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Do You Know Which Foods You Should Be Washing?

Foods to Wash

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

Foods to 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.

Foods to Wash

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.

Foods to Wash

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!

Foods to Wash

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!)

Related: 9 Useful Things You Can Do With A French Press

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.

Foods to Wash

5. Shellfish

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.)

Foods to Wash

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.

Foods to Wash

3. Eggs

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.)

Foods to Wash

4. Pasta

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.

Foods to Wash

5. Mushrooms

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!

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • I inspect food facilities for a living. Shelf stable Ready To Eat food in 3rd party warehouses (esp. canned goods) are also the least enforced for food safety. 2nd and 3rd layer packaging is sometimes “reapplied” in these facilities due to transport damage. Rat droppings and urine are not uncommon. Wash your beverage cans but do that with ALL canned goods. Because they are sturdy they tend to get the least amount of protection

  • For vegetables and fruit, think of it this way……what hands have touched this item? eg. bananas? Numerous hands have touched these items before you get them. You take a, let’s say a banana, in your hands, you are absorbing/touching the germs etc that are on that banana peeling from the people who touched this banana before, and then you peel the banana, expose the flesh and put your hands on the flesh, then you eat it!!! Yuk!!!!

    Organic veggies and fruit absolutely have to be washed. Farmers may not use heavy chemicals but they do use organic fertilizers….think cows!

    • OK that makes sense. What about meat? All that blood and the fact that there are probably no sanitation practices regarding the cutting devices- and boards- used by the butchers. Salmonella, trichinosis, or other contamination transferred to the raw meat. Using disposable gloves, while preparing the meat for cooking, sounds like a good method to me. Anyone agree?

      • Hi Joan: I stopped eating meat years ago, but based on when I did and when I prepared food for pets, I always used parchment paper or something that was disposable to place the meat on or something that was non-organic (plates) to work on. You need to keep the area really clean, even with meat, but, the saving grace is that you cook meat which kills off many surface bacteria. Having said that, even when you buy already minced meat (versus grinding your own) from a butcher, it has more bacteria on it because it has been exposed to the air. Information on preparing raw diets/food for pets addresses bacteria levels in/on meat. I think using gloves is a good idea. The less you touch the meat, the better. You never know what bacteria is under your nails. I became a vegetarian 35 years ago but I still used meat for my pets.

      • Thank you so much for your reply and ideas, Janice! I’m sure some people will think I’m a nut, but I rarely cook meat because of the prepping and sanitation problems involved. My husband enjoys cooking so he does all the meat dishes in his own small kitchen he made for himself in the cellar. I don’t watch what he does in his kitchen. He is a good cook, however. I’ll cook fish, but raw meat and poultry are repulsive to me- and knowing the unsanitary practices the butchers use is of great concern. I should be a vegetarian, but for health reasons and dietary restrictions, I need the meat. When I used to cook meat, I was fanatical about prep and clean-up. And there weren’t disposable gloves back then! I had read a book called, “Meat Eaters Are Threatened”, and that was an eye-opener- and scary. It changed my meat-preparation practices and clean-up forever.
        Joan

      • Well Joan, if your husband does all the cooking in his Chef’s kitchen, and you’re still alive, then what you don’t know isn’t hurting you!!! I agree with your concern about meat preparation. My father was a butcher and was meticulous, but that was a long, long time ago and it was his store. I don’t trust the big store meat departments and when I was going to buy meat for my pets, I went to a smaller butcher shop. You are completely right though. It’s hard to know what you can eat these days without mega contaminations, even fish is questionable (especially Tilapia!). Who knows anymore! I have trouble keeping up with washing my lettuce these days! Janice

  • What about washing organic fruits and veggies? Also, regarding not washing chicken, when one touches the chicken, one has to wash hands afterward- so the sink becomes contaminated anyway- and has to be cleaned and sanitized. Do you recommend using disposable gloves instead so the hands and sink do not come in contact with the bacteria? What about other meat?

    • I have been baking turkeys for years and I always rinse the turkey and coat it in butter by hand before stuffing it and seasoning it. I bake it all night and all is fine. Just do what you have always done and make sure the meat is well done and always wash your hands before prepping and after. Also always wash your hands before eating and wash things that you feel necessary to wash.

    • When it comes to organic fruits and veggies, you still need to rinse the dirt off of them. :-)

      Washing dirty hands definitely won’t spread as many germs around as rinsing the actual piece of chicken will. I would still suggest cleaning the sink afterwards, and gloves are a great time-saver! :-) Chicken is by far the most dangerous meat, but it’s good to practice cleanliness with all raw meat and fish.

  • I have always read that one should not wash fresh mushrooms. The mushroom will just absorb the water. You should just take a damp towel and rub them off. Knowing this I still like to wash the mushrooms . I don’t feel wiping them off with a damp cloth is good enough.

    • Search out an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats called “Myth Smashers.” Spoiler alert: Washing mushrooms (even soaking up to 30 minutes) only causes the mushrooms to absorb a negligible amount of water. I found this to be good news since I always preferred washing over brushing them off.

  • I had read an article that said with all the bacteria scare and recalls that you should rinse your pre-washed bagged greens again. I started doing that, using half white vinegar and half water solution in a bowl, and let them sit for 5 minutes then drain them and rinse with water. (And, no, the vinegar does not leave a taste, but is actually a good cleaner, I use it to clean all my fruit and veggies! And it is great for LOTS of other cleaning, too.) And then use my salad spinner. I was surprised at how much dirt there was still on the salad, especially spinach!
    Just FYI. Thanks for all your info. I look forward to seeing your emails daily!!!

  • What about onions? I was given some home-grown onions that still have lots of dirt on them so I will wash them, of course, but the onions from the store seem clean and TV chefs never seem to wash onions.

  • Great information! But don’t you mean don’t wash the pasta AFTER boiling? I have never heard of rinsing it before. I know that many recipes will say to rinse or not rinse after boiling.

  • I’m a certified food service manager, and a cafeteria manager in an elementary school. The importance of
    this information is huge, and everyone needs to know it & apply it. Bananas are another fruit that needs to be rinsed off before consumption. I’m sure you did your research on the subject- you did a GREAT JOB!!

    • Yes on bananas. This one is huge. I read on e that the bananas usually come from the jungle where spiders, monkeys, snakes, etc. all have come in contact with them. I have since washed them very well when I bring them home.

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