Even if you’re diligent about scouring the floor and wiping the countertops, no kitchen will be 100 percent germ- or bacteria-free. Still, minimizing your chances of getting sick can be simple if you use some food-cleaning know-how and helpful utensils.
A colander (or strainer) allows you to wash fruit and vegetables quickly and safely because it lessens the risk of contamination from other foods, such as raw meat, that might have been in the sink earlier. Look for a self-standing model so that you can rinse food with one hand and tumble it around in the colander with the other.
A corer can be used to remove the least edible parts of apples, pears, pineapples and other hard fruits and vegetables. Look for a blade large enough to remove the whole core, or your produce could have bits of seed attached.
A vegetable brush is best for washing potatoes, other root vegetables and hard-skinned fruits such as cantaloupe, mango and watermelon. It can reach into crevices that running water and paper towels can’t. Look for brushes that fit your hand and are comfortable to use. When scrubbing tender fruits such as plums, use brushes with softer bristles, such as nylon.
Some tools are useful, but you can do without others. For example, you don’t need to buy a produce wash. Friction and running water are enough to help remove soil from produce, says Linda Harris, a food-safety specialist at the University of California at Davis. Drying fruits and vegetables with a paper towel might remove more surface bacteria.
Wash refrigerator bins with dish detergent in warm water. Crisper drawers hold more bacteria than any other part of the refrigerator. Wash them often in a clean sink. After drying thoroughly with paper towels, spray the bins with a homemade sanitizing solution (a tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water) and let stand for at least 15 seconds, then dry thoroughly again with paper towels before returning them to the refrigerator.
New research is shaking up what we thought we knew about washing our food, but some well-known advice still stands. Here’s what we found about which produce and other foods need a wash or rinsing and which should be left alone:
●Bagged, pre-washed greens: Yes. Consumer Reports’ 2010 tests of bagged, pre-washed greens, such as ready-to-eat salad, found bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation. A good rinse in a colander and a whirl in a salad spinner can remove soil and insects.
●Cantaloupe: Yes. Scrubbing the outside of rough-textured produce, specifically dimply cantaloupes, is extremely important in preventing illness caused by food. Bacteria can hide in the small crevices of the fruits and travel inward once a knife cuts through it. Scrubbing with a vegetable brush under running water is the surest way to prevent the fleshy part of the fruit from becoming contaminated.
●Eggs: No. Commercially produced eggs are cleaned as part of the packaging process and don’t need to be washed again. In fact, water can cause harm by entering the egg through its porous shell, increasing the risk of contamination.
●Herbs: Yes. Herbs are best cleaned in a colander under running water. Tossing them around helps to ensure that all surfaces get rinsed, but in the case of excess dirt and grime, swishing herbs in a clean bowl of water before rinsing is most helpful.
●Loose, leafy greens: Yes. For leafy greens such as lettuce, discard the outside leaves, where dirt and bacteria lurk most often. Then separate remaining leaves and wash individually, rubbing gently to dislodge soil. Salad spinners also help by removing excess moisture.
●Raw meat and poultry: No. Rinsing might rid meat of some bacteria, but those same bacteria will then wind up in the sink or elsewhere in your kitchen within splashing distance. It’s best to simply cook the meat thoroughly, which can kill bacteria once and for all.
●Tender produce: Yes. Produce such as peaches, plums and tomatoes should be rinsed under cool, briskly running water for 30 to 60 seconds and rubbed with a nylon vegetable brush to help remove soil and pesticides. Cut away damaged or decayed areas and dry thoroughly with a paper towel.