Important Food Safety Tips for Washing Your Food

Learn what foods to wash and how to wash them


Kitchen surfaces and hands aren’t the only things that need to be cleaned—some foods do too. Others—like raw meat and poultry—should not be washed, and doing so may cause more harm than good.

There is good reason to wash produce, but it’s not a panacea. Washing fruits won’t remove bacteria that are inside the flesh itself, such as Salmonella inside a tomato. But it can remove surface dirt, pesticide residues, and almost-invisible insects.

Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, even if you plan to peel them. Remove the outer leaves of heads of leafy vegetables like cabbage and lettuce. Don’t use soap (it leaves a residue). Produce washes are okay. Exception: pre-washed bagged lettuce or other produce needs no further washing, because you can actually contaminate clean greens with bacteria from the sink. Scrub firm produce, like melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. For melons, it’s important to let them air-dry before cutting.

Don’t rinse raw meat and poultry, because that can actually help bacteria spread. Juices may splash onto (and contaminate) your sink and countertops—some studies have shown contamination splashing up to six feet around the kitchen during rinsing.

All commercial eggs are washed before sale. Any extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, may actually increase the risk of contamination, especially if the shell cracks.

At this point, your hands are clean, the kitchen is clean, and any food that should be washed has been washed. Which means you’re ready for the main event: cooking.