old 06-24-2019, 03:51 AM
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The biggest issue is pesticide residues on the fruit. This is more common than most people think.

Washing briefly under a tap will reduce any remaining pesticide on the fruit.... however...

EWG's 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Quote:
Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, according to EWG’s analysis of test data from the Department of Agriculture for our 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. ...

Overall, the USDA found 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day. Before testing, all produce was washed and peeled, just as people would prepare food for themselves, which shows that simple washing does not remove all pesticides.
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Old 06-24-2019, 07:12 AM
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Almost certainly there are pesticide residues on all fruit ncluding "organic" produce.

The question is whether the amount makes any health difference, and whether washing meaningfully reduces those trace levels.
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Old 06-24-2019, 08:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackmannii View Post
Almost certainly there are pesticide residues on all fruit ncluding "organic" produce.

The question is whether the amount makes any health difference, and whether washing meaningfully reduces those trace levels.
The National Pesticide Information Center says:

Quote:
These tips will help you reduce pesticide residues (as well as dirt and bacteria) on the food you eat:
  • First, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize the potential of increased exposure to a single pesticide.
  • Thoroughly wash all produce, even that which is labeled organic and that which you plan to peel.
  • Wash your produce under running water rather than soaking or dunking it.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel when possible.
  • Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, like melons and root vegetables.
  • Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage.
  • Peel fruits and vegetables when possible.
  • Trim fat and skin from meat, poultry, and fish to minimize pesticide residue that may accumulate in the fat.
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Old 06-24-2019, 08:55 AM
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A lot of grocery stores have sprayers in the display cases, that periodically spray down the produce. If all you're doing is running your vegetables under the sink, you're probably not doing anything the sprayers haven't already done.
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Old 06-24-2019, 08:57 AM
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So most produce has the bulk of surface harmful substances removed from them before they reach the store and the amount left is of low risk, especially to those not at special high risk (immunocompromised, etc.). Rinsing before eating can presumably take something very low risk and make it marginally lower. Okay, I got that. Easy enough to do most of the time. I also understand that there are few sporadic cases and that most cases of food borne illness associated with produce come in outbreaks with breakdowns in the chain before it gets to the consumer.

Questions though.

The op specifies outbreaks at fast food places ... presumptively these originated with contamination at a source before getting to the stores. And presumptively those stores have protocols to rinse produce as part of its prep process, yes? So how effective are those methods if they don't protect when there is a breakdown and food is contaminated from some common source?
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:02 AM
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I use a vegetable wash like this in my house. It's a surfactant (like soap) but I don't know if it really does any good.
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:10 AM
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I try to get as much fruit/veggies as possible from our neighbor's farm. I do not wash fruit/veggies prior to use.
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:14 AM
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Does washing fruit actually do anything?


I think the answer depends in part on where you live and the status of your immune system. For people with HIV or on immunosuppressive therapy (say, after a transplant or as part of treatment for things like leukemia), there is a risk of acquiring serious illness from eating contaminated fruit or vegetables.

But, if you are generally healthy and live in a 'well developed' country, the risk in eating unwashed produce is pretty minimal. One possible exception may have to do with salads (or even apple juice!) where several outbreaks of diarrheal illnesses due to contamination by cryptosporidium and related parasites have been reported to occur in otherwise healthy individuals. But this is actually very rare and when it does occur is a self-limited disease (i.e. you will get better despite the doctor).
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
I try to get as much fruit/veggies as possible from our neighbor's farm. I do not wash fruit/veggies prior to use.
Which is funny because I'd think that produce, not subject to washing and decontamination protocols, is the produce most likely to have the literal ground shit on it and most in need of washing before eating, if any is.
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
A lot of grocery stores have sprayers in the display cases, that periodically spray down the produce. If all you're doing is running your vegetables under the sink, you're probably not doing anything the sprayers haven't already done.
Those are misters, not sprayers. And I've only ever seen them used on leafy vegetables.
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Old 06-24-2019, 09:52 AM
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Some pesticides (not all) are systemic -- that is, they're taken up by the plant and will be all through it, not just on the surface.

The issue isn't only contamination in the field and during harvest; it's also all the way through the food chain. If you buy at the farmers' market, then the possibilites are in the field, during harvest, and from other customers at that market who may have picked up items and then set them down again. If you buy at the grocery, then it's all the above plus possible contamination at the packing house, anywhere along the transport chain which may go through multiple places and vehicles, and by grocery workers. (The produce rinsed down by the grocery's misters may have been handled just before you bought it by another customer, and may also pick something up in the checkout line from the belt or the clerk.)

Labels etc. that say to wash before eating may be legal coverage, either against possible lawsuits and/or against state regulations -- NY State, at any rate, gets very indignant if you sell produce as washed-ready-to-eat unless it's been through a 20C licensed facility and not repacked since except in another such.

It's difficult to be sure what caused any particular case of illness without testing the remains of the food, because the incubation period for some contaminants and also for some illnesses which cause digestive system problems can be multiple hours up to several days. The meal eaten just before somebody pukes may or may not be the one responsible for the problem.

Washing the produce, as others have said, reduces risk but can't eliminate it entirely. And, again as others have said, the state of your immune system is a factor. I'll add that different people also have different sensitivity to pesticides, and that most people are picking them up from multiple sources and it's the total load that may be an issue.
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Old 06-24-2019, 10:04 AM
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I tell this here all the time, but this keeps coming up so I'll tell it again.

Regardless of what happens to it in the field, you still want to wash your produce.

I worked at Safeway for 12 years, a few of them in produce. The orders came in on a pallet stacked 8 feet high and the pallets were usually not stacked in an intelligent manner; the warehouse pickers loaded stuff on it in whatever order they picked it, with little to no regard for weight or support. They wrapped the whole thing up in plastic wrap to hold it together just long enough to get it on the truck (when they're done with it). Once on the truck, these poorly stacked pallets frequently fell over, or while unloading the pallet from the truck, or while putting the pallet into the walk-in, and when they did, we'd have produce everywhere. All over the truck, all over the floor, all over the walk-in. Those trucks were used for both produce and dairy and they were fucking filthy. The backroom floor wasn't exactly pristine, either. And when we had produce strewn about everywhere, we just scooped it up with a snow shovel we kept for exactly that reason and dumped them right back in their boxes, then straight from the boxes onto the stands. Except for the lettuce and greens which went into a cold water bath, nothing was cleaned at the store. Nothing.

The point is, you don't know where that thing has been. If you dropped an apple on your kitchen floor, you'd probably at least rinse it off before eating it (or maybe you wouldn't, I don't know; I would).

Wash your produce.
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Old 06-24-2019, 03:11 PM
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I think everybody is over-thinking this but that's a good thing because we're discussing good hygiene protocols and other interesting stuff. But I think the answer to the OP is simple.

Does washing fruit actually do anything?

Yes.

Running clean water over produce, no matter how briefly or incompetently it is done, removes a non-zero amount of foreign debris from the fruit/veggie. The debris removed may or may not have been harmful but the rinsing itself can not add any risk of disease (provided it is clean water), it can only reduce it.
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Old 06-24-2019, 05:13 PM
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When I was a kid almost all of our produce, and most of our fruit, came from our own crops or those of another relative/neighbor. That's when it was drilled into me to wash everything. It could be anything from pesticides to stray dog urine to bird poop to plain old dust that you're washing off.

Even now, when I only grow tomatoes and peppers(and oranges, but that's different), I still wash everything for the same reasons.

Supermarket produce can still be dusty if the stuff you buy was in a carton on the top of a pallet, or get cigar ash from some guy on a loading dock, or mouse pee, or a booger from some grubby kid whose mother isn't watching him in the store.

Is it absolutely necessary? Of course not, and I wouldn't turn down an unrinsed strawberry or ten, but as a general rule it's good to do. Oh, and the spray/mist they use in produce departments doesn't rinse anything except incidentally - it's just to make what's on the top layer stay fresh-looking, glossy, and appealing to shoppers.
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Old 06-26-2019, 03:20 AM
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Sure, the fruts must be washed before eating, I guess the water is washed all dirts and microbes) Probaly, I can be mistaken)
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Old 06-26-2019, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
A lot of grocery stores have sprayers in the display cases, that periodically spray down the produce. If all you're doing is running your vegetables under the sink, you're probably not doing anything the sprayers haven't already done.
I HATE those things; I don't need a shower when I'm in the produce section.
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Old 06-26-2019, 11:27 AM
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I just picked some green beans from the garden the other day.

No pesticides to worry about but they definitely needed a bit of a wash. Some dirt and cruft here and there. Did it while "snapping" them. I've been washing off garden produce for most of my life so it's ingrained.

I can't imagine not doing this regardless of source.
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Old 06-26-2019, 11:40 AM
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Rat lungworm?

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Old 06-26-2019, 12:09 PM
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In his memoir, Lenny Bruce described picking produce one summer with migrant workers on Long Island. The outhouse wasn't conveniently near. Long story short, he became a strong believer in rinsing your fruits and vegetables, always.

Last edited by Horatio Hellpop; 06-26-2019 at 12:10 PM.
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Old 06-28-2019, 11:04 AM
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Wow awesome question. I usually just run my fruit under cold water,but I think I will start washing it more thoroughly now. Is there something I can wash fruit with other than water?
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Old 06-28-2019, 11:44 AM
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Rat lungworm?

*cough*
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Old 06-28-2019, 01:44 PM
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Wow awesome question. I usually just run my fruit under cold water,but I think I will start washing it more thoroughly now. Is there something I can wash fruit with other than water?
There are vegetable washes. Here's one I believe is made by Proctor and Gamble (AKA Proctor and God to those of us in Cincinnati).

I've never used one. My family used to own a small fruit and vegetable shop and while we never had pallets of vegetables on the floor as described above, I would still wash everything with water.
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Old 06-28-2019, 01:58 PM
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Quote:
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There are vegetable washes. Here's one I believe is made by Proctor and Gamble (AKA Proctor and God to those of us in Cincinnati).

I've never used one. My family used to own a small fruit and vegetable shop and while we never had pallets of vegetables on the floor as described above, I would still wash everything with water.
What's up fellow Cincinnatian!
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