We’ve all heard that we should wash certain foods before we eat them, right? Some of the foods we eat should obviously be washed before eating, like berries, apples, and heads of lettuce. But other food items aren’t quite as obvious, and others can be downright confusing! To help myself as much as anyone else, I decided to put together a little guide about food washing. I think you’ll find it as helpful as I do!
We’ll start by talking about 5 foods you should wash before eating, and why it’s important to do so. Then we’ll switch gears and cover 5 foods you should not wash, for reasons that might surprise you! My hope is that by the end of this post, you feel a little more confident and a little less confused about washing foods! :-)
5 Foods You Should Wash
1. Food & Drink Cans
Canned food and drinks travel a long way before they arrive at the grocery store. They pass through warehouses, distribution centers, and trucks, picking up all kinds of dirt and grime along the way. Not the kind of stuff you want to put near your mouth or into your food! So give your canned foods and drinks a quick rinse before opening them, just to be safe.
2. Canned Beans
Now that we’ve covered what’s on the outside of the can, let’s talk about what’s on the inside! Most canned food can be eaten as-is, but canned beans are an exception. When they’re canned, they are packed in a solution of water and salt. But over time, the water absorbs some of the starch from the beans, turning it thick and starchy. That liquid can affect the taste and texture of whatever you put it in, so make sure to rinse those beans before using! Just pour the beans into a sieve and rinse for a few seconds under cold water.
3. Fruits With Inedible Skins
It may seem silly to wash the outside of a watermelon, avocado, or lemon. But those inedible peels can carry bacteria, and cutting into them can transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside. And that bacteria has the potential to make people very sick! (You can read here about a recent incident where several people contracted salmonella after eating pre-cut melon.) Wash all of your produce thoroughly before using, including the items with inedible skins and peels!
4. Grains & Legumes
Most grains and dry legumes should be rinsed before cooking. Rinsing them removes any starchy powder that may have been produced during shipping. Rinsing the excess starch off of your rice will make your cooked rice fluffier and less sticky. Other grains like quinoa, farro, barley, and wild rice should also be rinsed before cooking. (Bonus Tip—Rinse your grains in a french press! Just pour them into the carafe, cover them with cold water, and give it a stir. Then press the plunger down, pour the water out, and your grains or legumes will be clean and ready to use!)
Dry beans and lentils should at least be rinsed before using. Some people like to soak beans before cooking, partly because it makes them cook more quickly. If you do plan on soaking your beans, make sure to change the water out every few hours to prevent them from starting to ferment.
Shellfish like clams and mussels are often filled with sand and grit. You’ll definitely want to rinse them off before cooking! Start by rinsing them under the cold water to remove most of the sediment. Then place them into a pot or bowl of cold water and chill it in the fridge for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. After the half hour is up, gently scoop the shellfish out of the pot. (You should see quite a bit more sediment that has settled at the bottom!)
5 Foods You Shouldn’t Wash
1. Poultry & Fish
Up until quite recently, I thought you were supposed to rinse poultry before cooking it. But it turns out that rinsing only spreads germs around! If there is any bacteria on the outside of the meat, rinsing it will only spread the bacteria around your sink, and possibly your whole kitchen! Instead, just pat the outside with a paper towel to get rid of some of the extra moisture. As long as you cook the meat to the recommended temperature for food safety, you shouldn’t have to worry about any lingering bacteria. (Just in case you need a refresher—chicken and turkey should reach 165°F, and fish should reach 145°F.)
2. Bagged Greens
Many bagged or packaged greens have been pre-washed. If an item is labeled as being ready-to-eat, you don’t have to take the time to wash it again.
Store-bought eggs undergo a special washing process before they are packed into their cartons. It sanitizes the outside of the eggshells, so you don’t have to worry about washing them again. (But if you’re eating eggs laid by backyard chickens, you’ll definitely want to give the shells a wash before cracking them open.)
Don’t rinse your pasta before boiling it. While it’s true that you don’t want starchy dust on your grains, you do want it on your pasta! That extra starch helps sauce stick to your pasta instead of it sliding right off.
You’ll definitely wan’t to rinse the dirt off your mushrooms right before cooking. But what you don’t want to do is wash them right when you bring them home. Washing them will shorten their shelf life dramatically, so save it until right before you plan on eating them!