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Q. How do I wash fruits and vegetables to rid them of chemicals?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly tests produce samples for pesticide residues to ensure that they are below acceptable levels (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Pesticides/ucm114958.htm).

While fresh fruits and vegetables may contain trace amounts of pesticides, the levels are well within safety standards.

In fact, an adult woman could consume 529 apples a day without any effect, even if the apples have the highest pesticide residue recorded for apples by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/pesticide-calculator).

However, fresh fruits and vegetables should still be washed before consumed to remove any bacteria or pathogens that could cause food-borne illness.

You don’t need to soak produce in vinegar or use a special produce wash to clean fresh vegetables and fruits. Instead, follow these food-safety recommendations from Iowa State University Extension (http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/2013/08/12/5-steps-for-safe-produce/).

•    Wash your hands and the produce before you eat it. Even fruits like oranges, bananas, and melons, which have thick peels that will not be eaten, need to be washed.

•    Wash produce under running water, and drain it rather than washing it in a container of water. Dr. Cathy Strohbehn, from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says, “Give it a shower rather than a bath.” This increases the likelihood of washing away potential contaminants.

•    Wash all food contact surfaces like cutting boards, colanders or countertops to make sure they are clean and sanitary so that contaminants won’t be introduced to the produce.

•    Check the label of packaged produce. If it says “ready to eat,” you don’t have to wash it again, Strohbehn says. Rewashing washed product labeled as “ready to eat” may pose more risks due to the possibility of recontamination.

•    Look for good quality produce — no mold, bruises or shriveling.

Also, keep in mind that you should wash all produce – whether it’s organic, conventionally grown or from your backyard garden – to reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

For more safe produce-handling tips, visit the FDA’s website (http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299.htm), which includes a useful how-to video.

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