Could coronavirus be lurking on the surface of your apples?
Just think how many hands pick through them, to find the perfect specimen! Likewise for tomatoes and pretty much everything else.
Whether it’s influenza, COVID-19 coronavirus, or any of the number of viruses responsible for the common cold, all of these can be on the surface of your fresh produce.
No, not from the farm. Rather, from all the people that touch them at the grocery store.
While there are over 900 chemicals used on conventional fruits and veggies, organic produce is sprayed with pesticides, too.
Glyphosate can’t be used in organic farming, but there 25 synthetic pesticides which are allowed with the USDA certified organic seal. These include copper sulfate, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), chlorine dioxide, boric acid, sulfurous acid, and other man-made chemicals, many of which carry health concerns.
Waxes like carnauba and that from bees, as well as lac-resin made from insects, is permitted for coating the skins and peels of organic apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, and other produce which looks unnaturally shiny at the grocery store. (1)
Chemicals and viruses aside, how about the droppings of insects and birds?
What is arguably even grosser than bug juice are the many hands which have touched and squeezed that bright red organic tomato before you ever laid eyes on it.
The same hands and fingers that people use to pick and wipe their nose with… as well as other body parts. Not to mention, the fact that others are contaminating your food with human pathogens in the process, which may include influenza and the rhinovirus that causes the common cold.
Conventional vs. organic doesn’t matter. Either way, you have plenty of good reasons for needing to clean vegetables before eating them!
Can vinegar remove pesticides from vegetables?
Making a vinegar vegetable wash is a popular home remedy.
The simple recipe for how to make it typically calls for apple cider vinegar that is diluted to a 10% concentration in a basin of water. Tomatoes, lettuce, onions, apples, berries or whatever else can be soaked in the solution for 5-10 minutes before undergoing a final rinse. The theory is that this removes pesticides and kills the germs on their skin.
The problem with this remedy is that it hasn’t been scientifically validated. No one knows if soaking vegetables in vinegar to remove pesticides works, or if it kills E. coli and other bacteria by disinfecting them. It’s unlikely to kill viruses like COVID-19 and influenza.
Almost any water-based soak, spray, or rinse likely removes at least some surface contaminants, but how effective vinegar is remains speculative. Those who claim it works are basing it merely on an unfounded opinion.
Using vinegar and water to clean them is better than nothing, but the safest method will be to use a natural vegetable wash which has been formally tested.
What can I use to clean fruit and veggies?
There are EPA approved commercial bleach solutions that are commonly used by food manufacturers for killing germs and removing pesticides from produce. The problem with these is that bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is mutagenic.
That means it mutates DNA, which causes cell permanent damage. This contributes to the aging process and while the vast majority of DNA mutations have an unknown effect, all cancers ultimately arise from a DNA mutation which causes rogue growth. (2)
Furthermore, these bleach-based washes may not even work that well.
In a 2017 issue of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists at the University of Massachusetts tested 3 different fruit washes on fresh Gala apples:
- tap water
- 1% baking soda solution in tap water
- EPA-approved commercial bleach solution
Prior to washing the apples, they applied two common pesticides:
- thiabendazole, which is a fungicide
- phosmet, which is an insecticide
To measure how well each wash worked, they used some fancy equipment:
- surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) mapping
- liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS)
With those tools, they were able to measure how much of each pesticide remained on the surface, and how much remained in the apple’s skin, where it had soaked in.
Surprisingly, 1% baking soda in water works better than bleach at washing the pesticides off the fruit. After soaking 15 minutes, 80% of thiabendazole came off and 96% of the phosmet. Fruit and veggie wash made with bleach, as well as rinsing with tap water for 2 minutes, are far less effective methods. (3)
The thiabendazole penetrated down into the apples about 80 micrometers, which is represented by the red, yellow, and green on the imaging.
F and G are what’s left of the thiabendazole after soaking the apples in baking soda for 8 and 12 minutes, respectively. The blue represents normal fruit without the chemical.
If nothing else, get this food grade baking soda on Amazon and use it with water, if you want a homemade mixture. At least baking soda has been formally tested, unlike vinegar to remove pesticides, which might be more of a myth versus a viable cleaning strategy.
If you want something premade, what follows are reviews of three rinses on the market that are made with naturally-derived ingredients.
Ideally, you want to clean off your apples, strawberries, grapes, spinach, tomatoes, and other “dirty dozen” offenders with a natural wash that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, detergents, or synthetic oils. If you can afford to do so, clean all of your produce!
Okay, so the brand name isn’t the most creative, but the simplicity of it is representative of what you’re getting; a natural fruit and veggie wash made with ingredients that aren’t too complicated.
Sure, some you can’t pronounce easily, like decyl glucoside, but that’s a fancy name for plant-based fatty alcohols (coconut c8-16) and glucose (sugar/ starch). Here’s everything the label lists:
Ingredients: Water, Potassium Oleate, Glycerin, Decyl Glucoside, Limonene (Natural Citrus Oil), Organic Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Potassium Sorbate.
We have checked with Beaumont Products, who is the manufacturer, and they have confirmed that the glycerin is vegetable-derived. While not all organic, the orange peel essential oil is.That, along with the essential oils of lemon and rosemary, have powerful antimicrobial activity.
In the lab, rosemary oil has been excellent at killing tested viruses, even at very low percentages. (4) (5)
How effective is veggie wash? The label says it has been lab tested and proven to remove wax, soil, and agricultural chemicals (i.e. pesticides) “significantly better” than rinsing with water alone.
As to how much better, or what percentage better, that’s not clear. Though at least this Kennesaw, Georgia based company reports it’s laboratory proven… something that not all of the veggie rinse brands claim. It’s also made in the USA, not China like some others.
How to use
For firm produce like tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, apples, and grapes, the Veggie Wash instructions are as follows:
- Generously spray the produce with veggie wash.
- Rub it in using your hands for 20-30 seconds.
- Rinse thoroughly under cold water.
For soft vegetables like lettuce, kale, broccoli, and delicate fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, you will be soaking them in Veggie Wash:
- Dilute ¼ cup (2 oz) of Veggie Wash in a large bowl or other container.
- Soak and swish for 30 seconds.
- Rinse thoroughly under cold water.
Note that it says you should not use it on mushrooms, because they are porous and will absorb the wash. With other produce, there’s no aftertaste.
Where to buy
You can buy Veggie Wash at Whole Foods, Home Depot (surprisingly) and you can get it on Amazon.
Trader Joe’s Vegetable Wash
Reviews of Trader Joe’s fruit and vegetable wash are generally favorable by customers. However, there are no scientific reviews or data published by the company as to how well it works at removing pesticides and killing bacteria/viruses.
As with many of TJ’s foods and products, odds are they don’t even manufacture it themselves. Rather, they probably are slapping their label on someone else’s product.
The label does say it’s “formulated to remove waxes, pesticides, and chemicals” and that it’s a “non-toxic” formula. They don’t say anything about it killing viruses or bacteria. It’s safe to eat food washed with it and that’s about all we know.
Of course, we know that none of these brands have been tested against the COVID-19 coronavirus, but still, ingredients which have at least demonstrated some potent antiviral activity would be nice to see.
Ingredients: Purified Water, Natural Cleansing Agents (Derived from Coconut Oil and Corn Oil), Grapefruit Seed Extract, Lemon-Orange Extract.
How to use
- Apply a few drops directly to produce.
- Massage for approximately 30 seconds.
- Rinse thoroughly with water.
For bulk washing in a basin or sink, they say to use 1 tablespoon per 32 oz of water. Then, swish around the fruits and veggies. If desired, use a brush while doing so. A final rinse under fresh water should be done prior to eating.
Where to buy
Trader Joe’s, obviously. You can buy it through third-party marketplaces like Ebay but given the low $3.99 price charged in-store, it doesn’t make sense to pay a big markup through some reseller trying to make a buck off you.
Fit Vegetable Wash
Along with Veggie Wash brand, Fit Organic seems to be the most widely sold produce spray on the market. It may not be the cheapest though it is the best choice according to many metrics.
Starting with the ingredients.
It’s USDA certified organic. As stated at the start, we may have busted the mythical perception of what many people think that seal actually means, though it’s still a lot better than ambiguous “natural” ingredients. That’s an unregulated term.
They also assure us it’s vegan. To the best of our knowledge, Veggie Wash and Trader Joe’s use plant-derived ingredients too, but only Fit produce wash is clearly labeled as being vegan.
Plus it’s certified kosher, gluten free, and contains no phosphates.
Ingredients: Purified Water, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Ethyl Alcohol, Organic Glycerin, Natural Mineral (Potassium Hydroxide), Organic Grapefruit Oil.
Owned by Cincinnati-based HealthPro Brands, Fit Produce Wash is made in the USA.
How to use
The fruit and vegetable wash from Fit Organic comes in two versions; a spray wash bottle and a “soaker” produce wash. Since the ingredients are identical on both, presumably they are the same formulation and can be used interchangeably. Refilling their spray bottle with the more economical soaker solution is probably fine.
To use the spray:
- Spray to cover produce.
- Rub for about 1 minute.
- Rinse under water.
To use the soaker:
- Pour 1 cap (filled to line) of Fit for ever ½ gallon of water. Ensure there’s enough water to entirely cover the produce.
- Soak the produce for 2-3 minutes in a container, rubbing and swishing as needed.
- Rinse under fresh running water.
Since Fit Organic spray and soaking solution removes all preservatives, they advise consuming the washed fruits and veggies within 1-2 days after you clean them.
After the novel coronavirus outbreak, we started using Fit Vegetable Wash on all of our fruits and veggies, even those which are USDA organic.
Like the other brands, Fit Wash doesn’t make any antiviral claims. That said, their spray helps to remove surface contaminants significantly. Obviously, the better something is washed, the more likely that viruses and bacteria on the surface get washed off, too.
Where to buy
You can buy Fit Wash at Bed Bath & Beyond, which is probably the most reliable place to find it in-store. Walmart carries the Fit Organic brand but when we checked inventory at various locations, none had this particular product of theirs in-stock. Perhaps the easiest place to get it will be on good ol’ Amazon. You can get it in a 6-pack for a good value.