Are store bought vegetable washes effective?

In light of yesterday’s post about the most and least pesticide contaminated produce, I began to ponder my habit of washing all produce with a store bought vegetable wash.

I happen to use Fit vegetable wash in my kitchen, primarily because I was able to buy bulk quantities of the dry powder from a restaurant supplier and mix up my own 1 gallon batches for about $0.50 per gallon, far cheaper than what this stuff sells for in the grocery store.  I keep a small bottle in the fridge (not sure if Fit needs to be refrigerated, but I figured I’d err on the side of caution) and a larger, 1 gallon jug of it in the garage refrigerator.  I routinely spray down all our produce and let the veggie wash sit on the produce for a couple of minutes in the colander before rinsing it.  I know I’m not going to wash away most pesticides, as those are likely absorbed into the flesh of the fruit or vegetable long before they get to my sink.  Instead, what I’m really after is washing off / killing any surface bacteria that might exist.

So, is the veggie wash effective, or is there a better (and potentially less expensive) way to literally put the “clean” in my clean food kitchen?

Imagine my excitement when I found out that Cook’s Illustrated had tested this very topic.  For the uninitiated, Cook’s Illustrated is only the best foodie magazine EVER!  That and the companion TV show on PBS, America’s Test Kitchen, are regarded by this humble blogger as the pinnacle of what a cooking magazine and cooking TV show should be.  They will test sometimes hundreds of different methods of preparing a particular food until they arrive at the single best method and provide step-by-step instructions that can be reproduced time and again.

Unfortunately, the content at Cook’s Illustrated’s website is so good that they charge for it.  In fact, they charge a lot.  I consider it a necessary expense, but because the article is behind a pay wall, I can’t link to it directly.  Instead, I found that In September 2007 National Public Radio (NPR) summarized Cook’s Illustrated’s finding on cleaning vegetables, which is a close second to reading the Cook’s Illustrated results yourself.

Click through the link above to read the whole article, but I’ve selected a few pertinent quotes below:

So the magazine did some comparative testing, by cleaning apples and pears in four different ways. They washed one batch with an antibacterial soap. (That, by the way, is not recommended by food safety experts — nobody thinks swallowing soap is a good idea.)

They washed other pieces of fruit with a solution of diluted vinegar (one part vinegar to three parts water), rinsing afterward with pure water. They scrubbed the third group with a brush, and simply rinsed the fourth group with clean water.

To measure how well each technique worked, they sampled the outside of the fruit with sterile cotton swabs, then rubbed the little bits of grime onto Petri dishes.

Jack Bishop says they next let the Petri dishes sit at 80 degrees for several days to see what bacteria grew. Then they counted how many bacterial colonies were present.

It turns out the scrub brush removed 85 percent of the bacteria — a little more than the water alone.

But the cleaning method that worked the best was the dilute vinegar rinse. It removed 98 percent of the bacteria.

Okay, so my foodie gurus at Cook’s Illustrated determined that an acid wash of vinegar and water worked pretty well.  But what about the fancy schmancy vegetable wash I was shelling out money to use.  That had to work better, right?  I’m sure you can guess where this is headed…

The folks at Cook’s Illustrated are not the first to document the effectiveness of acidic washes. Researchers at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University tested dilute vinegar against plain water and a commercial product called Veggie Wash that they purchased at a grocery store.

“We really did not really find the veggie washes effective or necessary,” says Sandria Godwin, who oversaw the project.

Godwin says they do get rid of most bacteria, but her team of researchers found that water works just as well. They found that water can remove 98 percent of bacteria when it’s used to rinse and soak produce.

For vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower that have lots of crevices, Godwin recommends a two-minute soak…

So, there you have it.  The produce wash is effective, but no more so than a thorough scrubbing with either water or a vinegar / water solution.  I think I’ll opt for the vinegar and water, since the Cook’s Illustrated folks found it a bit more effective than water alone.

So, making my happy day complete, I now have a reason to buy absurdly large quantities of vinegar at Costco.  Yay, one more reason for a Costco run!!

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