Know How To Wash Fresh Produce And Store Food By Following These Golden Rules
Dietician and nutritionist Neelanjana Singh gives some useful instructions on how to ensure hygiene and safety of the food we wash and store
Washing practices vary from home to home. Each household vouches for following the safest and best practices to maintain hygiene. Here, I am listing the advice that I give to all my clients.
Washing Fresh Produce
1. Proper washing of fruits and vegetables is necessary to remove dirt, bacteria and harmful pesticides. Ideally, it is best to wash fruits and vegetables just before use. In fact, the risk of cross-contamination is minimized if the product is thoroughly washed just before cutting or peeling. Washing produce before storing promotes bacterial growth and speeds up spoilage. However, if you choose to wash before storing, dry well with a paper or cloth towel before refrigeration.
2. Thorough rinsing of fresh produce under running water is an effective way to remove not only dirt and bacteria, but also residual pesticides.
3. Another effective method is to soak raw fruits and vegetables in hydrogen peroxide solution and then rinse off with running water. This procedure removes traces of bacteria and pesticides. The soaking process should be done in a clean utensil rather than in the sink. The drain area of the sink usually harbours many microbes, so avoid using the sink for holding water and soaking vegetables and fruits.
Washing vegetables in the sink is to be strictly avoided.
The new generation of fruit and vegetable washes contain malic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and aloe vera leaf juice powder. Such solutions get rid of E.coli, Listeria and Salmonella bacteria. They have no aftertaste and the time required for contact with produce is just 30 seconds. These solutions should be available in India soon.
Here’s a word of caution regarding commercial fruit and vegetable washes. The safety of the chemical residues of these products left on the skin of the food has not yet been evaluated and their effectiveness has not been tested and standardized. Therefore, for the time being, it is safer to avoid commercial fruit and vegetable washes that are available in the market.
The washing procedure varies depending on the type and the characteristics of the produce.
- Leafy green vegetables are difficult to clean. The proper way is to immerse the leaves in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. To this, add vinegar (half cup white vinegar to one cup water). Then, rinse with plain water to reduce bacterial contamination.
- Remove the outermost layer of leaves of cabbage before washing and cooking to reduce pesticide residues.
- It is a good idea to use a vegetable brush to clean the outer skin of those vegetables/fruits that have a rough, netted surface like bitter gourd, melon, carrot and potatoes. While washing, cleaning with a brush for 5–10 seconds is effective for root vegetables with a rough outer peel, such as yam and sweet potato.
- Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and green beans should be soaked in lukewarm salt water (two per cent) for two minutes before cooking. This really means one should add 20 g/4 tsp salt to one litre of water, which helps to wash away the pesticides present in the food.
- Do not use detergent and bleach solutions to clean the food as the porous skin of fruits and vegetables could absorb some of them and render the food unfit for consumption.
- Washing of meats, poultry and eggs is not recommended before storage. In fact, washing before storage helps bacteria to spread, and the risk of cross contamination goes up. They should be washed just before use.
The next aspect of healthy eating focuses on the storage of food. There is no denying that fresh food tastes best (though there are some exceptions in the category of dals—Makhani dal tastes better after it is stored in the fridge overnight!). But these days, eating fresh produce is considered a luxury, so it is all the more important to store food in a way so that the important nutrients are not lost.
The relevance of storage of food is becoming increasingly important in our lives. We now stock all kinds of raw, packaged and cooked foods at home. All of these need care and monitoring when you store them.
Certain foods can be stored for reasonably long periods of time without being refrigerated. Grains should be stored in dry jars at room temperature.
Foodstuffs such as sugar, salt and lentils can also be stored for long periods at room temperature.
Some veggies and fruits are better off without refrigeration. These include melon, sweet potato, garlic, onion and pumpkin.
It's not always necessary to refrigerate food. (Image used for representative purposes only. Image courtesy Flickr)
The more processed the food, the greater the care it needs while storing. For example, flours are very prone to infestation by mites. Storing them in a plastic bag is not a good idea as mites can easily make tiny holes in the plastic wrapper to contaminate the product.
- It is far more prudent to store flour in the freezer for 48 hours and then transfer it to an airtight/food-grade plastic/steel container. This practice will inactivate any mites that may be present in it without being visible. Bay leaves added to the flour will also keep bugs away.
- For storing rice, too, add bay leaves/dried neem leaves to keep the mites out.
Book cover courtesy Hachette India