You probably wouldn’t bite into an apple or pop a few grapes in your mouth without washing them first — you’re eating the fruit’s skin, and who knows what’s lurking there. But what about bananas and other produce with skins that you peel before eating? Food safety experts say you should wash them, too.
“You should be washing produce that has a peel with clean running water, before peeling,” says Tamika Sims of the International Food Information Council. “This is a best practice in safe food handling to minimize the transfer of dirt or microbes that may be on the skin to the fruit on the inside that you plan to consume.”
While dirt may be visible on the skin, lingering pesticides or microbes like salmonella or campylobacter that can cause foodborne illness aren’t necessarily visible. Sims said you should be washing all produce before eating it — even organic varieties and things that you peel. “Even if it feels counterintuitive, you should wash first,” Simms says. Here’s why:
Bananas, avocads and other produce with exteriors to be peeled are just as susceptible to having bacteria on them as the more delicate-skinned fruits and vegetables, Trevor Craig of Microbac Laboratories says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has actually detected listeria and salmonella on avocado exteriors. Thicker-skinned fruit and vegetables do make it harder for bacteria or dirt to get into the flesh, which gives them a longer shelf life. But when you cut through an avocado or banana, the knife can push anything on the skin onto the edible flesh, cross-contaminating it.
Washing the produce reduces the likelihood of that happening, Craig said. “It certainly not making your food sterile, but you can reduce the risk as long as you’re doing it safely.” Washing can also remove grit, pests, pesticides or herbicides, or a waxy coating. Visible dirt on produce should be scrubbed with a using a cloth kitchen towel. You can also use a brush for thicker-skinned fruits and vegetables; just clean the brush after using it.
Clean running water is all you need to wash any kind of produce — you don’t need to use a special produce wash, soap or detergent, according to Sims. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns not to use bleach or disinfecting products.
“If you really want to go for it, you can use a solution of one part vinegar to four parts clean water to spray your food,” Craig says. And before you wash fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash your sink and your hands first.