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Wash your Veggies! (or not…)

When I was a teenager, one of my daily rebelling strategies was to not wash my fruit; by simply eating a dirty bite of fresh fruit, I could bask in the satisfaction of making my mom squirm. I know what you’re thinking ‘not washing fruit’, is that the best that you could come up with? And, for the record, of course it’s not – but that’s the only one I’m willing to publically admit on the internet.

In any case, my argument at the time was that by not washing my fruit, I was helping build my body’s immune system by introducing dirt and bacteria that would only make me stronger and more resistant to bacterial infection. With all the E. coli outbreaks in contaminated spinach – what’s the real risk when you don’t wash produce?

If you don’t wash a piece of fruit, you’re putting faith in that every person who touched that piece washed their hands after going to the bathroom. I don’t need to tell you that while we all know we should wash our hands, not all of us do – even in food service. If they didn’t wash their hands, you could (potentially) contract Hepatitis A and have flu-like symptoms, jaundice, and diarrhea for anywhere from 2 weeks to three months. Good times.

What about pesticide residues? Good question. Some fruits and vegetables are more likely to contain greater amounts of pesticide residue. These include apples, celery, berries, peaches, spinach, and bell peppers. So will they make you sick? Probably not. In fact, if a farm follows the law, the amount of pesticide residue will be between 100 and 1,000 times lower than the amount that would make someone sick. What about the accumulation over time? Probably not. If you want to be safe (and you can never be too safe), buy organic.

I’m obviously not suggesting that you stop washing fruits and vegetables, even organic ones. There is a risk of cross contamination from unwashed hands, from fertilizer or from poor food handling practices. But the human lack of care and attention to food safety makes people sick much more often than the bacteria, dirt or grime on produce.

If you want to learn more about foodborne illness and the sources, check out this easy to use guide.

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