I cringe when I think of it now, but in my ignorant twenties, I used to eat vegetables without even washing them. They looked fine to me. It’s not that I didn’t understand the concept that germs are invisible to the naked eye; it’s just that I never really thought through how germs would get onto vegetables. In my mind’s eye, I saw a friendly local farmer going out into his garden, picking the vegetables at their peak, piling them into his shiny green truck, and delivering them right to the grocery store, where people with very clean hands put them out on display for me to choose from.
Of course, that’s about as far from reality as you can get. It may have been closer to the truth when I was a child, but what we think of as farming now is actually a huge industry run by greedy conglomerates. What actually happens is that low-paid field workers in a field far away who are NOT wearing gloves or washing their hands—even after relieving themselves in the field and performing other disgusting personal hygiene tasks—are picking your vegetables, loading them with grimy hands onto grimier trucks, and shipping them halfway across the United States to your grocery store, where the unloaders do not wear sanitary gloves either and the produce workers may or may not wash their hands. Then you come along and blithely pick up those vegetables and toss them into your cart, never thinking about where they’ve been.
As one who decades ago routinely used to eat fruits and vegetables—and not organic ones either—without washing them first, I stand here today a living miracle, never having contracted a serious disease. However, in recent years, there have been breakouts of various diseases that were carried on vegetables. Sometimes the FDA puts out a warning that people are dying from eating some kind of vegetable or other. Just between you and me, it’s not the vegetables that are killing people. What’s killing them is eating dirty vegetables that they did not bother to wash. Improper handling of vegetables somewhere along the supply chain between the field to your table almost guarantees that they will have germs on them when you get them. Sometimes runoff from nearby cattle farms contaminates vegetables with e-coli or some other virulent disease. Just keep in mind that this is still not the fault of the vegetables. Vegetables are perfectly safe to eat as long as they’re organic. They just have to be washed and trimmed first. I always wash them now.
Let me share how I clean my produce.
1. The first thing I do is remove all the outer leaves from green leafy vegetables—even if they look absolutely fine, but especially if they don’t. I know it’s hard to throw away “perfectly good” outer leaves, but remember this—everyone that’s touched your vegetable before you got it touched THOSE leaves. It’s unlikely that they shoved their hand inside a head of romaine, but they had to pick it up somehow, and it was with those outer leaves. Those hands with various bodily fluids on them touched your vegetables, and any e-coli they happened to come into contact with is still on the leaves. So I remove all the outer leaves, even though it sometimes seems brutal when they look pretty.
2. Then I briefly rinse off the vegetables to get off any surface contamination like bugs or dirt. While I was preparing today’s salad, a cute little ladybug hopped off the head of romaine but sneaked away before I could get a photo. That’s an occasional bonus you get with organic vegetables; they actually support living things and have not been poisoned with pesticides, so sometimes you see a live ladybug.
3. Next I look the greens over for any broken or rotten spots, which I take off. Green leafy vegetables often have burned-looking edges at the very tips of the leaves; I rip those off. You’ll want to rip them off and not cut them off with a knife, since cutting with a knife can alter the flavor—your greens may taste bitter afterward. I also take off any stickers, because they will block the germ-removing soak water from reaching that area of the fruit or vegetable’s surface.
4. I then give my vegetables a good soak. If they’re non-organic, I spray them with a veggie wash product as directed, rinse thoroughly, then soak them in a bowl of water with a teaspoon of Montmorillonite clay mixed in. I use Living Clay. If they’re organic, I just use the clay water and skip the veggie wash. Veggie wash products are designed to remove pesticides and herbicides on the surface of fruits and vegetables; they contain natural solvents. Water alone does not remove pesticides and herbicides, so if you don’t eat organic, a good veggie wash product—one designed specifically for washing produce (don’t substitute any other kind of cleaner)—should always be on your kitchen counter. The clay removes germs and environmental radiation from your produce. Don’t worry if you don’t get all the clay off. It has a neutral taste and is quite good for you. I make it a point to drink some liquid clay from time to time anyway, especially if I’m detoxing.
5. Finally, I rinse off the vegetables or fruit, spin in a salad spinner (if they’re leafy greens) or wipe dry (if they’re not leafy), and they’re ready to eat or prepare in a dish. I like the OXO salad spinner.
Be aware that 99% of the restaurants you go to do not go to all this trouble to prepare the fruits and vegetables they serve you. They generally just rinse everything off for a couple of seconds under the faucet and they’re done. Even your local salad bar probably does the same. My dad owned a produce company, and he often said that if you could see inside the kitchens of most restaurants, you would never eat there again. Point well taken. Fortunately, your own kitchen can be better than that. In terms of actual preparation time, I figure it only takes me 1 or 2 minutes longer, max, to go through my preparation routine than to do nothing at all like I used to, not counting the soaking time. Having clean, safe fruits and vegetables is well worth that tiny amount of time in my book.
Of all the things you consume every day, fruits and vegetables are by far the most beneficial to your health. The antioxidants, phytonutrients, and polyphenols they contain will build your health and strengthen your immune system. They will strengthen your bones and protect your brain, keep your heart healthy, and provide a wealth of other health benefits that you could not get any other way, even from supplements. So don’t blame the vegetables when there is a breakout of some disease. Just wash your vegetables. No one ever got a disease from a truly clean fruit or vegetable.