Cleaning your produce is a good idea—especially if you or the people you cook for are pregnant, senior, adolescent, or immunocompromised. At many points in production, packaging, and shipping, bacteria like E. coli and Listeria can attach to produce and grow. You can reduce your risk of foodborne illness and remove unpalatable debris and contaminants from your food with a good wash.
All you need to clean produce at home is a clean basin, running water, and clean cloths. Some extras, such as a salad spinner, a produce brush, and white vinegar can help the process but aren’t necessary.
Up to 20 minutes, depending on what kind of produce you are cleaning, how much, and what combination of methods you choose. Rinsing a handful of grapes under running water in a slotted spoon and then patting them dry with a dish towel may take one minute, while separating the leaves off a whole head of napa cabbage, soaking for five minutes in water, rinsing, and spinning dry may take closer to 20 minutes.
As much as possible, you should select produce that is free of bruises and cuts where bacteria can fester. Cut away damaged areas after washing, then clean your knife. Also, pick produce that is not overly wet. Donald Schaffner, PhD, extension specialist in food science and distinguished professor at Rutgers University, told us, “We know that available moisture may influence growth and survival of microorganisms.”