How do you wash your vegetables?
March 12, 2018 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I recently had a discussion with my extended family about how to properly prep veggies for cooking that made me want to get further opinions on this.

So how do you clean and prep your veggies? Do you chop them before or after? Do you just rinse with water or soak in salt or vinegar? I used to use a veggie wash spray but stopped when I read that it doesn't really work. I also feel like I never get my mushrooms truly clean but don't have the patience to scrub every single one.
posted by massofintuition to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Rinse vegetables and pretty much all fruits I forget to wash.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:03 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]

Cook’s Illustrated says 3:1 water to vinegar killed 98% of bacteria in their tests. Maine disagrees. I put mushrooms in a colander and rub them around until the dirt is off. I don’t really soak anything, just give it a good swish/rinse. Another take.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 6:05 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

I am wildly obsessive about food safety, and if I'm feeling more obsessive than usual, I will rinse something under cold, running water for 20 seconds, while sort of rubbing it all over with a clean hand. There's no scientific basis to this, I just figure 20 seconds under running water with some gentle scrubbing will be pretty effective. Looking at the UMaine link, it sounds like I've got more or less the right idea.

I never, ever use detergent or any kind of a chemical rinse. I've heard they don't really do anything, and you're just as likely to introduce a residue as you are to wash off a microbe.

I chop after rinsing, my probably-crazy-person logic being that the skin is less porous than the interior, and I'd rather just wash that than risk spreading microbes over more surfaces. Anyway, it's easier to rinse one thing than many pieces of it.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:14 PM on March 12 [8 favorites]

Wash first. Anything on the skin (which is designed to protect the interior) will transfer to the interior via the knife.
posted by kapers at 6:30 PM on March 12 [12 favorites]

I just rinse with water and scrub away visible dirt and grit. I chop after rinsing, especially if I'm eating it raw because somehow in my mind I think I'd introduce the germs in the dirt on the skin to the interior of the veggies if I don't rinse.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:35 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I wash everything first. With the exception of ice berg lettuce...which may change. Recently, while visiting a friend, I watched her clean each leaf of a head of ice berg lettuce. My practice prior, had been to strip off the outermost layers and assume everything else was clean.

With mushrooms, I use a damp paper towel to wipe off all visible dirt chunks and then hope for the best in the cooking process. I behave similarly when it comes to cooking broccoli. I rinse it off, but the water doesn't seem to really penetrate the crowns.

I chop all veggies after washing/rinsing.

I only use water to clean my vegetables.

If you don't have a salad spinner, get one for your leafy greens. You will be impressed by what is removed from just a quick rinse in cold water and a vigorous spin in the device.
posted by JennyJupiter at 6:36 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I only wash things with visible dirt. So, potatoes get a quick rinse or a hand swipe, leeks get the cut and swish, because they're usually filthy, and anything else that looks like I can actually see soil gets a quick rinse. I basically rarely bother.
posted by annabear at 6:36 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]

kapers has it. Wash first.

I'm 1000X's more worried about pesticide residue than microbes. I try to buy pesticide free and avoid fruit and veg that normally tests high for pesticides, then I wash everything under running water.

I rarely wash mushrooms, tbh. A quick rinse if they have growing medium attached is the most effort I'll spend. You can soak them in a large bowl or sink full of water, letting the debris fall to the bottom and scooping the floating mushrooms out of the water. That said, in 25 years of giving mushrooms a quick rinse, if anything, I've never had any ill effects. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 6:42 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]

- stuff I’m going to peel, like carrots or potatoes, I don‘t wash first, unless it‘s visibly dirty.

- mushrooms I rub with a paper towel, as far as possible

- raspberries I don‘t wash at all (sue me)

- cantaloupes and other melons I thoroughly wash with warm water and soap before slicing (since I‘ve read the rind can contain salmonella)

- cabbage and iceberg lettuce: I just remove outer leaves

- everything else I rinse under cold running water or wash in a water bath and spin afterwards (lettuce/spinach/kale)
posted by The Toad at 7:02 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Just a data point and not to argue: I only wash things that have actual dirt on them like potatoes. I don't wash or rinse anything else.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on March 12 [7 favorites]

When I get home from the store with a bunch of fresh produce, I fill half the (freshly washed with dish detergent) sink with cool water, or sometimes lukewarm water. I put the vegetables that have to be cleanest in there first: usually 1-2 small heads of lettuce. I cut off the end so the leaves can take up water easily, then let that soak for a few minutes to crisp up and soften any dirt or dead aphids (happens occasionally). Then, I quickly take out about 1/3 of the leaves at a time, checking quickly for stuff that's left on (dead aphids, the occasional caterpillar, sometimes dirt) -- if I find any, then I start just rinsing the lettuce under running water. Then I hold bunches of leaves on the cutting board and slice them quickly for salad.

After the lettuce is done, I move on to soak/rinse/cut for other vegetables in increasing order of probable dirtiness, using the same tub of water: cucumber, tomatoes, green beans, carrots near the end (I eat them a lot more cut into sticks and peeled), and I do mushrooms last.

The dirt on mushrooms is hard to remove. It turns out that the idea that you shouldn't wash mushrooms hasn't held up, so I give them a good long soak to soften the dirt, then just rinse them and wipe with my fingers. Sometimes it does take some effort, but I don't like to eat dirt, especially considering how mushrooms are grown, so I do it. Then I rinse out the original container, put a fresh piece of paper towel in, cut off the stem ends, and they're clean and ready to use later. If I'm going to use them soon, I might go ahead and slide them or whatever.

Then, it's a _lot_ easier and faster to use fresh vegetables later, and I do it more often; plus, using just one sink of water to soak everything saves time (the dirt rinses off a lot faster) and water.

I'm a believer in healthy bacteria and building a microbiome, but you hear about the occasional e. coli problem with fresh produce, even bagged lettuce, and washing it this way does make it crisper, so I go ahead and wash it.
posted by amtho at 7:35 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

I only wash things that have actual dirt on them like potatoes. I don't wash or rinse anything else.

Yup, same.
posted by danceswithlight at 7:36 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]

wash mushrooms, but not all at once when you bring them home - wash what you're going to use just before you use them. Everything else, onesmartmonkey's Maine extension bulletin explains well. Love the Maine Extension Service!
posted by Gnella at 8:33 PM on March 12

I’ll be honest, I don’t wash things because of the dirt. I wash them because I know that grocery store employees rarely get sick time, and often don’t wear gloves. I’m way more concerned about their germs than I am about dirt.

So I do wash just about everything. All greens go in the salad spinner. Everything else gets a solid rinse and hand-rubbing for about 10 to 15 seconds. I tend not to peel anything that I don’t have to, because many of the vitamins are close to the surface. So I don’t peel carrots or potatoes. I brush mushrooms with a little scrubber. Definitely wash melons because of the salmonella. And things like leeks and brussels sprouts end up in a bowl of water so they can soak out the grit. Because grit is unpleasant.

I never use a veggie wash or anything other than water, though.

(Former grocery store employee, here, fwiw.)
posted by greermahoney at 8:40 PM on March 12 [10 favorites]

I wash (as in rinse with water) everything that isn't peeled (and I usually just peel mushrooms rather than fussing with washing them).
posted by quaking fajita at 8:42 PM on March 12

I used to have a soft brush to get rid of dirt on mushrooms. They are grown in sterile compost.
Soft fruit like local strawberries, raspberries, don't wash.
If potatoes are quite dirty, I soak and scrub them, grit doesn't taste good.
Most cases of food poisoning from veg. seem to be leafy greens like spinach or leaf lettuce. I buy pre-washed, and seldom wash them at home, though if I do, the salad spinner is useful. I peel carrots but not white potatoes.

I got serious food poisoning from undercooked steak, and am cautious about meat.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 PM on March 12

If it’s being cooked, I do a quick rinse at most, only when stuff is visibly dirty.

If eaten raw, I look a little closer for dirt.

The thing is, a little dirt doesn’t tend to hurt anything. By aiming to sanitize vegetables prior to cooking, you can easily use an awful lot of water and time for no real benefit.

By the way, commercial mushrooms are grown in sterile media, and that ‘dirt’ is generally safer to eat than bagged lettuce (which is horrible stuff btw: you’re paying a lot extra for sub-par food with a bonus of hugely inflated risk of food-borne illness, compared to heads of lettuce).
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:43 PM on March 12

If I'm going to cook it, I tend to be pretty lazy - quick swish under water that's more ritual than anything else. The exception is potatoes - russet potatoes or sweet potatoes get a vigorous scrub with a brush to get dirt out of the skin, since I cook them with the skin on and eat those - and greens, because kale and spinach and such tend to get so much dirt on them (ok, kale gets aphids, same idea) that I really need to give them a good soak and swish to really loosen it.

I eat bagged salad without washing it, though. And honestly the cases of e. coli in spinach weren't even on the outside - it was inside the plants, and washing didn't do anything, if I recall correctly. The solution there was to cook it. That's also what you do if you live somewhere the water isn't trustworthy, lots of places just don't have cultures of eating a lot of raw vegetables.
posted by Lady Li at 11:09 PM on March 12

Rinse and scrub with my fingers to get rid of any obvious dirt. I eat most vegetables unpeeled (yum, fiber and texture).

I usually wash before cutting, with the exception of stuff like kale and collards, which I usually tear into pieces by hand and then wash in the salad spinner once they fit more easily.
posted by 168 at 4:36 AM on March 13

If I'm not peeling root vegetables, I give them a scrub under running water.
Peppers and cukes I wash with soapy water, because they are often sprayed or dipped in a waxy solution to keep them from dehydrating, and that solution sometimes contains a fungicide.
I wash the dirt off celery.
Onions I just peel, don't wash.
Remove the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage; rinse lettuce. Cabbage is wrapped so tight I don't bother.
Rinse soft fruits (berries) to remove loose leaves or the occasional bug.

Point to keep in mind: the use of systemic pesticides on food crops has been on the increase over the years. Systemic pesticides are taken up by the plant, so that every part of the plant contains pesticides that thus cannot be washed off. That's one of the reasons for the list of fruits and vegetables that are better off purchased organic.
posted by Lunaloon at 4:46 AM on March 13

I'm another who mostly only washes things that have actual dirt on them, or that I have reason to suspect will have dirt in them - like I will always wash locally-grown greens even if I don't see the dirt. Even potatoes: if they look/feel clean (and they often do, depending on where they come from) I will pop those right in the pot.

My exception is that I usually wash cantaloupes vigorously, because I've heard so many stories about people getting diseases from them, but I do feel silly about it. I don't generally wash prewashed spinach/other greens even though I've heard terrible stories about them, because it's a pain in the ass and I don't want to get out the salad spinner for the handful of spinach I'm going to put on my sandwich.
posted by mskyle at 5:35 AM on March 13

I have a fairly good immune system and this makes me a little bit foolhardy with washing. But I also get most of my produce from a CSA. So I think I wash things a little less than I should, but I'm still okay. I mostly wash when there is actual dirt on things. I tend not to wash greens like spinach and lettuce and such (although I probably should), and do most of my washing for things like root veg. UsuallY "washing" is plain water and the scrubbrushy thing on the end of my vegetable peeler. I will wash cantelopue, but tend not to wash much other fruits; the exception is if I am zesting a citrus fruit, because i want to make sure there isn't any weird waxy coating on it.

A note about mushroom washing - the common advice is to just wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth instead of rinsing them in a colander "because they absorb water". But Alton Brown actually did a test of that and concluded that the effect was negligible, and since rinsing mushrooms in a colander is way easier I do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on March 13

All of you non-washers might be interested in my kid's 4th grade science project last year, where he tested bacteria on apples (unwashed, washed with water, washed with vinegar and water). Photos of the petri dishes, starting with #4, show how much bacteria is present on the skin of an apple. Rinsing with water was sufficient to remove almost everything. Maybe this doesn't concern you (is it good bacteria? Who knows, it was only a 4th grade science experiment!) but something to think about. I'm less concerned about "dirt" than I am about what is on the hands of all the people who have touched the produce before me.

I rinse everything briefly under water and then chop. For something that tends to be quite dirty/gritty, like kale, I'll chop it, then let it soak a bit in the salad spinner before rinsing a couple times
posted by LKWorking at 7:37 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]

I rinse pretty much everything in plain water before further prep. For larger things like potatoes or carrots or whole pieces of fruit, they just get a quick rinse under running water -- if there are several items, I collect them all in a colander for their rinse at once. Salad greens or cooking greens or fresh herbs go into the salad spinner, get submerged and a quick swish, and then spun dry. Mushrooms get brushed off, or if they're quite dirty and rinsing is faster than brushing, I'll use the salad spinner on them, too.
posted by desuetude at 7:46 AM on March 13

I worked at a grocery store for several years in high school/college, and once bought some delicious in-season strawberries on my break and ate them unwashed. I got SO ILL, so I wash everything now that doesn't have a peel on it. I scrub potatoes with a scrub brush because I always eat the skin on potatoes (same with carrots). Red leaf/green leaf/romaine lettuce gets taken apart, leaf by leaf, and washed under cold water and then spun in the salad spinner. Peppers/apples and things that feel kind of waxy just get a quick rinse. I even rinse off avocados before I cut them because I'm concerned about the germs of the other people who touched that avocado, and those germs transferring into the flesh when I cut it.

For me, it's not so much about the dirt on veggies (except potatoes, which are just filthy) but the fact that people are gross and don't wash their hands.
posted by jabes at 7:53 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Mushrooms - briefly soak to get rid of compost then run under cold water while removing the stem. You gotta move fast though, as mushrooms can water log quickly
Lettuce & leafy greens - soak, changing the water twice, then a trip through the salad spinner; avoid pre-washed
Berries & cherries - rinse thoroughly then return to the container with a paper towel liner
Thin-skinned veggies (cukes, zukes, peppers) - rinse and dry
Orchard fruits - rinse and dry
Alliums - No wash, just peel and cut (except scallions, those get treated like thin-skinned veggies)

I wash everything immediately before use. Washing then storing can lead to premature spoilage. Wash first then chop.
posted by slogger at 8:14 AM on March 13

I've nothing much to add. My habits are almost exactly the same as The Toad's. No water on raspberries, regardless of the risk.
But there is one thing I'd like you all to know: my sister in law has only ever bought organic produce from a CSA she knows well, and sometimes when we were younger she'd let the kids take a fruit that hadn't been washed from the bowl on the table because they were pesticide free and only touched by few humans. That was until my nephew got infected with intestinal worms. Not good. I recommend that you wash everything you plan to eat or serve raw under running water (except raspberries).
When I buy parsley or other big bunches of herbs that I use almost daily, I'll rinse the whole bunch right away in a steel bowl, changing the water several times till it is completely clean. Then I'll shake and refrigerate what I don't use in a bag or plastic container. The moisture on the leaves keeps it fresh for a few days. I hate cleaning herbs, so I prefer to only do it twice a week.
posted by mumimor at 10:18 AM on March 13

Yeah, there can be pesticides and gross stuff in the produce from the field.

Personally, I wash everything because I worked at a grocery store, and I’ve seen what can happen to produce over the course of a day. The employee handling it might have a cold, or be getting the flu, or have just had a stomach bug. Customers pick stuff up and put it back, or sort through to find the perfect apple, and any one of them may be sick, or be getting sick. Kids touch, like, everything, and people definitely bring their sick kids to the store. Stuff might fall on the floor. Someone might sneeze on everything.

I mean, it’s not a guarantee that any of this will happen, but it does happen, and it happens way more than you’d imagine. So many more people pass through the store than it might appear from just a short visit. It’s one thing if you’re cooking something, but if you’re eating it raw? Yikes.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:25 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]

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