Cleaning your fruits and veggies

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I still remember hearing a news report a year or so ago about a spinach recall because of food poisoning. Spinach? ? I must have heard wrong I thought. Food poisoning happened from meat or fish didn't it? How could an innocent vegetable be involved in something as horrible as this. Vegetables are the good guys.

Now, recently another good guy has been spreading a bad germ. This time it's tomatoes. They were pulled from store shelves, the fridge and even the drive-thru. Once again I was hearing words like "tainted" and "dangerous" being used to describe produce. If a tomato could cause such havoc, just think what could happen with cucumbers or, gasp, the all American apple. It was time to research the best way to really clean my fruits and vegetables.

Pesticides vs. Contaminants With fruits and vegetables, I learned that we're really talking about two types of things that none of us really want to put into our bodies. The first are pesticides, the chemicals used when non-organically grown produce is farmed and produced. The others are contaminants - all the germs and dirt and creeping crud that can cause a human to get sick. And in the contaminant game, the real big boys are and .

Washing your produce can't remove all of these, ever, but it does help make our food as clean as possible and can eliminate much of what you don't want to eat. They say that from 4 - 20 people will have touched your piece of fruit or your favorite vegetable before it even gets to you. I'm sure they're all fine people, but that's a lot of hands touching something you're about to eat.

A Nice Shower Does Everyone Good As you stroll through the produce section of the supermarket you're bound to notice bottles of commercial fruit and vegetable washes. Most are in spray bottles and claim to get your fruits and veggies cleaner. The ingredient list is long but consists mostly of purified water and various forms of citric acid. Many people like using these products and there's nothing bad about them. But I learned that a good washing with running water also does the trick just as well. And it'll save you some money. The bottle of fruit and vegetable wash I purchased cost $4.99 for 12 ounces. All the studies I read showed no difference between produce washed with a commercial product and those washed thoroughly with water. If you feel the need to do something more, you can make your own wash by making a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. So if you put in a cup of water, add a cup of white vinegar and place in a spray bottle. Viola! You have a veggie wash that contains water and the acid power of vinegar. This combo can help get off the wax applied to apples and cucumbers if you spray it on and buff it off.

But keep in mind all you really need is a running faucet, and a colander or a big bowl in the sink. Don't place your produce directly into the sink because the drain area tends to be bacteria ridden and you could actually add germs to your food.

Turn on the water and start separating the leaves or the fruit so that the water runs cleanly through all the cracks and crevices and leaves. Let it run for one full minute, really getting it clean. A minute is longer than it seems so make sure you take the time you need to get it really clean. If you want a fun way to time the minute out, sing the Happy Birthday song 6 times - that's a minute.

One important thing I learned is to thoroughly wash ALL the fruits and veggies that come into your home. I would tend to neglect items like potatoes, melon or citrus because I figured I was going to peel it or toss the skin away. But, keep this in mind. As you peel or cut into a piece of fruit or a vegetable whatever is on the outside can be transferred by your knife or peeler to the INSIDE that you're going to eat. So, always wash the produce first, and then prepare it by peeling or cutting and then rinse it again. If you're going to eat the skin and it's on the tougher side, consider picking up one of those veggie brushes that allow you to scrub it clean. But your hands are a good tool for this, too.

vs. Non Organic and The Dirty Dozen Organic seems to be a good option. The United States Department of Agriculture defines it in this way, "Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers." Eww, the words sewage and sludge used together never amounted to anything good! I'm glad we're talking about washing everything. Even organic needs to be washed - don't forget about all those hands touching your food.

Anyway, organic is good but it's also expensive, sometimes very expensive. And if you're budget looks like mine, you can understand that I can't afford to purchase all organic. So, I found an interesting piece of information. It's a handy-dandy shopper's guide that lists the 12 produce items traditionally highest in pesticides, The Dirty Dozen, and the Cleanest 12 that are the lowest in pesticides.

You can download it free at . But, here's the quick list: The Dirty Dozen: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes (imported), pears, spinach and potatoes.

And the Cleanest 12: onions, avocado, sweet corn (frozen), pineapples, mango, sweet peas (frozen), asparagus, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and eggplant.

This info really helps when having to pick and choose what items to splurge on and go organic.

A Few Added "Bites" of Information Here are a few other tidbits to keep in mind: Pay attention to where your packaged food comes from. The FDA controls what comes from the United States but standards may be different in other countries.

Take the time to wash pre-packaged fruits and vegetables. Most of these are pre- washed, but err on the side of safety and give them a good washing too.

As often as possible buy local, and buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. This cuts down on the amount of storage and handling, all cutting down on the number of possible contaminants.

There you go. Just taking the time to wash your produce thoroughly can help with peace of mind. It also restores my faith in my beloved fruits and vegetables. I can once again enjoy watching them sing and dance in cartoons and on underwear commercials without feeling betrayed. The good guy always wins.