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Common Causes of Foodborne Illness and How to Properly Wash Your Produce

For many of us, fresh local produce season is here!

Whether you buy your produce at a farmer’s market, a grocery store, or grow it yourself, care should always be taken to wash fruits and vegetables to prevent foodborne illness.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, over 47 million, or 1 in 6, Americans contract a type of “food poisoning” each year. Symptoms range from fever, body aches, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), and dangerous levels of dehydration. Always seek emergency medical care if you have severe symptoms, heart palpitations, dizziness upon standing, or little to no urine production.

Not only does produce have the potential to be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, but bacteria, viruses, and parasites from soil, water, insects, animals, and people can be passed on to your fresh food, making it important to properly wash even organic produce. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has identified over 250 foodborne diseases, leading to over 3000 deaths annually!

Common Causes of Foodborne Illness:

  • Campylobacter
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Escherichia coli
  • Listeria
  • Salmonella
  • Norovirus (the “stomach flu”)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Vibrio
  • Shigella
  • Botulism
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Giardia duodenalis
  • Cyclospora
  • Cupric sulfate
  • Dichlobenil

If you have recently experienced food poisoning, or seem to always get sick from eating local or home-grown produce, our bioenergetic scans could be for you! We bioenergetically test for exposure to pesticides, herbicides, bacteria, viruses, and parasites! Check out our scan packages here!

Common Sources of Foodborne Illness

  • Lettuce and greens
  • Salad mix
  • Spinach
  • Garnishes (parsley, cilantro, etc.)
  • Sprouts and microgreens
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Pre-cut fruits and vegetables

It’s common practice to simply run fruits and vegetables under tap water and maybe even dry them off with a paper towel. While this may be effective for removing some excess dirt, it is not effective in washing off artificial fruit wax, germs, or chemicals.

One of the most effective ways to wash your produce requires water and an inexpensive common household item – hydrogen peroxide!

Despite sounding like a harsh chemical, hydrogen peroxide is actually found naturally and is formed by oxygen, hydrogen, and energy and sunlight in the air. Even better, hydrogen peroxide has the ability to kill over 99% of bacteria, parasites, and viruses while removing pesticides and herbicides.

Vinegar is also touted as a natural fruit and vegetable cleaner, but studies show that it offers no ability to kill viruses and a narrow range when it comes to eradicating bacteria. Studies show, however, that adding baking soda or salt to vinegar may provide an increase in antibacterial properties.

For those who are interested in a technologically-forward natural cleaning method, there are now commercially available ozonizing fruit and vegetable cleaning machines. These portable or countertop machines use water infused with ozone, a natural gas made of three oxygen molecules, to kill pathogens and inactivate up to 99% of pesticides on produce. If this is of interest to you, make sure to thoroughly research product options and make your purchase from a reputable dealer.

For some of us, we stick to using trusty and cost-effective hydrogen peroxide to wash our produce. The most common concentrations of readily available hydrogen peroxide are 0.5% and 3%. You will want to use the 3% concentration in this case.

How to Properly Wash Your Produce to Avoid Foodborne Illness

  • Always begin by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before handling food. Make sure to scrub under your fingernails! It’s also a good idea to turn off your water source with a towel or by using your elbow (if possible) after rinsing your hands of the soap.
  • For fruits with thick skin, such as lemons, oranges, pears, apples, mangos, melons, pumpkins, and avocados, you’ll want to have a scrub brush ready. These fruits are often waxed to maintain an attractive appearance in grocery stores. Fruit wax also acts as a preservative, assisting in water retention of the fruit. Fruit wax may be derived from natural sources, such as beeswax or carnauba palm wax, or artificial sources, such as petroleum. Often, the fruit will have a layer of natural coating and then a layer of artificial coating that is combined with shellac. Shellac is a resin that is secreted from the Kerriidae, or lac, insect. For vegans, fruit wax can turn produce into an animal product.
  • You’ll also want to have your scrub brush handy for hearty vegetables like radishes, beets, carrots, potatoes, cucumber, peppers, and firm tomatoes. Make sure that your scrub brush is dedicated to only cleaning produce.
  • In a clean bowl (never your kitchen sink), combine hydrogen peroxide and water at a 1-to-1 ratio. Sources suggest several ratios for hydrogen peroxide to water but keep in mind that some of these ratios are using up to 35% hydrogen peroxide. We are working with 3% and this ratio satisfies the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation of up to 59 parts per million sanitizing solution for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Once you have mixed your solution, dip your produce scrub brush into the mixture and scrub the item over a clean sink. Even if you plan to peel or simply slice up your fresh fruit, scrubbing is necessary to remove artificial wax, pesticides, dirt, parasitic eggs, and other biological toxins. This step may also be performed with only clean water, as friction is the real key here. You need not scrub hard- a gentle but thorough scrubbing will do.
  • Whether or not your fruit or vegetable was eligible for a scrubbing treatment, the next step is to immerse the produce in the hydrogen peroxide and water solution. Allow delicate produce, such as berries and spinach, to soak for 5 to 10 minutes. For firm produce, you may soak for 15 minutes. Stir the solution occasionally to provide gentle agitation.
  • Once your produce has finished its bath, give it a final quick rinse with clean water. Allow your produce to dry (air dry or a clean, tightly woven cloth works just fine), before going on to slicing or eating. This is especially important if you do not plan on using the produce immediately, as stagnant moisture can encourage mold and bacterial growth.
  • Don’t forget to clean your produce scrub brush after every use. Many are made to withstand the temperature of a dishwasher, which is an easy way to disinfect with heat. You can also clean your scrub brush with another clean mix of water and hydrogen peroxide. Let the scrub brush dry completely before putting it up for storage.

And there you have it!

An easy, cost-effective way to wash your fruits and veggies! Though no cleaning method can guarantee 100% removal of pesticides, viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other toxins every time, using hydrogen peroxide to wash your produce has been shown to be over 99% effective on all of the above!

Washing your fresh food isn’t the only way to help prevent foodborne illness. For example, it is essential that fruits and vegetables do not interact with uncooked meat. Always keep your fruits and vegetables separated from eggs, seafood, meat, and raw dairy products.

Additionally, take care to trim off the hull (leafy green top) of strawberries and the base of whole celery, mizuna, bok choy, romaine, endive, and other whole lettuce plants. For vegetables that grow in layers, such as cabbage and butterhead lettuce, peel off the first few outer leaves before washing. The same goes for peeling off the first layer of an onion or a shallot. Rather than creating food waste, you can use these scraps to create your own natural, plant-based compost and fertilizer.

Here at Balanced Health, we encourage a healthy diet that includes fresh, yet clean, fruits and vegetables. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and hydration.

Do you know that we also scan for resonating vitamin and mineral imbalances? Not only that, but we check you for amino acid, enzyme, and fatty acid imbalances! Learning what imbalances resonate with you can provide you with the knowledge you need to make positive lifestyle changes.

Our Full Scan, Prenatal Scan, Balancing Scan, and Dietary Scan are all geared towards identifying your unique imbalances.

We also offer personal consultations where we go over the results of any scan with you to get the most out of your scan results!