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Released: May 16, 2002

Also see: Summer 2002 Food Safety news package

Summer Food Safety: Tap Water Best for Cleaning Produce

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Traditional cleansing of fruits and vegetables by washing with tap water is still the best method for removing contamination.

"We still recommend to wash all produce with plain tap water," said Karen Blakeslee, Rapid Response Center coordinator with Kansas State University Research and Extension. "First, make sure your hands are clean. Then, scrub the produce with plain water and a vegetable brush when possible."

Produce sprays or dip solutions are now available to shoppers, and while they’re designed to remove unwanted residues, they are not marketed to remove bacteria.

"There is no data to support anti-bacterial claims," Blakeslee said. "If a produce wash makes an anti-bacterial claim, the EPA considers it a pesticide. Currently, none of these products are registered to remove, reduce, or control bacteria."

Produce can easily become cross-contaminated from many sources, she said. Bacteria lives on towels, cutting boards, counter tops, utensils and other kitchen areas; thus the need for frequent sanitation.

Blakeslee said other produce pointers include:

* Washing fruits such as oranges, cantaloupe and watermelon before slicing. Cutting can cause bacteria on the peels to cross to the insides of the produce.

* Do not wash with bleach or soaps since some fruits and vegetables can absorb liquids which could taint the taste of the product.

* Pre-packaged salad mixes are designed to eat directly from the bag.

* Wax coatings, used on some produce to retain moisture and to maintain fresh quality, can be cut off.

While some consumers report worrying about pesticide residues, Blakeslee said the health benefits of fruits and vegetables outweigh the possible presence of pesticides.

"Pesticides are strictly controlled by the FDA, USDA, and EPA" she said. "If any residue remains on produce, it should be well under the regulations. Some pesticides are also water soluble and do come off with water."

To avoid the issue altogether, some shoppers seek organic produce. Blakeslee said consumers feel the produce is safer without the presence of any commercial pesticide control.

"Actually, the quality of organic versus commercial produce is about the same," she said.

When choosing produce, stay away from bruised or moldy fruits and vegetables. Store your purchases in the refrigerator to maintain quality and freshness.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Lucas Shivers, Communications Assistant
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673