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University of Minnesota Extension

Washing fresh fruits and vegetables safely

Quick facts

  • Fresh produce may become contaminated with dirt and bacteria at any point during its journey from farm to table.
  • Washing produce before preparing and eating can remove bacteria that may cause foodborne illness.

How to wash produce

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling foods, including fresh produce.
  • Clean and sanitize the sink, faucet and counter space.
  • Wash fresh produce under cool, running water. Avoid using hot water as this may cause the produce to experience thermal shock and absorb the water and any bacteria into its cells.
  • Air dry washed produce or dry it with a disposable towel to prevent recontamination. 

Washing tips

  • Remove and discard outer leaves and husks from produce like heads of leafy greens, cabbages, Brussels sprouts and corn before washing.
  • Use a clean produce brush to scrub fruits and vegetables (apples, melons, tropical fruits, cucumbers, root vegetables, squashes) that have a thick rind, peel or skin. Scrub produce even if you are going to peel it before eating.
  • Always clean and sanitize the produce brush after each use to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Use a sink sprayer and colander to wash delicate or soft produce like berries, herbs, or tomatoes.
    • Place produce in the colander and turn it as you spray with cool water.
    • If you don’t have a sink sprayer, fill the sink or a large bowl with cool water and dunk the colander of produce in and out of the water several times.
    • Avoid letting the produce soak in the water.
    • Change the water as needed.
    • Do not use the same water to wash multiple batches to prevent cross-contamination.
    • Do a final rinse under cool running water. 

When to wash produce

Unless the produce is visibly dirty it is best to wait to wash it until you are ready to prepare or eat it. This will help promote quality and shelf life. Always wash produce before:

  • Eating it raw.
  • Cutting, chopping, dicing or slicing.
  • Cooking or preparing.
  • Preserving.

Produce preparation tips

Prevent cross-contamination, the accidental spread of bacteria from a contaminated surface to food:  

  • Clean and sanitize the kitchen counters before preparing produce.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling produce.
  • Use clean cutting boards and utensils that are only used for cutting produce. Use separate ones for preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Minimize the risk of bacteria growth after cutting produce:

  • Keep cut produce cold at 41 degrees F or below until you are ready to eat raw or cook it.
  • Cook produce to a minimum internal temperature of 135 degrees F.
  • Hold prepared, cooked produce at a warm temperature of 135 degrees F or higher.
  • Use cut or cooked produce within 7 days for both quality and food safety. 

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to use a produce wash to clean produce at home?

There is a variety of home-use produce washes available. Research has not shown any significant difference in the safety of produce washed at home using a produce wash compared to cool, running water. If you do choose to use a produce wash, check the label to make sure it is food-safe and follow the usage instructions. 

Should I use a soap, detergent or bleach solution to clean produce?

Never use soaps, detergents or bleach solutions to wash produce. These solutions are made to clean and sanitize surfaces and should never be eaten. 

Can I use baking soda or vinegar to clean produce?

While these do not pose a safety risk like consuming soaps, detergents or bleach solutions, both baking soda and vinegar can affect the flavor of the produce. Some recipes for baking soda or vinegar solutions recommend soaking produce in the solution. For both quality and safety, it is not recommended to let produce soak in water. 

Do wax coatings on produce, like on apples, need to be removed before eating?

Wax coatings are used on some produce to promote quality and a longer shelf life. The use of wax coatings must meet requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When used according to the requirements, wax coatings are safe to eat. You can remove the wax by scrubbing produce with a clean brush while washing. 

Do I need to wash leafy greens or other produce that are labeled "washed," "triple washed" or "ready-to-eat"?

No, produce labeled with any of these terms has been sufficiently washed prior to packaging. 

Do farmers and growers wash produce before selling it?

Farmers and growers will remove as much visible dirt before selling produce at farmer’s markets or other venues. However, to ensure the best quality and longest shelf life, most produce will not be thoroughly washed. For example, the quality of berries starts to decline after washing. This is one reason why it is important to wash produce at home before preparing and eating.  

Will washing produce remove any pesticide residues left on produce?

The FDA, USDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strictly control the use of pesticides. If there is any pesticide residue on the fruit or vegetable, it should be under the regulated limits and safe to eat. A lot of pesticides are water-soluble and will come off with water. This is one reason why it is important to wash produce at home before preparing and eating.

Authors: Amy Johnston, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2023

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