How to wash fruit and vegetables

A little piece of Advice during this Christmas era on storing, washing and preparing fruit and vegetables to prevent food poisoning, including E. coli.

It is important to wash all fruit and vegetables before you eat them to ensure they are clean and safe to eat.

Most people are aware of the importance of handling meat safely, but many consider the risk of food poisoning from vegetables to be low.

“It’s a myth that a little bit of dirt doesn’t do you any harm,” says Dr Andrew Wadge, chief scientist of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

“Soil can sometimes carry harmful bacteria and, although food producers have good systems in place to clean vegetables, the risk can never be entirely eliminated.”

Those risks were highlighted in the 2011 Escherichia coli (E. coli) outbreak in the UK. Soil stuck on leeks and potatoes is thought to have been the source of the outbreak, which involved 250 cases of E. coli infection.

How should fruit and vegetables be washed?

Washing will help remove bacteria, including E.coli, from the surface of fruit and vegetables.

Most of the bacteria will be in the soil attached to the produce. Washing to remove any soil is, therefore, particularly important.

When you wash vegetables, wash them under a running tap and rub them under water, for example in a bowl of fresh water. Start with the least soiled items first and give each of them a final rinse.

Washing loose produce is particularly important as it tends to have more soil attached to it than pre-packaged fruit and vegetables.

It is always advisable to wash all fruit and vegetables before you eat them to ensure that they are clean and to help remove bacteria from the outside.

Peeling or cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove bacteria.

What is the key advice for safely storing, handling and cooking raw vegetables?

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food, including vegetables.
  • Keep raw food, including vegetables, separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use different chopping boards, knives and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods, or wash these items thoroughly in between uses.
  • Check the label – unless packaging around vegetables says “ready to eat”, you must wash, peel or cook them before eating.
    How can I avoid cross-contamination?

To prevent cross-contamination:

  • Always wash your hands after handling raw food.
  • Store raw and ready-to-eat foods separately.
  • Store raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of your fridge so that it cannot drip onto other foods.
  • Use a different chopping board for raw food and ready-to-eat food, or wash it thoroughly in between preparing different types of food.
  • Clean knives and other utensils thoroughly after using them with raw food.
  • Do not wash raw meat or poultry – any harmful bacteria will be killed by thorough cooking, and washing may splash harmful bacteria around the kitchen.