Food safety guide for washing fruits and vegetables​

Dry rinse-off products on a clean surface. This means laying down a clean cloth or paper towel on a clean surface to prevent recontamination. If you’re using a salad spinner, make sure it’s clean before adding greens to it, and clean it again between batches.

Do not wash products labeled “prewashed” or “ready to eat.” It is already safe to eat out of the package. Just make sure pre-washed products don’t encounter dirty surfaces or utensils, especially if those surfaces contain raw meat or its juices.

Do not use soap to clean the products. The USDA does not recommend any type of detergent on fruits or vegetables because it may leave a film that is not intended for consumption. Some products are also porous and can absorb soap. Although you can buy commercial product washes, they are not approved or labeled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are not recommended.

Do not soak the products. Soaking may eliminate germs initially, but the now contaminated water can re-contaminate your produce as well as nearby surfaces. When produce is rinsed under running water, dirt and germs flow down the drain.

Rules for washing other foods

Do not wash meat, poultry or seafood. Washing increases the risk of cross-contamination and provides no safety benefit. Although you can remove some bacteria from the surface, you will never completely clean it. In fact, any splash or spray from washing meat, poultry, or seafood can spread germs to your sink and counters.

“A lot of people do it because it’s tradition; that’s what they grew up with,” says Carothers. “Really, the only way to ensure that your meat and poultry products are safe to eat is to cook them to a safe internal temperature.”

Carothers says anyone who still insists on washing their meat should then thoroughly sanitize their sink and other nearby surfaces. Otherwise, germs can easily transfer to other foods or eating surfaces and increase the risk of foodborne illness.

In an observational study conducted by the USDA, 60% of participants who washed their raw chicken had bacteria residue in their kitchen sink. Of those who attempted to clean or sanitize the sink afterwards, 14% still had bacteria.

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Susan W. Lloyd