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Fruit & Veggie Washes

Wednesday, 29 April 2009 | Tags: ,

If you're like many people, you're concerned about pesticides on your fruit and vegetables. So are those specialized wash products made expressly to clean chemicals off produce really worth it? We find out.

The Basics

  • Biodegradable produce washes commonly available in grocery stores are typically made from natural ingredients derived from palm oil, witch hazel, corn starch, citric acid, wood, cotton, aloe vera, citrus fruits, olive leaf, and berries.

  • Even though the ingredients are naturally-derived, don’t forget to read the label.

  • Consumer produce washes from the grocery store come in two formats:

    • Sprays can be sprayed directly onto firmer produce like carrots, apples, peaches, etc.

    • Concentrated formulas should be diluted in water and are good for soaking and rinsing softer produce like spinach and broccoli. Some can also be diluted with water and used with a spray bottle.

  • If you’re budget-conscious, concentrated forms of almost any product are often your best bet, since you usually get more for your money.

  • To find out more about pesticides and produce, visit the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Food News website (Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides article) and download their handy wallet guide.

Other Considerations

  • There are also recipes for homemade produce washes available that include ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. (Try searching for recipes online.)

Be Aware

  • Do not use regular soaps, detergents, or bleaches to wash produce. They absorb into the skin, are dangerous to ingest, and can react badly with food if cooked.

TEST CRITERIA

We went to a lab to test a variety of produce cleansing methods on bell peppers, rated third-worst on the EWG’s pesticide level scale. We tested:

  • Nature Clean Fruit & Veggie Spray Wash: $4.99/500 ml
  • Debbie Meyer Produce Wash (concentrate, 2 x 650 ml bottles + S&H): approx. $10.17/500 ml
  • Homemade produce wash (vinegar and water): approx. $0.25/500 ml
  • Water

Wash Test

First we sprayed the peppers with pesticide to make sure they were all thoroughly covered. Then we washed a pepper in each test product and measured the results.

  • Nature Clean required quite a lot of spraying to cover the whole pepper. We think you’d go through this product pretty quick. The pesticide test result was 5.1 parts per million.

  • The directions on the Debbie Meyer wash instructed us to wash the produce first in water, and then use the product, so in effect, you’re actually washing twice. Plus, this one fared worst in our chemical test, resulting in 7.98 parts per million.

  • The homemade vinegar and water formula did better than the Debbie Meyer at getting rid of chemicals, but didn’t beat our other two.

  • To our surprise, just plain water did the best job of reducing the pesticide level on our peppers. The pesticide level test result showed only 4.98 parts per million.

OUR TOP PICK

Just plain water! The verdict: don’t waste your money on produce washes. Just use a steady stream of water, a good scrubber on those harder fruits and veggies that are in direct contact with dirt, and a colander to help wash loose greens. 

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  • Blake Branch

    This test was severely flawed. The peppers would have never met Maximum Residue Loads (MRL’s) for shipping in the U.S. or Canada. On the show, the peppers were sprayed with Sevin (Carbaryl). The MRL for both countries is 5 ppm. If the peppers would have been shipped with a load higher than 5, then shipments from that producer would have been suspended by the government. This test also did not take into consideration the pre harvest intervals that farmers are required to meet after spraying chemicals. The pre harvest interval for Sevin is 3 days for bell pepper. In three days, weather conditions (rain or humidity) and sunlight would have degraded the pesticide significantly. The control for the test shouldn’t have been a washing with water, but an unwashed sample to show the actual amount of removal of the pesticide by each product.