Fruit and Vegetable Wash Products: An Investment in Safety or Waste of Money?
The past several years have seen an increasing number of food scares. It used to be that vegetarians could feel pretty safe during the latest E. coli panic from undercooked hamburger, but the contaminated spinach from a couple years ago brought the interconnectedness of our agricultural system home to even the strictest vegan: contaminants from some other part of the food chain could and did trickle down to the most innocent looking salad, and all of a sudden what seemed like a virtuous meal could make you very sick.
Since then even more special soaps specially designed for fruits and vegetables have made their way to the market, but do they guarantee a safe salad?
The answer is, probably not. Take salmonella for example. Globally, 1.5 billion cases of food poisoning due to salmonella occur each year. Recent research shows that salmonella multiplies within plant cells, meaning that washing fruits and vegetables cannot prevent food poisoning, according to Scientific Blogging.
The best way to prevent contamination in fruits and vegetables is supposedly irradiation. Somehow that just seems counterintuitive for those of us who are trying to eat organic. While buying organic does mean eating food grown under generally safer conditions, "organic" alone cannot prevent E. coli or salmonella. What to do then?
As often happens, it comes down to a choice between two imperfect solutions. One is to wash fruits and vegetables under running water (which is more abrasive than merely soaking them) or you can look for a greener commercial vegetable wash product. Water alone is cheap and doesn't require buying (and then throwing away) a product that hasn't been conclusively tested. The Environmental Protection Agency says that "no acceptable methodology to test produce sanitizers, especially under homeowner conditions, is currently available."
Yet you can buy organic products that at least you know won't make your vegetables less healthy, so if concern over contaminated vegetables makes you want to do something to supplement running water, those are an option: Enviro-One's Vegetable Wash does claim to be effective against both E. coli and salmonella.
Another is to make your own vegetable wash using white vinegar and water. Other recipes call for a small amount of peroxide, salt, or baking soda and lemon. Another do-it-yourself option that probably won't hurt you is Dr. Bronner's soap (highly diluted): it's fair trade and concentrated so it produces less trash.