A while back a friend sent me a link about how to wash fresh produce and I was surprised to see that the “recipe” included bleach. Clorox brand bleach, to be precise. For a while I had been using a commercial produce wash spray, but it was really kind of a pain in the ass and expensive. After that I took to washing each individual piece of fruit or veggie by hand with a squirt of anti-bacterial hand soap. Unfortunately that meant that sometimes my apple tasted like perfume. So when she sent me the link, I decided to give it a try. This method not only has the benefit of really cleaning the produce – killing the bad stuff – it helps it stay fresher longer. When I bring home my fruits and veggies from the grocery store, I fill up the sink with water + a little bit of Clorox (a fresh batch for each group of fruit or vegetable) and spend some time soaking everything – then it’s all ready for me to use straight out of the refrigerator. I wash everything but raspberries (which tend to break down once washed, though strawberries, blueberries and blackberries all do well as long as they are allowed to air dry thoroughly) this way – even greens and herbs.
Although not enthusiastic supporters of the method, here’s what the FDA has to say about it:
Bleach — One set of instructions that has circulated includes the use of bleach. One is to mix 1 teaspoon of bleach (must contain sodium hypochlorite and no phosphorous) in 1 gallon of water. This mixture is similar to the sanitizing solution that one uses to sanitize food-contact surfaces after washing. The fresh produce is to be soaked in this solution for 10 minutes and then rinsed thoroughly in another bowl with running water for 5 minutes.
Washing fresh produce using this procedure is safe and relatively effective in killing harmful microroganisms if the directions are followed exactly. It is very important that fresh (less than six months old), unscented bleach is used and the quantity of bleach used should never exceed 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Chlorine bleach at the dilution of 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water is safe to use on fresh produce before eating. In fact, these concentrations of chlorine bleach are often used to wash food industry produce. The problem with this recommendation is the concern that consumers might use a higher concentration of bleach. A more highly concentrated solution could be dangerous.
Fingers crossed I’ve never had an ill-effects from this method – and it makes me feel better about the food I’m consuming. If the sound of using bleach to wash your food turns you off, here’s a site that includes a couple of different ways to get the job done.