How to Properly Wash Your Home Grown Fruits and Vegetables - Backyard Boss
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How to Properly Wash Your Home Grown Fruits and Vegetables

Cleaning produce is a life skill that’ll save you from consuming contaminated fruits or veggies! Some can cause various health problems and illness if contaminated and not washed. Even if you haven’t used chemical pesticides to grow your crops, eating produce without cleaning them increases your risk of contracting something terrible!

Before you bite into or cook commercial or home-grown produce, it’s important to ensure they’re safe to eat. Learn different ways to clean fruits and veggies and pro tips to up the cleaning game!

Commercial vs. Home Grown Produce

fruits and vegetables, cleaning produce
Image credits: Yaroslav Shuraev via Pexels

Subsistence farming (home gardens) differs from commercial farming on a large scale. Commercial farming is driven by monoculture planting to produce high volumes of crops at a lesser cost. In contrast, home gardens are known for crop diversity without the motive of increased production.

Commercial gardens apply poor farming practices to bypass the time it takes to grow crops. Poor farming practices include excessive chemical pesticides and fertilizers, tilling, and not rotating crops to save the soil.

When it comes to home gardens, the lack of motive for large-scale farming promotes good farming practices. Home gardeners often rotate their crops every three to four years, improve soil structure and health with lasagna gardens or keyhole gardening, and use organic and chemical-free pesticides and fertilizers.

That said, it’s important to clean commercially-grown crops, but it’s equally important to wash produce you grew in your garden without using chemicals.

Pesticides and Your Health

chemical pesticide
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Pesticides are repellents that include disinfectants, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides. Commercial farms apply more than 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide annually in the USA. Foliar application and ‘carpet bombing’ of pesticides and synthetic chemicals can leach into fruits and vegetables that eventually make their way onto your plate.

When it comes to home gardens, there’s little to no pesticide residue to wash off, thanks to organic farming practices or reduced use of chemicals. So, how do chemical pesticides affect your health?

Pesticides are carcinogenic that can harm your health, but the level of harm and the possible health outcome will depend on the following:

  • The duration of exposure,
  • Type of pesticide,
  • Route of exposure (inhaling, ingesting, touching), and
  • Your health status (allergies, health conditions, nutritional deficiencies, etc.)

Once pesticide enters your body, it can be metabolized, excreted, stored, or merged with body fat. Prolonged exposure to pesticides can cause:

  • Skin problems
  • Gastrointestinal troubles,
  • Neurological disabilities,
  • Respiratory issues,
  • Reproductive concerns,
  • Endocrine disorders.

Decoding Salmonella, Listeria, and E-Coli

rotting fruit
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These foodborne pathogens cause food poisoning, a type of food sickness people get from eating or drinking foods contaminated with salmonella, listeria, and e.coli, among other bacteria.

Contaminated manure, poor water quality (one contaminated with rotting substances and feces), and compost that hasn’t decomposed well can transport these pathogens straight into your garden. According to research, salmonella and E.coli can survive in temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Compost is considered well-rotted when it goes through scorching temperatures (150 degrees Fahrenheit) and cools down naturally before it’s ready for use. Most pathogens can’t survive temperatures up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike fresh manure, well-rotted manure doesn’t have an unpleasant smell. It’s cool, crumbly, and looks like soil or well-rotted compost. It’s important to use well-rotted compost and well-rotted manure in your garden to avoid an outbreak of these foodborne pathogens.

Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and cabbage are incredibly healthy, but they’re also a major source of E.coli infections. This is why it’s essential to clean your vegetables, especially leafy greens, to eliminate any traces of chemical pesticides, pathogens, dirt, and germs on the surface of the produce.

How to Properly Wash Your Home-Grown Fruits and Vegetables

Since fruits and vegetables have different textures, solidities, and ways of consumption, washing carrots and potatoes would be different from washing tomatoes and grapes. You’ll be firm but gentle when you wash potatoes and beets but soft when dealing with tomatoes and figs.

Method 1: Cleaning Produce With Salt or Vinegar Water

cleaning vegetables
Image credits: MYCCF via Pixabay

This is a simple and cost-effective method backed by science. It’s excellent for produce with rinds and inedible peels like avocados, cantaloupes, and citrus fruits. You’ll need the following:

Table salt or vinegar Nine parts water
A large bowl Paper towel
  1. In nine parts of water, add one part of table salt to make a 10 percent salt-water solution. Studies have found that a 10 percent salt-water solution is ideal against certain pesticides, like; DDT, chlorpyrifos, chlorothalonil, and cypermethrin.
  2. If you’d rather work with vinegar, make a 10 percent solution by adding food-grade vinegar to the water instead of table salt.
  3. Now add your crops to the salt-water or vinegar-water solution and let it soak for 20 minutes.
  4. After soaking, thoroughly wash them under running water for a few minutes.
  5. Place them on a paper towel and pat them dry if you’re not using them within a couple of hours. This is because drops of water can cause rot.

Pro-Tip: The salt solution works well for fruits and vegetables and rarely affects the taste. However, the vinegar solution can slightly alter the smell and taste of your produce, so use this solution more sparingly.

Method 2: Cleaning Produce With Baking Soda

Baking Soda
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Compared to a bleach solution and plain water, a baking soda solution reigns supreme. This is great for produce with rinds and inedible peels, smooth-skinned crops like apples, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and leafy greens like mint, lettuce, and spinach. You’ll need the following:

1 ounce of baking soda Water
1½ gallons of tap water Paper towel
  1. In 1½ gallons of tap water and add 1 ounce of baking soda. Unlike salt and vinegar, this solution won’t affect the taste of your fruits and vegetables.
  2. Soak your fruits and vegetables in the baking soda solution for 12 to 15 minutes to remove any traces of pesticide on the surface.
  3. After soaking, thoroughly wash them under running water for a few minutes.
  4. Place your crops on a paper towel and pat them dry if you won’t be using them within a couple of hours.

Method 3: Cleaning Produce With Ultrasonic Cleaners

ultrasound cleaning
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Ultrasonic cleaners were once used solely for commercial crops, but over time, they scaled down to meet the needs of home gardeners. They utilize high-frequency sound waves to form tiny bubbles on the crop’s surface, which dissolve pesticides.

This is great for produce with rinds and inedible peels, smooth-skinned crops, leafy greens, mushrooms, and soft-surface crops like berries, grapes, and kiwi fruits. You’ll need the following:

Ultrasonic cleaner Water
Large bowl Paper towel
  1. Put the crops you’d like to clean in a large bowl of water.
  2. Start your ultrasonic cleaner according to the machine’s instructions and put it inside the bowl.
  3. It would take the ultrasonic cleaner about 10 minutes to clean your crops. You can cross-check the time with the manual that comes with your machine.
  4. After the stipulated time, rinse your crops thoroughly under running water for a few minutes.
  5. Place your crops on a paper towel and pat them dry if you won’t be using them within a couple of hours.

Pro-Tip: Keep an eye out for crops with crevices like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Since the crevises are a perfect hiding spot for germs and insects, you’ll need to thoroughly wash them under running water. If you’ll be using them within a couple of hours, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes to weed out small bugs.

Give Them A Scrub

There’s more to cleaning than placing your crops under running tap water. Learning to wash your produce properly can reduce your risk of contracting infections, diseases, and health disorders.

Cleaning produce with ultrasonic cleaners, salt, and baking soda solution is better than using vinegar because it can alter the taste of your crops. Remember to pat your crops dry with paper towels if you don’t plan to use them within a couple of hours of cleaning.

Leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section! And share with friends and family who might find this helpful.